Coming off consecutive postseason appearances and in a new district for the 2018-19 basketball campaign, the Brownwood Lions are considered the preseason favorite in 7-4A according to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.

The Lions — who posted a 20-11 record last season — are currently slated to begin their third year under head coach Nadir Dalleh at home Friday night against the Bangs Dragons.

“Our expectations are really high for this season,” Dalleh said. “We only return two starters, but with our JV going 23-3 there’s plenty of talent to fill that void. This group plays really well together and that will be a big plus for a run at the district championship.”

First-team all-district selections Zach Strong and A.J. McCarty, both juniors, return to lead the charge, with a stellar cast joining them. Strong averaged 12 points and 8.3 rebounds a game last year, while McCarty chipped in 11.4 points, 5.3 boards, and 1.6 steals per contest.

“They were huge contributors last year and will be counted on again,” Dalleh said of Strong and McCarty. “Junior Isyah Campos will return and was named second team all-district last season as well. Senior Ryan Riker will be the only other returning lettermen and he will be counted on to contribute as well.

“Seniors George Nicholas, Joseph Johnson, Lawrence Garcia and Zach Barron helped lead our JV last season and earned valuable playing time that will pay off this season. Newcomers John Wilhelm, Beau Bronniman, Cooper Swanzy and Theo Bryant are able to play at the speed that I am looking for. These guys can get up and down the floor in a hurry and fill it from both inside and outside. Combining them with all the experience with everyone else could make for an exciting season.”

Following Friday’s opener with Bangs, the Lions’ pre-district schedule includes Lampasas, Jim Ned, Dublin, San Angelo Lake View, Gatesville, Abilene Cooper, Burnet, De Leon, Graham and Hillsboro, along with appearances in the Weatherford and Hamilton tournaments as well as the TexasBank Holiday Classic in Brownwood.

“I scheduled some 5A schools and we are going to the Weatherford tournament which is nothing but 5A and 6A schools,” Dalleh said. “That will test us early and get us ready before district starts. I would love to see us really gel as a team early on and build from there.”

District 7-4A action begins Jan. 15 at home against Stephenville as the Lions are projected to finish ahead of Godley, Glen Rose, Mineral Wells and Stephenville in that order, according to the TABC.

“I’ve never had a team picked to win the district before. I like being the underdog,” Dalleh said. “Our district will be really competitive and could come down to the last night of play. All but one team we have played in the last couple years, so I’m not sure exactly what to expect.”

As for the potential of the 2018-19 Lions?

“If this team will gel early on, it could be a great season,” Dalleh said. “This team has a lot of potential to do really well. This group of juniors and seniors has experienced a lot of success over the last two seasons and by combining them, it should make for a fun year.”