but that’s exactly what the Wolverines did, proving their determination
and the true force of their program under head coach Peter Pullen. Dunbar figures to be in the hunt once again, but they're not alone. Canal Winchester, Chillicothe, Toledo Libbey and Columbus Desales are also in the mix.
Dayton Dunbar was not supposed to repeat its crown at the D-II level but that’s exactly what the Wolverines did, proving their determination and the true force of their program under head coach Peter Pullen.
Dunbar figures to be in the hunt once again, but this division immediately got tougher with Toledo Libbey’s shift downward and there are several other teams that appeared primed for a big season, most notably Chillicothe. Plus, D-II always manages to spring some surprises, and sure enough there are a plethora of squads lurking in the shadows.
Who will emerge? It’s anybody’s guess.
* B.J. Mullens, 7-0, Sr., C, Canal Winchester – Mullens played his first two varsity seasons at Canal Winchester World Harvest Prep before transferring to nearby Canal Winchester. He averaged 26.4 points, and 14.1 rebounds per game in his first season with the Indians, earning second-team All-Ohio honors. One of the top recruits in his class nationally, Mullens committed to Ohio State before he even played varsity basketball.
* William Buford, 6-5, Sr., G/F, Toledo Libbey – A surefire all-state player and “Mr. Basketball” candidate, Buford has a little work to do before joining the ranks at Ohio State – like try to lead his team to a state title. He scored a whopping 28.4 ppg and added 10 boards per outing last year and was named first team All-Ohio in Division I.
* Logan Aronholt, 6-4, Sr., WF, Zanesville – First-team All-State performer last year who averaged 17.3 ppg.
* Anthony Hitchens, 5-9, Sr., PG, Chillicothe – Exciting point man who makes Chillicothe go. Averaged 18.5 ppg and was named second-team All-Ohio.
* Josh Benson, 6-10, Sr., PF, Dayton Dunbar – Burgeoning star who will try to lead Dunbar back to the stop of Division II. Already committed to Dayton.
* Nick Kellogg, 6-2, Soph., PG, Columbus DeSales – At this rate, Kellogg could be the best player in Division I by next year. Strong and feisty and able to make big plays.
TEAMS TO WATCH
* Canal Winchester – The Indians have the services of the best big man in the state in Mullens and may have enough pieces around him to reach Columbus in March.
He’s got a lot of potential and has worked hard on his game the last year and half he’s been with us,” longtime CW coach Kent Riggs said. “We’re excited about where we can go.
“The expectations probably are a little higher now but we’ve approached this season like the ones in the past by putting together a good schedule against the kind of teams we’ll see as we try to move through the tournament.”
Ball handling was an issue at times last season but Canal may have rectified that thanks to the transfer of 5-8 point guard Ray Nelson, a former teammate of Mullens at Columbus Harvest Prep. Another senior, 5-11 Aaron Gilbert, also is back at the position.
Other guards include a pair of juniors in 5-10 Wes White and 5-8 Anthony Riggs, the coach’s son who served as the sixth man last season. Senior Blake Erwin already is lost for the season with a knee injury but 6-4 Aaron Barber should be able to aid Mullens inside.
Canal finished 16-7 last year and showed lots of improvement by season’s end.
“Last year we were really young and it was like starting over because the kids had to get used to playing with B.J.,” Kent Riggs said. “Once they did that we were pretty competitive.”
* Chillicothe – The Cavaliers remember too well their 76-70 loss to Columbus DeSales in a Division II regional championship at Ohio University in March. That ended their 2006-07 season a step away from the state tournament and left a sour taste in the mouths of a team that will return almost entirely intact.
Head coach Gary Kellough loaded up the Cavs’ schedule to keep them pointed toward big things again this season – and it doesn’t hurt that he’ll boast the return of 11 of 13 letter winners from a team that posted a record of 20-5 last year.
The only departed starter is power forward Chris Gibbons, who is now playing football at Miami (Ohio), and his most likely replacement is 6-5 Seth Dawes, a junior with previous starting experience. Also vying for more work inside is Ronnie Smith, another 6-5 junior.
The center spot is manned by 6-7 senior Ray Chambers, who is being courted by several Division I schools. Chambers averaged right around 17 points per game and a like number of boards last season.
“He’s a rebounding machine,” Kellough said.
The Cavs have good skill on the wing and in the backcourt. Stu Beverly, a 6-2 senior will return to the three position and Calbe Knight, a 6-2 junior, should be ready to take flight at off-guard. Knight is another D-1 recruit in basketball – if he doesn’t decide to play quarterback at the next level.
The point guard spot is in the able hands of Hitchens, a senior who answers to the nickname “Humpty” and one of the most revered players in program history. The 5-10 Hitchens, who already is committed to Akron, averaged 18.5 ppg last season to lead the team in scoring for the third straight year.
