The

staggering events from last year are still a blur to Lenape boys' basketball coach Chuck Guittar, who gets back on the carousel when the Indians open their season tonight at Cherry Hill East.

Lenape is the only team from the seven-county South Jersey area in boys' or girls' basketball that won a state championship last season, but the Indians didn't exactly enter the tournament on a roll.

After a 12-1 start, Lenape then went 6-7 to enter the tournament with an 18-8 record. But the Indians caught fire, and the momentum carried them to a convincing 68-48 win over Paterson Eastside in the Group 4 state final.

After beating Neptune, 41-40, in an opening Tournament of Champions game, the season finally ended when Lenape suffered a 66-40 loss to the NBA-like crew from St Patrick.

That magical three-week run gave the Indians a 25-9 record and earned them The Inquirer's No. 1 South Jersey ranking.

It was quite a final month for Guittar and the Indians. The coach's first daughter was born Feb. 22, and the tournament began March 3.

Playing almost every other day, Lenape truly clicked at the most opportune time, and when it was over, Guittar was simply spent.

"I was so tired that I didn't watch any of the state championship tapes until the summer," Guittar said.

After the high school season ended, Guittar watched a lot of college basketball, which for him was fun because he didn't have to break down the opponent, only enjoy the skills of the participants.

However, coaching high school basketball is almost a year-round occupation. There are spring leagues and summer leagues and fall leagues and soon another season has arrived.

And so Guittar has put all the congratulatory messages aside, focusing on one of the most difficult tasks in coaching - remaining competitive while rebuilding.

Lenape returns just one starter, 6-foot-5 senior C.J. Meyer, who was the MVP in the state final, scoring 18 points.

Point guard Phil Jackson is among three letter-winners, along with sharpshooter Harman Ghuman and workaholic forward Kevin Cunningham.

All four returning veterans are seniors and none is in a mood to be part of a rebuilding season. Neither is their coach.

Guittar realizes that he plays in the treacherous Olympic American, where there are no days off, but he is building the type of program in which players feel it's their right to be competitive each season.

Of course, he also understands that the opposition doesn't care who is filling the Lenape uniforms.

"Every opponent knows us as a state champion, and we're one of their biggest games, and we have to bring it every night," Guittar said. "The expectations have to rise, and who knows if we are good enough."

The good thing is that the answer to that question will be determined over what promises to be another challenging schedule for Lenape.

While the players change, the one constant is the Lenape mind-set, which consists of playing defense for 32 minutes. Players who aren't interested will end up sitting near Guittar.

A team that can defend with the ferocity of Lenape will always have a chance to be competitive.

That's at least what Guittar is hoping for.

The coach will have lifelong memories of last year's run to the state title, but the time to fully enjoy it likely won't occur until Guittar signs those retirement papers.

Until then, there are practices to run, games to win and future opponents to scout.

Basketball has returned to South Jersey.

Yet for many coaches like Guittar, the frenetic pace from season to season never really goes away.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynewscom