Cincinnati Withrow coach Walt McBride can remember his team’s season-ending loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier in a March regional final so vividly that the pain and disappointment seep into his voice. After his team took a one-point lead, St. X’s Walt Gibler found teammate Mike Budde for a press-beating layup and an eventual 51-48 win that punched a ticket to Columbus.
“They had to go the full length of the floor in the final seven seconds,” McBride lamented. “I told them to stay with their man, but we jumped in front of him and gave up a layup.”
That play illustrates as well as any the fine line between glory and bitter disappointment in Ohio Division I basketball. St. X went on to an improbable state title game appearance and Withrow now joins the ranks of the very hungry for 2007-08.
Southwest Ohio again looks like a meat grinder but there are high-caliber teams in central Ohio, in various parts of the northeast and, of course, the Toledo area. The chase for Cincinnati Moeller's crown appears furious and wide open.
* Delvon Roe, 6-8, Sr., F, Lakewood St. Edward – Roe simply continues to get better and better. A highly active, left-handed forward, he can make plays all over the court and dominates the backboards for one of Ohio’s top teams. Averaged 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as a junior, earning first-team All-Ohio honors.
* Yancy Gates, 6-8, Sr., F, Cincinnati Withrow – Gates was terrific at Withrow after transferring across town from Cincinnati Hughes, putting up 19.4 ppg. A second team all-state pick.
* Kenny Frease, 7-0, Sr., C, Massillon Perry – The top true big man in the state now that Kosta Koufos is a Buckeye, Frease is becoming a consistent force. Averaged 14.5 ppg and was named to the All-Ohio third team.
* Jared Sullinger, 6-8, Soph., F/C, Columbus Northland – The son of Northland coach Satch Sullinger and younger brother to ex-Buckeye J.J and Kent State forward Julian, Jared is one of the most promising young talents in the Midwest and already is committed to Ohio State. He was honorable mention all-state as a frosh.
* Chris Johnson, 6-5, Sr., WF, Columbus Brookhaven – Reliable performer who produced averages of 24.4 ppg and 13.2 rpg last season. Second team All-Ohio.
* Bill Edwards, 6-5, Jr, G/F, Middletown – Wing who averaged 13.0 ppg and sometimes was asked to play as a lead guard as a sophomore. Father of the same name was a star at Wright State.
TEAMS TO WATCH
* Cincinnati Withrow – Why not the Tigers?
They will play perhaps the toughest schedule of any team in the state but they also may be as good as anybody when it comes down to tourney time.
“I love our depth,” McBride said. “With this group going as deep as it has been in the tournament in years, now they have that confidence in tournament play. And there’s nothing like the real show.”
Withrow was 17-7 last season but proved ready for the postseason. McBride has put together another rough schedule to see if it will pay off even more this time.
The Tigers certainly return lot of talent and experience beginning with Gates, a hulking power forward who can hurt defenses all the way out to the arc.
“I’m comfortable with him facing the basket,” McBride said. “I wouldn’t say he’s got a green light on threes but if they are good threes he can take them.”
Withrow returns another key senior in 6-2 point guard Anthony McBride – the coach’s nephew – as well as 6-4 guard Ron Bracey and 5-11 backup PG Ryan Maupin. Also, the team welcomes in a pair of talented transfers from Cincinnati Woodward in 6-2 shooting guard Troy Long and 6-4 power forward Chris Grimes. Meanwhile, 6-3 guard Josh Rogers has transferred from Purcell Marian.
McBride averaged 18.5 ppg last season and Long put up 17.0 ppg at Woodward, but they have not yet played together.
“I’m not too worried about our chemistry,” second-year coach Walt McBride said, “because basically with our kids they all want to win. So after the first loss or whatever they’ll mesh together and they’ll figure it out.”
* Columbus Northland – The Vikings are, in a word, loaded. They feature two of the top players in the area and among the best in their class in the state in the 6-8 Sullinger and 6-4 senior guard Devon Moore.
Jared is explosive and multitalented, which explains why he already has been offered – and accepted – a scholarship from Ohio State. Moore, the team’s leading returning scorer at 16.5 ppg, plays equally well off or with the ball and sets up teammates as effectively as he produces his own offense.
“He’s our creator,” Satch Sullinger said of the long-armed Moore, who currently is contemplating offers from Kent State, Toledo and Bowling Green. “He has the ability to make people around him better. I tell our bigs all the time to run the floor because he rewards you.”
Moore and classmate Ian Nixson, a 5-10 point guard Sullinger called the player who improved the most over the summer, will have plenty of big bodies to find, including 6-6 sophomore wing J.D. Weatherspoon, and tenacious inside players Javon Cornley, a 6-5 junior, and Nick Turner, a 6-6 sophomore who didn’t play last year but decided to join the fun.
The depth is in place with 6-4 junior wing Dimond Hale, 5-9 freshman point guard Trey Burke, and 6-6 junior power forward Sam Belisle, who broke his hand last year in a JV game against Brookhaven and had to leave – after he already had amassed 26 points and 18 rebounds.
