WILLIAMSTOWN -- The rest of the college basketball world has already begun playing while the NESCAC schools sit and wait.
That wait is over for Williams coaches Mike Maker and Pat Manning as their teams begin play this weekend.
Maker's Ephs start tonight at 8 facing Southern Vermont in the first round of the Williams Tip-Off Tournament. Salem State will play Coast Guard in the 6 p.m. opener. The consolation game is Saturday at 1 and the championship game is at 3. Salem beat Williams 83-69 in last year's title game.
The women's team under Manning will begin its season on Saturday at 6 p.m. against Salve Regina and will continue Sunday at 3 p.m. against the University of New England.
"I think every team in college basketball is excited for the anticipation of their first game," said Maker. "Our guys are no different. Our guys have a bounce in their step and they can't wait for the tipoff Friday night."
The Ephs were 17-8 last year. Four of those eight losses were by five or fewer points. Both losses to Amherst were by a basket and a loss to Middlebury was by one point.
Williams started practicing on Nov. 1, meaning the Ephs have been practicing for nearly three weeks. The fifth-year coach said his team is where he wants it to be -- for now.
"I'm very happy with where our team is, considering we've only had 11 practices," he said during the week.
The Ephs graduated only one starter, but
James Klemm, who has been playing the small forward position, will be the shooting guard. Klemm led the team last year in 3-point attempts and makes, and was third on the team in scoring.
Last year's leading scorer moves into the starting lineup. Mike Mayer, a 6-foot-9 junior from Durham, N.C., played in 24 of the Ephs' 25 games but started only two. He led the team with a 13.6 scoring average.
Taylor Epley, who was either the first or second player off the bench last year and also averaged 11 points per game, will move into Klemm's small forward position.
There are four freshmen, or first years, on Manning's roster. All might be counted on to contribute this year.
The return of senior forward Claire Baecher, however, is what the veteran coach is counting on most as the Ephs try to improve on their 19-6 record from last season.
"It's good to have her back," said Manning. "Claire is so talented. She's just a game-changer and was so key for us on both ends of the floor."
Baecher played six minutes of an 82-71 loss at Connecticut College before suffering a season-ending knee injury. She was averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. Williams played .500 basketball after that and got knocked out of the NESCAC tournament in a two-point loss to Colby in the first round.
"The good that came out of [the injury] was that other kids got time and got experience," Manning said.
The big loss for Williams was the graduation of point guard Jill Greenberg. Senior Jennie Harding could slide over from the off-guard or senior Jen Borderud could start at the point. First-year Mary Kate O'Brien is also a candidate to get some time there.
Manning brings back the rest of her starting unit. Joining Baecher in the starting lineup is 6-foot senior Danny Rainer, and 6-foot sophomore Kellie Macdonald.