The Darien boys basketball team has been looking to take the step from cellar dweller into bona fide playoff contender for several seasons now, but the Blue Wave appears to finally have some things working in their favor for 2012-13.

One of the biggest reasons for optimism for third year coach Kyle Marian is simply the fact that Darien returns nine players to the varsity team, a far higher number than any other season during his tenure. In fact, Darien returned just two varsity players last year.

"It's a unique year because we have so many players returning. All nine are men that have played varsity minutes, so we don't have guys going in for the first time. I think we have all the components to at least compete every night," Marian said. "What they've done in the offseason until now is more than I've seen in the two years that I've been here. They've done all the right things to get there, and now it's just a matter of putting that out on the court."

"It's really good to be able to know all these guys and go out there and play with them. Teams walk in here expecting to win by 30, and that's not going to happen anymore," Darien captain Liam Naughton said. "We're not the doormat of the FCIAC anymore; we're looking to shock some people the first few weeks of the season."

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Marian also indicated that he's seeing a team that is hungry to mix it up in the always challenging FCIAC.

"The real change that I've seen is the competitive nature," Marian said. "I'm eager for this group and I'm happy that I get to have a front row seat."

The Blue Wave didn't set a specific number of wins as a goal, but the captains seem to believe that racking up enough wins to qualify for the state tournament (eight) is "realistic."

"It's definitely a realistic goal," Darien captain Brian Wiegand said. "Those are our expectations this year with the guys we bring back and who we've brought in."

"We have better assets this year to help us win," Darien captain Kyle Green said. "We know we have the right pieces to win and that we can win at least eight games to make states."

Although its aspirations for 2012-13 far exceed what it has been able to accomplish over the last few seasons, Darien believes that its strong team chemistry could go a long way in a potential playoff push.

"We're building a chemistry that in past seasons we haven't had. (Returning nine players) is huge," Wiegand said. "Experience and basketball IQ are a huge part of this sport."

Marian provided a tentative starting five of Matt Staubi, Liam Naughton, George Phillips, Kyle Green and Chima Azouonwu.

Darien opens its season on Friday, Dec. 14 at Westhill at 7 p.m., and Marian did mention that the starting lineup was not set in the stone, particularly since he has solid depth.

"We really have a lot more options this year of where the ball can go," Marian said. "There might be a night where one kid scores 15, and then the next night he only scores eight but somebody else scores. There are points on the board this year to be had."

Height seems to be a perennial concern for Darien, but 6'10" newcomer Azouonwu, who will likely start at center, should help in that department.

Another new face is Staubi, who played at Rye Country Day last season and is expected to start. Twitter: @jchik17