Here’s something you don’t see every year -  a gym full of Golden Aces basketball hopefuls on the first official day of practice. That’s what greeted second-year head coach Tyler Buss on Monday, with a full 22 days of practice ahead before the season opener at Red Hill.

“We’re going to be ready to play against someone else by the time we get to November 27th. This is uncharted waters in terms of how many days of practice we’re going to have,” said Buss, in contrast to the mere days he had last year because of the Aces football team’s advancement to the IHSA Class 3A state championship game.
“We’re going to take advantage of the extra time,” he said. “This first week there won’t be a lot of fun drills, it will be a lot of fundamentals, and conditioning. We want to be able to play up and down and be up tempo. And, to do that, you have to be in very good condition.”
Given that, the first workout went as expected. 
“The kids are always excited to get back in the gym, but for the first 30 minutes or so there were basketballs flying everywhere because you’re getting used to playing at a high rate of speed,” Buss said. “I thought our energy was good. We’re really preaching this year to have good body language.” 
Mt. Carmel returns three starters from last year’s 9-19 squad. But it was a tale of two seasons. Once Buss had a prolonged stretch together with his chargers - and that didn’t happen until Christmas break - things began to turn around. The Aces finished with a 6-5 record, losing a tough 58-56 game at Fairfield in the Class 2A regional opener.
“That (strong second half) set the bar for us. Now we’re challenging this group to raise expectations,” Buss said.
On top of that, the returnees have a year with the Buss system under their belts. “We had a whole summer with them for the first time, and they know what to expect. We’re a year smarter now. We can build on some of the things we were getting pretty good at the end of last season,” Buss said.
The schedule itself will demand more of the players, because it is arguably the toughest it has been in several years. Non-conference dates with Oblong, Wayne City, and one of two with Lawrenceville are gone, replaced with the likes of Evansville Memorial, Kankakee, and Olney.
But, the good news is that there are 10 home games, the most Hilltop dates in a long time. The home opener will be a big one, against Big Eight Conference toughie Jasper, on December 1st. Eight home games come after the holidays.