Following a 5-17 start, the Brownwood Lions rebounded to earn their third bi-district championship in five seasons a year ago. But the Lions will have to replace a key cog from last year’s playoff team as the 2012-13 basketball campaign tips off at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when San Angelo Lake View invades Warren Gym.

District MVP Marqous Barnes — a 6-6 post who averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks and two steals per game — will be a noticeably absence from the starting lineup, but with seven returnees back, second-year head coach Josh Alcorn feels confident in his team’s ability to make another run at the postseason.

“Marqous was a great player and leader for us last year and you can’t replace a guy like that and what he meant for our team,” Alcorn said. “We do have seven returners with varsity experience, including five out of our top seven scorers, so even though we lost the rebounding and scoring from Marqous, we’ll have guys who have been here before and played a lot of varsity minutes for us.

“Last year was a great experience for us starting off the way we did and finishing up as bi-district champs. We want to continue that tradition of Brownwood making runs in the playoffs and our expectations are no different this year than they were last year.”

Among the key returnees for the Lions are all-district selections Bryant McDaniel and Bryce Vickers.

“Bryant was a first-team all district guard last year and he’s worked extremely hard this offseason to improve his shot and ball handling,” Alcorn said. “The great thing about Bryant is he knows where everybody should be at all times and it helps when you have a guy like that out there on the court to get things organized and communicate.

 “Bryce is another all-district returner that we’re expecting to make huge strides again this year. Bryce is already a leader on the football field and I expect him to do the same on the court for us with his intensity and the way he plays. He’s also versatile to where he can shoot from outside but still play down low as well. I think we can use that to our advantage.”

Other returnees include Kaimon Ontiveros, Bryan Johnson, Bryce Sawyer and Kye Healer.

“Kaimon is another returning starter for us who did a really good job last year, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Alcorn said. “He makes it tough on opposing guards with his quickness and anticipation. Bryan started for us last year and did a really good job rebounding and using his length and quickness on both ends of the court, whether it was steals or offensive rebounds.

“Bryce and Kye are also returning. They both have put in some really good work this offseason, they know and understand our system well. It’s another plus to have smart basketball players out there.”

Newcomers to the varsity roster include Chris Keesee, Andrew Branham and Jeffrey Newton.

“Keesee, who played on varsity last year in Ballinger, and Branham, a 6-5 post, will look to make an immediate impact in helping us out,” Alcorn said. “Also, Jeffrey is a senior guard who had a good offseason and looks to bolster some depth there.”

Alcorn feels the amount of experience the varsity possesses is among the team’s greatest strengths heading into the season.

“Right now the experience we have coming back is huge for us,” Alcorn said. “Just the players knowing what we run and how our program runs lets them focus on getting better individually and as a team instead of learning a new system this year. I see us coming together and playing hard and playing well as a team.”

Replacing the void in the middle of the lineup is the Lions’ biggest question mark at this point.

“It’s always tough losing a 6-6 post who can dominate on both sides of the court,” Alcorn said. “We will have to find a way to defend the post and rebound this year with not as much height as we had.”

Following the Lake View game, the Lions will battle Waco Connally, Bangs, Jim Ned, Wall, Sweetwater, Clyde, Abilene Wylie, Mineral Wells and San Angelo Central in non-district action, along with competing in the Jim Ned, Glen Rose and Gatesville tournaments — and could be without numerous players who are still participating in football.

“We will play a tough schedule early on with Class 3A No. 17 Waco Connally, No. 4 in Class 2A Jim Ned, No. 7 in 2A Wall and No. 9 in 3A Abilene Wylie,” Alcorn said. “We have Mineral Wells which was area champs last year, 4A San Angelo Lake View and 5A San Angelo Central.

“It’s always good to get some good competition early on that exposes your weaknesses and helps you see what you need to work on as a team. I think if we can use those games before district to learn from and get better, then we can be hitting our stride when district starts, and that’s our goal.”

As for the District 8-3A race, No. 6 Liberty Hill is projected as the team to beat.

“Liberty Hill is the favorite this year and rightfully so, returning two all-region players, so I look for them to be a really good team,” Alcorn said. “Gatesville will be athletic and returns some starters from a playoff team last year. Burnet, who also went to the playoffs, returns a couple of starters as well.”