Northland won city and district championships last season and posted a gaudy 24-1 mark after losing in the regional semifinals. The Vikings look like they can dock at the state tourney if they want this year.
“This is the best team I’ve ever had,” Sullinger said. “On top of that, it’s not only a talented team but a group of really good kids. That’s what makes it so special.”
* Garfield Heights – Coach Sonny Johnson lost several seniors who helped elevate the program last year as Garfield Heights rejoined the elite of northeast Ohio with a 20-3 record. Still, the Bulldogs have plenty of reasons for optimism.
They start with 6-5 guard/forward Robert Wilson, an athletic and tough performer who should be a perfect fit next year at Wisconsin. Wilson averaged 15.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg last season. He’ll be joined in the backcourt by 5-11 junior Carl Jones, who produced 16.4 ppg and 4.3 assists per game as a sophomore.
Johnson added even more ball handling by inserting 5-10 freshman point guard Trey Lewis and also will utilize 6-3 junior Roy Brown in a variety of roles. The front line got a boost from the arrival of 6-5 Paul McQueen, who transferred from Cleveland Heights Lutheran East in the summer.
Still, the signature approach will be guard-oriented and applying lots of ball pressure.
“We will definitely play uptempo,” Johnson said. “We feel we have very good guards and we want to press and get after people.”
* Lakewood St. Edward – Blessed with some of the top talent in the area, including Ohio “Mr. Basketball” front runner Roe, the Eagles will want to take the next step and soar toward a state championship. St. Ed fell to eventual state champion Cincinnati Moeller 67-60 in a state semifinal game. That loss left St. Ed at 25-1 on the season.
“Everybody was disappointed when we went 25-0 and won two national tournaments, but we did not win the state,” said St. Ed coach Eric Flannery. “Our goal is to win the whole thing. We felt we had that ability and talent, but if you don’t play a great game on one night you won’t be able to do it.
“We had good focus in the off-season. We have worked hard and we will strive to get back to that point and try and win the state championship.”
Flannery welcomes back Roe as well as two other starters in 6-8 senior center Tom Pritchard and 6-2 senior point guard Frankie Dobbs. The Eagles did lose 6-2 sophomore shooting guard Pe’shon Howard who transferred to Oak HIll Academy.
Pritchard, an Indiana verbal, averaged 12 points and seven rebounds a game last year. Dobbs averaged six points and six assists per game. Howard is a player already attracting interest from major schools.
“Only being a sophomore, Pe’shon has a lot of skills,” Flannery said. “He is very mature for sophomore. He has an ability to score. He can shoot from the perimeter and also gets the ball to the basket. As he learns how to play, the sky could be the limit.”
Also back are several key reserves, including 6-6 wing Connor Tilow, 6-4 forward Alex Sterba, 6-4 forward Justin Staples and 6-1 guard Mike Hartnett.
St. Ed will host Campbell (Calif.) Hall in an ESPN-televised game Dec. 6. The Eagles will also play in national events in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Erie, Pa., in addition to their usual strong schedule of Ohio opponents.
* Warren Harding – Few teams at the prep level can field a front line of three players 6-5 or taller who can score, defend, rebound and run the floor but that’s exactly what Harding has in the senior triumvirate of 6-8 Chris Henderson, 6-7 Damian Eargle and 6-5 Elijah Jordan.
Eargle is the standout after averaging 14.0 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, but Henderson seems like a perfect complement inside.
“Damian already is our all-time shot-block leader and Chris is probably going to finish second in that category,” coach Steve Arnold said. “Chris is one of the best passing big men in the area and he and Damian just work so well together in there.
“We like to get out and run at every opportunity and those guys are going to trigger our fast break by sending out shots and getting rebounds.”
When they do hit high gear, the Raiders showcase a pair of highly talented junior guards – 6-4 point Desmar Jackson and 6-2 off-guard Sheldon Brogdon. Arnold said Jackson, who has take-over ability, played unselfishly with the team this summer after transferring from Warren JFK. Brogdon, meanwhile, is instant offense.
“He can flat-out score,” Arnold said. “He’s one of the best shooters around.”
With so much talent, Arnold already has addressed the bull’s-eye that now rests on the chests of the Raiders, who were 17-6 a year ago.
“We know we’re going to be hunted,” he said. “We are every year but this year even moreso. There are high expectations.
“It looks very good on paper but we have to go out and be productive. As a coaching staff we’re making sure we plant the seed that we need to defend. If we do that, rebound and share the ball, everything else will take care of itself.”
Harding had its 2006-07 season end with a loss to Canton GlenOak in the district finals. Arnold has put together another brutal schedule, which includes nonconference tilts with Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Toledo Scott, Bedford, Cincinnati Withrow and Mansfield Senior.
* Also Keep An Eye On – Bedford, Canton McKinley, Centerville, Cincinnati Moeller, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Cincinnati Winton Woods, Euclid, Massillon Perry, Middletown, Newark, Toledo St. John’s