Just call Jeff Neubauer the Iron Chef this season.
The "chef" is trying to whip together a concoction known as Eastern Kentucky basketball.
Whether he has all the needed ingredients will begin to show Friday, when Neubauer throws his team into the fire with the first of three games in three days in Chicago.
A year ago, Neubauer added merely a pinch of Willie Cruz and a dash of Spencer Perrin to his roster.
He's gone from those two new players last season to nine this time around.
"So the implementation of offense, defense, everything has been a lot more arduous, a lot slower," said Neubauer, who is 87-70 in five seasons with the Colonels. "We're working on it every day."
In this weekend's Nick Kladis Classic, EKU will face tournament host Loyola, followed by Texas-Pan American and Indiana State.
"Loyola of Chicago, they play in Butler's league, and I really think they'll be one of the best teams in the Horizon this year," Neubauer said. "They got off to a great start last year (11-2) and then kind of just fell off (14-16)."
Loyola returns all five starters, the league's top sixth man and 12 of 15 lettermen.
However, the Colonels (20-13, fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference at 11-7) have a nucleus of five returnees.
Foremost is pre-season All-OVC guard Justin Stommes, a 6-foot-7 senior. He was one of two players in the OVC last season to reach 400 points and 100 assists.
Stommes led the Colonels with 14.2 points, 3.5 assists and 32.4 minutes per game, and in defensive rebounds (114). He started all 33 games and shot 52.1 percent from the field, 41.5 percent on three-pointers and 77.6 percent on foul shots.
"Obviously a very good three-point shooter who is now a senior," Neubauer said, "and he has played a lot of minutes here."
Joshua Jones, a 6-4 junior guard, started 31 games, averaging 8.9 points and 2.5 assists while shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range.
Perrin, a 6-6 senior forward from Danville, averaged 7.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists over 27 starts. He also led EKU with 22 blocks.
Cruz, a 6-4 sophomore guard, played in every game, starting six. He contributed 2.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and had nearly three assists to every turnover (38-13). He shot 52.4 percent from the floor.
Josh Daniel, a 6-5 guard, also played in every game. He averaged 6.1 points and 1.5 rebounds, shooting 78 percent from the free-throw line.
"We've got five guys who have shown they can play and they can win at this level," Neubauer said.
Newcomers include Devin McDonald, a 6-1 senior transfer from New Orleans. He averaged 8.3 points and 1.6 assists for the Privateers, who this season begin the process to reclassify to Division III.
"He's already competed at Division I speed ... so that has made his transition a little bit easier than some of the younger guys," Neubauer said. "He's already seen how fast this game is, and now his challenge is just to learn our system."
Other transfers include 6-8 Ruud de Jong from the Netherlands, 6-2 Jeff Allgood from Iowa Western College and 6-6 Jaron Jones, who is out of Bryan Station by way of Carl Albert State in Oklahoma.
The freshmen include a pair at 6-8 — Jeff Johnson and Deverin Muff — plus 6-6 Taylor Filipek, 6-3 Ryan Parsons and 6-2 Jabs Newby.
What will define this new-ingredient team is a mystery even to the chef for now.
"We're still looking for it. We really do want to defend at a high level, (but) I can't tell you the direction of this team," Neubauer said. "When you get people coming from all different directions — high school, junior college, other Division I programs — one thing that really shows up is, the value for the basketball at different schools ... is drastically different everywhere.
"So right now our focus is trying to get our guys to take care of the ball. Until your guys can take care of the ball, you can't develop the rest of your plan, so we're still at step one as far as trying to develop who we are."