The Woodbury boys' basketball team graduated more than half of its starters from last year's varsity team.

But with one of the state's best players in Michael Jones returning, the Royals should be OK. Jones is back for his senior season after signing with Davidson College during the offseason.

But most of the team's starters have graduated from last season, meaning the program has spent the first few weeks of practice getting players adjusted to new roles on the varsity team.

"We haven't really talked anything about expectations," head coach Kent Getzlaff said. "We will get into that a little bit this week. I think the big thing has been getting guys comfortable with new roles."

Woodbury is getting a challenge to start its season this week. The Royals will open the regular season with a road game at Lakeville North on Thursday, Dec. 7, before playing Wayzata at the Tip-Off Classic in Hopkins on Saturday, Dec. 9. Lakeville North was ranked 10th in the Class 4A preseason polls while Wayzata was ranked fifth. Woodbury received a ninth-place ranking in the state's 4A rankings.

"We're definitely not easing into it," Getzlaff said. "For the third year in a row, we are going to play a really tough nonconference schedule."

Woodbury will be down at least one player during those first two games as returning center David Alston will be playing in the Minnesota Football Showcase at U.S. Bank Stadium.

With a more experienced roster than recent years, Getzlaff was complimentary of the leadership from the team's five seniors: Jones, Alston, DJ Fleming, Ryan Christensen and Raysean Treadwell.

"It's been great," he said. "Even though we are replacing a ton of minutes on the floor, we have a really great group of five seniors, and they have kind of set the tone of not much talk and coming into practice to get better."

Getzlaff expects Woodbury's opponents to focus their attention on stopping Jones from scoring points. But the coach added that Jones should counter with new skills he has honed during the offseason, including with his ball handling and post play.

The Davidson-bound senior is also playing an emotional role with the team as well.

"He's probably one of the best leaders I've ever coached," Getzlaff said.

Last year, Woodbury finished with a record of 20-8, tying with East Ridge for the Suburban East Conference title after both teams went 14-2 in league play. The Royals' season ended with an 87-54 loss to Tartan in the Class 4A, Section 4 semifinals.

This year, Getzlaff expects Cretin-Derham Hall and East Ridge to be among the competitors at the top of the conference, with Woodbury, Roseville, and Forest Lake also likely finishing near the top.