MANKATO — The pain still hasn't left Connor O'Brien.
It's been almost seven months since he was on the court, playing basketball for Minnesota State. In that final game, the Mavericks lost in overtime to rival Winona State in the region championship game, missing a trip to the national quarterfinals. The pain was obvious on O'Brien's face that night and just as obvious Tuesday.
"It will probably stay with me until the first game," O'Brien said Tuesday, having just finished the first official practice of the basketball season at Bresnan Arena. "I thought about it every day. Every time I went on the court, every time I worked out. The only way to get rid of that feeling is to start winning."
The Mavericks have nearly the full squad back from last season when they posted a 28-5 record and won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship. The only players missing are Jarvis Williams, the team's leading scorer but hardly the only weapon, and backup guard Jimmy Whitehead, who transferred to get more playing time.
"Expectations are always going to be high for this program because of what we've done in the past," said O'Brien, a senior and lone player on the roster who competed with the Mavericks in their final-four trip three years ago. "We're going to have a target on our back, but we like that because it brings out the best in us."
Center Assem Marei is back, having spent the summer playing with the Egyptian national team at several international tournaments. He averaged 13.6 points and 7.3 rebounds, and he appears to hjave lost weight as he's gained experience.
Point guard Zach Monaghan averaged 11.8 points and 5.6 assists, and Gage Wooten averaged 9.2 points. Marei, Monaghan and Wooten started all 33 games last season, and O'Brien started 31.