Pacific certainly doesn’t have the biggest boys basketball team in the area, but the Indians do have skills and athleticism to rely on for the 2012-13 campaign.

Three starters return from last season’s squad that went 17-9 overall and won the Four Rivers Conference championship with a 7-0 record.

“We’re not big, so we have to play smart basketball. We have to play as a team, block out and do the fundamentals right,” said Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer. “We’re excited about the season. We had our best practice (Monday). Hopefully we can build off that and have a good season.”

Pacific was in first place in the preseason Four Rivers Conference poll, voted on by the league’s head coaches.

“Hopefully we’ll get a chance to defend our conference title. Winning the conference always is one of our goals,” VanLeer said. “There are a lot of great coaches and good teams in the conference. It’s never easy.”

Pacific has 13 players on the varsity roster, five seniors, seven juniors and one sophomore.

The Indians’ top returner is sophomore 6-2 guard Cullen VanLeer, who averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 assists per game last season as a freshman.

“Hopefully Cullen will take his game to a new level this year. He had a solid freshman season,” VanLeer said about his son. “He’s a better basketball player this year. He’s gotten stronger. He played against good competition over the summer. I’m looking for him to be a leader and our quarterback on the floor.”

Other returning starters are senior 6-3 forward Zeth Boyer and junior 6-2 forward Jeffrey Hinkle.

“Zeth and Jeffrey both will play in the post. Both are athletic and quick,” VanLeer said. “Zeth moves from the wing to the post. He’s accepted it and has done a nice job in practice. Jeffrey also has looked solid in practice. I think Zeth and Jeffrey both will score more than they did last year.”

Expecting to fill out Pacific’s starting lineup at the beginning of the season are 6-2 senior guard Neil DeBold and 5-10 junior guard Tanner Brown.

“Neil started a few games for us last year and did a good job. We moved him this season from the post to the wing,” VanLeer said. “Tanner was the leading scorer on the junior varsity team last year. He’s looked good so far in practice. I think he’ll be able to score some points.”

Other varsity returners are 6-0 senior guard Brendan Jett-Kell, 5-9 senior guard Brandon Colter and 5-9 junior guard Zach Kraus.

“Zack will be a our backup point guard. We’ll also play him and Cullen together at times,” VanLeer said. “Brendan is a good shooter and understands the game. Brandon also shoots the ball well.”

Varsity newcomers are 6-0 senior forward Stephen Watson, 6-4 junior forward Logan Armstrong, 6-2 junior forward Brett Mann, 6-1 junior forward Stephen Johnson and 5-10 junior guard Chris Klenke.

“Logan will be our first big man off the bench,” VanLeer said. “At 6-4, he’s our tallest player. He’s capable of scoring and can shoot the ball. We’ll really need him to rebound.”

VanLeer said the team has strengths and weaknesses as the season approaches.

“We have to start shooting the ball better. That’s probably our biggest weakness right now. I was encouraged that we really shot it well at (Monday’s) practice. Once we get going, we have several kids who can put the ball in the basket,” VanLeer said. “With our athleticism, I think we’ll be solid defensively. Hopefully that will be a strength.”

Pacific is seeded sixth for the Borgia Turkey Tournament, opening against third-seeded St. Louis Christian Thanksgiving night at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ll have our hands full with St. Louis Christian. Their coach reported they have five players between 6-5 and 6-11 and two players who have received Division I offers. Our tallest player is 6-4,” VanLeer said. “It will be a good game for us to see where we are.”

Pacific also will play in tournaments at Owensville and Union.

Nonconference games are against Jefferson City at the Sullivan Shootout Dec. 22, Festus, Salem, Farmington, Washington, Cape Girardeau Central, Borgia, Mexico and De Soto.

Pacific will host the Class 4 District 9 Tournament this season. Other schools in the district are Borgia, Union, St. Clair, Sullivan and Owensville.