Behind point guard Shivaughn Wiggins and power forward Tahjai Watt, North Mecklenburg looks to regroup and continue to be one of the top basketball programs in the area.
Despite losing seven players to graduation, including Karl Barkley, Carlin Bremner, Jermaine Forte and Kenny Tucker, Vikings' coach Duane Lewis said his team is determined to make an impact.
"These kids play hard," said Lewis. "I never have to worry about the competitiveness in practice; these guys really understand what it means to compete. ... That's what you want as a coach."
With the team's lack of experience raising some questions, how well Wiggins, a senior, and Watt, a junior, play will be key to North Meck's success.
"I think we have a foundation to be a successful team," said Lewis. "We have to wait and see how they respond."
The duo, which is getting interest from Division I colleges, is a good start.
The 5-foot-9 Wiggins had a breakout season last year - his first in a North Meck uniform - averaging nearly 13 points and 7 assists per game.
"Shivaughn is the best point guard in this area," said Lewis. "He can score, he's an unbelievable passer, and he's a lock-down defender. And the No. 1 thing I look to is that he does not make turnovers."
Wiggins, who averaged less than two turnovers a game, was mainly known as a passer, but he can also score when needed. When Bremner, the Vikings' top scorer, was out because of an injury midway through last season, Wiggins averaged 20 points per game.
Wiggins opened the season by scoring 26 points and dishing off seven assists against Cox Mill Nov. 21. He followed that up with 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists the next day against West Meck.
Watt had big games last year for the Vikings, leading the team in rebounds with nearly six a game and giving opponents mismatches coming off the bench.
The Viking sixth man put a lot of time into his shot in the offseason. Lewis said the 6-foot-5 Watt can now face up and shoot the ball from 15 to 17 feet consistently.
"He has unbelievable athleticism, and he's got tremendous upside," said Lewis. "Now he has to make sure that he's maximizing that upside."
Watt started off the season again coming off the bench, although he's getting the second-most playing minutes in the team. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the season opener and 12 points and 15 rebounds the following day.
Small forward Kyle Burton-Harper is the only other returner who saw significant minutes last season. Lewis said the 6-foot-3 senior should be consistent for the Vikings, while junior Rashaan Brown, an athletic small forward, should also give the team a boost.
Brown was second in the team in scoring, with 18 points, when North opened its season against Cox Mill.
Center Josh Stepoli, a skilled offensive lineman on the Vikings' football team, also has impressed Lewis. The 6-foot-7, 270-pounder can move his feet well, put the ball on the deck and dunk it when given the opportunity, said Lewis.
Aside from experience, North lost a lot of perimeter shooting this year. Although Lewis concedes that his team will have to find a consistent shooter from long range, he knows that Wiggins has improved his 3-point shooting in the offseason.
Lewis added that senior Shakir Arnett and some of the other guards also have the potential to be deep threats.
Last year, the Vikings finished in second place in the I-Meck, going 22-6 (12-4 in conference play) and making it to the second round of the 4A state playoffs after missing the postseason the previous year.
Lewis expects his team to make another trip to the playoffs and even compete for a conference title.
With talented teams like favorites West Charlotte and Mooresville, as well as Vance, Hopewell and even Hough, which returns nearly everyone from last year's team, that won't be easy. Lewis said that his team's inexperience could hurt at times, although he's unsure of how exactly that will affect the Vikings on the court.
For now, he's excited about the chemistry he's seen on his team and how the pieces are starting to come together.
"We're trying to figure out the dynamic of the team," said Lewis. "We're moving in the right direction."