In a year when many thought it might have to take its lumps and suffer through a rough season, the Ladue High boys basketball team turned in a terrific campaign that saw the Rams go 19-9, and win the Suburban East Conference championship again.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Ladue, with its roster full of talented underclassmen, looked like it might be on the precipice of achieving something great.
Unfortunately, another talented team of underclassmen at CBC High ended Ladue's playoff run early.
But bowing out before the March madness even got started last year, has done nothing but fuel the fire and what most experts believe will be a dynamite season for the Rams this year.
"We feel pretty good about what we've got," Ladue head coach Chad Anderson said. "We've got eight returning players. Six of those guys played a ton last year, four of them started. I've got two sophomores coming out that are going to contribute, and I've got two transfers that'll play too. So, we've got a group that we think we can win some games with."
Boy do they ever. The Rams have size. They've got quick guys. They've got guys that can score. And a roster full of guys that will defend the heck out of every team Ladue faces this season.
The only question, is can Ladue, as the smallest school in Missouri Class 5, compete with the big boys on the court, like Chaminade, Ritenour, Riverview Gardens, and Saint Louis University High -- teams that will all compete in the Class 5 District 2 tournament, Ladue will host in February.
"That's why we're doing what we're doing schedule-wise," Anderson said. "We're going to play in three really tough tournaments. We've got a couple of pretty tough non-conference games. We know we've got to do something to challenge our kids to get them ready for districts."
This season, those teams better do something to get ready for Ladue.
The Rams have a pair of terrific post players in 6'8 senior Austin DaGue and 6'6 junior Andrew Maddock. The Rams also have two dead-eye outside shooters in 5'11 senior Cameron Harder and 5'7 junior Connor Spirtas.
But that player that makes Ladue go is the Rams' sensational little point guard -- 5'6 junior Cornell Johnston.
Last year, Johnston burst onto the local hoops scene, staked his claimed to the unofficial title of best point guard in the area, with an incredible season in which he averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 assists, and 3.1 steals a game, while also hitting 44.8 percent of his three-point shots.
College recruiters took notice, and have already begun to knock down Johnston's door, with mid-major programs like Indiana State and SIU-Edwardsville showing the most interest.
Oklahoma State has been around as well, just to take a look at the player who might be the best perimeter player in the state in the 2014 graduating class.
"It's just so nice as a coach to have a guy out there like Cornell running the show for you," Anderson said. "We feel pretty good about him taking the ball. And we're going to keep the ball in his hands a lot and let him make the decisions. He definitely is the one that makes us go. That's no secret."
Also back this year to provide depth off the bench for Ladue is seniors Jake Helm and Adehkeem Brown; junior JV call-ups John Collins and Matt Hooper; and sophomores Jordan Cosby and Jeremy Lofton.
The two transfers Anderson made sure to mention were former Parkway West forward Van Klohmann and new St. Louisan by way of Minnesota, Darreol Pittman.
"I think both those guys will provide us with some nice depth," Anderson said. "We're lucky to have them."
The Rams will open the new season with a matchup against an old familiar face, on Monday, November 26, when they'll take on archrival Clayton High in the first round of the Jerry Boeckman Invitational Tournament at Vianney High School in Kirkwood.
Tip-off that night is set for 8:30 p.m., and it just might be the start of what many believe could be a tremendous season for the Ladue boys basketball squad.
UPCOMING LADUE BOYS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 26 vs. Clayton at Vianney 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 28 at Vianney Tournament TBA
Nov. 30 at Vianney Tournament TBA
Dec. 4 at Brentwood 7 p.m.
Dec. 5 vs. Normandy 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Parkway North 7 p.m.
Dec. 10 at John Burroughs 7 p.m.
Dec. 14 vs. Westminster Christian 7 p.m.