Any new quest begins with a desired result and a lot of uncertainty.

The Plattsburgh State men’s basketball team has begun this year’s journey. Sixteen different bodies with various skill sets have to come together for one cause: a SUNYAC championship, a banner that has eluded the Cardinals since 2009 despite making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances the past two seasons.

With the departure of three key pillars from last year’s squad, this journey is expected to be different as other players are being asked to step up and fill the holes left by John Perez, Chris Manning and Shavar Fields.

“John and Chris provided some leadership that has been unparalleled in my time here,” head coach Tom Curle said.

Fields, Curle said, was a dynamic post presence.

“His explosiveness offensively really made him a tough matchup,” Curle said. “There are just not a lot of guys with his combination of size, quickness and strength at our level.”

When looking at the numbers that Perez, Manning and Fields put up, the holes are obvious.

Begin with scoring: Perez registered a total of 390 points, top on the team. Fields was second with 365.

Manning was not a scorer. He orchestrated the offense and was a ball hawk on the other end, swiping 95 steals, the most in all of Division III.Perez and Manning were also first and second respectively in minutes per game.

Move to rebounding: Perez was first on the team in rebounds with 278, Fields was second with 15 and Manning was third with 117.

With these three seniors leaving, the team is left with a lot of uncertainty.

“What is our weakness?” Curle said. “We don’t know yet because we haven’t had a lot of games. You can see strengths in practice, but you can’t see weaknesses. Others will exploit your weakness.”

The first team to take a shot at exploiting the Cards’ soft spots was Bishop University, an exhibition match that ended with the Cards squeaking out a 67-64 win.

Curle said the Cards have looked a bit sloppy so far in practice and have struggled with turnovers, which was evident in the 21 turnovers committed against Bishop University.

Xavier Thomas’ team-high 14-point performance and transfer Kyle Richardson’s 11 points proved that the Cards have players that are ready to step up.

Although the Cards lost a lot of leadership, Thomas said the return of Reggie Williams will help the Cards on defense and allow wings to play more aggressively knowing they have an anchor.

In addition to Williams, Jordan Moody, who averaged 10 points per game for the Cards in 2012, will add another slasher who can finish and get to the line.

Curle said his team’s variety on offense, with its three-point shooting and its slew of players that can get to the basket, will be a major strength for the team moving forward.

“The biggest challenge will be to not settle for the three, move the ball and don’t just settle for a good shot,” Curle said. “We have to get the best possible shot each possession.”

The departure of Perez and Manning, Curle said, will not prevent the Cards from having an opportunity to still be a good defensive team, even if it is in a different way — a defense that relies less on steals and focuses more on containment defense with strong rebounding.

Shamoy McIntosh, who was the Cards’ third leading-scorer last season, will have the chance to step into a bigger role on offense and as a leader.

McIntosh said it is good that there isn’t really a star on the Cards so that a number of players can always come in to fill the roles of others.

At the beginning of every quest, faith is needed to believe that everything will turn out fine.

McIntosh believes the Cards will fix any kinks they have to work out and expects everyone to step up. He is glad to be on a journey with familiar faces.

“For my seniors, I’m glad to have them back, especially Jordan,” McIntosh said. “We’re just ready to ride out for our last ride.”

Email Willie Santana at cp@cardinal pointsonline.com.

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