“We feel really good about our experience,” Kellough said. “Last year we were still a year away from getting to Columbus but we believe we can get another shot at it.
“We’re just like any other good team – we’ve got to keep improving, avoid injuries and make sure we’re moving forward toward our goal.”
Chillicothe opens the season with a date with Columbus Brookhaven.
* Columbus DeSales – The Stallions enter this season with hunger pangs since their magical run through last year’s tournament ended with a dramatic 58-56 loss to Wooster Triway in a state semifinal match-up. The defeat left DeSales with a final mark of 22-4.
Also, the team had to part ways with three players who went on to the college ranks – Alex Kellogg (Providence), Elijah Allen (Northwest Missouri State) and Dane Johnson (Western Oregon) – and five other seniors.
“The makeup of our team is different,” coach Blair Albright said. “We’re going to have to work really hard, if not harder, but our guys are to set to prove they can play, too.”
Nick, the younger, Kellogg, will lock down the point guard duties and keep everyone involved and enthused.
“He’s a competitive monster,” Albright said. “and that’s a good thing because there is a lot on his shoulders for us to be successful.”
Kellogg will reunite with three other returning starters – 6-0 junior off-guard Zak Gabarcik, 6-3 junior wing Nick Goff and 7-1 senior center Sean Hobbs. The X-factor is new power forward Ike Ariguzo, a 6-5 junior who can make athletic plays on both ends of the floor.
“We should be a four-out, one-in (offense) with Sean getting more touches inside,” Albright said. “It’ll be interesting to see how we evolve, but I really like this group.”
* Dayton Dunbar – Dunbar had lots to celebrate in the way of hoops last spring and summer as the Wolverines repeated as Division II state champs and favorite son Daequan Cook helped the Buckeyes to the Final Four and became a first-round draft pick of the NBA.
And the cupboard is not bare this year.
Pullen has a centerpiece in the lanky and talented Benson, who figures to only build on last season.
“We really hope what he showed at state by being MVP and playing well that his maturity light has turned on,” longtime Dunbar assistant coach Al Powell said. “He’s the nucleus to our team and he’s working hard.”
Unfortunately for the Wolves, Anthony Oden, the younger brother of former Ohio State star Greg Oden, has returned to Indianapolis and will not play his senior season at Dunbar. The 6-9 Oden is a board eater who could have taken some pressure off of Benson.
Still, the Wolverines have a rising talent in 6-6 power forward Derion Brandon and can shuffle sophomores Devon Carter and Deon Stewart at wing forward.
The backcourt has lost great players like Cook in the last couple years but Dunbar has a pair of guards who are tourney-tested in 6-1 Keith Rakestraw and 6-2 Harvey Stewart. Rakestraw averaged 16 ppg during the postseason run in March.
Powell said the coaches also believe they can get instant energy from 5-7 point guard Keith Winn, a shooter and jet-quick player in the open floor.
“What people don’t realize is we actually bring back four solid kids who had solid numbers last year,” Powell said. “No disrespect to the southwest Ohio region but we feel like we still can contend.”
Dunbar again will take on one of the most challenging slates in the state by tangling with the likes of Columbus Brookhaven, Chillicothe, Columbus Northland, Chaminade-Julienne, Akron Buchtel, Berlin Hiland and Lexington (Ky.) Dunbar.
* Toledo Libbey – Buford is not all Libbey possesses. In fact, fellow seniors Julius Wells and Brad Sandridge are talented in their own right and just as anxious to help the Cowboys ride high this season.
Wells is a 6-5 forward and Sandridge a 6-3 guard. They are playing to catch the eyes of college coaches this season, but mostly they are intent to combine forces with their buddy Buford one more time to see if they can advance even deeper into the postseason.
Last season, to prepare for such a possible run, coach Leroy Bates’ team played no less than 10 games on neutral floors and still came away with a 21-2 record.
“That motivated us and made us more hungry to win,” Sandridge told The (Toledo) Blade last winter. “We want to get to state. We have the weapons to get down there. It’s just going to take discipline, a lot of discipline.”
However, Libbey absorbed a 75-70 loss in the district final to Toledo St. John’s Jesuit, a team it had beaten twice in the regular season. Buford had 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists, but it wasn’t enough for the Cowboys to meet their goal.
“This is not where we wanted to end up,” he said after the loss. “We wanted to end up in Columbus, but sometimes it happens like this and we've got next year. We just don't want to feel this (disappointment) again. We're going to try to take it all the way next year.”
The program’s switch to Division II might help Libbey do just that.
* Also Keep An Eye On – Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Cincinnati Taft, Kenton, Kettering Alter, Poland Seminary, Toledo Central Catholic, Upper Sandusky, Wooster Triway, Zanesville.