Seeking their first trip to the American Southwest Conference tournament since 2008, the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets will be placing their postseason hopes in a roster that features one senior, one junior, eight sophomores and eight freshmen.

Howard Payne tips off the season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Wayland Baptist, then visits ASC rival East Texas Baptist in non-conference action at 7 p.m. Tuesday before opening league play at home against UT-Tyler on Nov. 24

“Being as young as we are this year, our expectations are to improve every game and try and play our best basketball as the conference schedule progresses,” said HPU head coach Troy Drummond. “We’re going to have to figure out really quickly how to play at this level, but for the first time in a while we have some guys that can just go play basketball. They don’t need to have a set play to run, they can create on their own or play off someone else creating.”

Among the returnees for the Yellow Jackets are reigning ASC West freshman of the year Brandon Gould, senior guard Michael Thompson, junior guard Ross Whittet, sophomore forwards Ja’Kaylan Gayden and Bryan Adams and sophomore guard Travis Taillet.

“Brandon was the freshman of the year last season in the West and he’s coming back as a sophomore with a little more experience on the college level,” Drummond said. “He’s definitely someone to look out for. He can defend as well as anybody in the league and he’s a great leader on the floor.

“Travis is also coming back and he had limited playing time last year, but he’s a really good player. He can do a lot of things Brandon can’t do as far as creating for himself and others.”

Among the crop of new additions for the Yellow Jackets are sophomore guards Blake Arbogast, Jorden Young and Martez Justice, as well as guards Donovan Ford, Colby Byrd, Jajuan Johnson, Nigele Robertson, Yusef Reown and David Williams, 6-4 forward Christian Davis and 6-6 center Quelan Lancaster — all freshmen.

“Chris Davis is out of San Antonio and he’s a really good player,” Drummond said. “He’s about 6-4, plays inside and outside and handles the ball well. He’s a really good basketball player overall.

“Quelan Lancaster, from Abilene, is an inside presence and he does a really good job on the block. He just needs some experience.”

The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 9-16 campaign last season and 7-14 record in ASC action as Howard Payne finished tied for seventh with Sul Ross. In order to improve upon those numbers, along with their conference positioning, the Yellow Jackets are focusing on defense and rebounding in an effort to turn the tide.

“We’re picked sixth in the West and, being a young team, our expectations are to climb higher than that,” Drummond said. “Strong defense and rebounding are two areas where we’ve struggled in the past, and to win more games we’re going to have to play really good defense and rebound extremely well.”