Dayton Thurgood Marshall, which is only in its second year of existence,
is just two wins away from bringing home a D-II state title
thanks to a hard fought 44-42 triumph of Columbus Watterson.
Marshall, formerly known as Colonel White, will be making the
80-mile drive across Interstate 70 East on Friday to Columbus.
Dayton Thurgood Marshall, which is only in its second year of existence, is just two wins away from bringing home a Division II championship thanks to a hard fought 44-42 triumph of Columbus Bishop Watterson. Marshall, formerly known as Dayton Colonel White, will be making the 80-mile drive across Interstate 70 East to the state’s capital.
The Cougars, led by head coach John Ralph, surged past Wilmington in the regional semifinals 67-60 and then beat upstart Columbus Watterson 44-42 in the regional final at the Cintas Center.
According to Ralph, who was a 1972 graduate of Johnstown Monroe High School near Columbus, his team is meeting expectations.
“We have won 21 games this season against a pretty good schedule,” Ralph stated. “We have been pretty good all year, but rightfully so as we set the expectations pretty high. Our team is a cohesive unit, which is meeting the expectations.”
This will be Marshall’s first run to Columbus, however Colonel White was the Division II state champion in 1990 when it defeated Portsmouth 71-57.
The ground that the new school now sits on is the same property that was home to Dayton Roth who won AA titles in 1976 and 1982, and AAA in 1981 before the school closed.
The history is there, but this group of kids is trying to write its own chapter. The new kids on the block are led by 6-foot junior Juwan Staten. The University of Dayton commit has been a star dating back to his youth league days.
Staten, who played when the school was still Colonel White, is averaging around 20 points per game. The slick junior guard chose Dayton over Ohio State, Purdue, Xavier, and Cincinnati.
Staten is no stranger to big time competition as his 16-under AAU team (All-Ohio Red) won the AAU National Championship. Playing alongside Ohio State commits Jared Sullinger (Northland) and Jordan Sibert (Princeton), unsigned big man Adreian Payne (Dayton Jefferson), Tennessee commit Aaron Craft (Liberty-Benton), and Xavier commit J.D. Weatherspoon (Northland), the boys from All-Ohio Red have played and beat the best players the country has to offer.
Furthermore, the Cougars were the beneficiary of Trotwood-Madison transfer Greg Gainey, who is a long-time friend of Staten dating back to their middle school days playing for All-Ohio Westwood (AAU) in Dayton. The 6-foot-4 junior has been a huge lift in the paint to a team that was in line for a size upgrade. Gainey is getting 15.5 points per contest and nine boards.
According to Ralph, Gainey is more than just a solid basketball player getting mid-major looks.
“Obviously, most people know about Greg’s basketball skills,” Ralph commented. “He is a solid rebounder, can score around the rim, and is just a very good basketball player. What you may not know, Greg is just a wonderful person.”
Other essential contributors are 5-foot-10 junior Shawn Robinson and his12.6 lightings a game, 6-foot-1 senior DeAngelo Gates and his 10.2 markers an encounter, 6-foot-3 junior Tremayne Scott, and 6-foot-2 junior Melvin Banks.
“Robinson is an absolute lock down defender and our inspirational leader,” Ralph said. “He pours his heart and soul into everything he does.”
Gates has taken a different path from the rest.
“This is DeAngelo’s first season of organized basketball,” stated the seventh year boss of Thurgood Marshall dating back to Colonel White. “He has picked things up pretty quick and worked in quite nicely rising above some personal issues.”
The junior-laden Cougars aren’t ready to wait until next year as they are ready now.
“Like I said, the expectations we put on ourselves were pretty high,” stated the personable Cougars’ superior. “This team is ready to win a championship now, so we just need to continue to play at this level and see what happens”
One thing is for certain, Ralph never stops talking about his kids and the young men they have become.
“This group of 12 kids can be summed up as great people, Ralph extended. “They go to class, get their work done, are very respectful to teachers and adults, and stay clear of the troubles that youth can get into. “It just really makes my job easy, and I can never say enough about these kids.”
Though, the road to the Final Four has not been an easy one. The Cougars needed to knock off two Greater League Catholic schools (Chaminade Julienne and Kettering Alter) before beating (20-4) Roger Bacon in the district final, 67-59. The win over (15-7) Alter was in impressive fashion, 75-45.
The win over Wilmington was no different as the Cougars had to claw their way to victory. Wilmington fought back from nine down to tie the game at 54 with 4:10 to play. That is when Staten had seen enough.
The junior connected on a conventional three-point play to break the tie game, and then went 4-of-4 down the stretch from the foul line sending the Cougars to Saturday afternoon’s final.
“That pretty much sums up Juwan Staten,” Ralph lamented. “Juwan has ice water running through his veins, and just continues to do big things. He is one of ESPN’s top 50 in the junior class and one of the top 100 players in the country regardless of class, so that is a pretty good indication of his ability.”
Staten scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, while Gates led the Cougars with 18 markers.
Robinson led the three-point barrage by knocking down three bonus bombs on his way to 13 points, while Marshall connected on 7-of-17 attempts as a team. Banks added 10 points for the Cougars.
The regional final match up featured the talented Cougars squaring off with a Watterson team that struggled through a tough regular season schedule. However, after upsetting Olentangy Orange in the district semifinal and then racing by Granville in the district final, Watterson found itself in the regional and a semifinal match-up with No. 1 ranked and unbeaten St. Paris Graham.
The Eagles were up for the test, and ended up shocking the Falcons with a buzzer-beating shot.
“It seems like one team every year accomplishes this feat,” Ralph continued. “When I was the head coach at Lorain Admiral King we were just (9-11) in the regular season, but found a way to make a run to the regional. That was back in 1992, and it seems like it has happened at least once every year since that point.”
Ralph’s squad turned the heat off and ended Watterson’s Cinderella run. Despite falling behind by seven points after the first quarter, Watterson clawed back and trailed by just two heading into the fourth.
Gainey led the way with 14 points, while Staten added 11 and Robinson eight.
“They were a team that was very hot and playing well together,” Ralph said. “Being from the Columbus area and coaching at Mifflin in the 1980’s, I know what type of competition they play on a nightly basis in the Columbus Catholic League. They are a tough group of hard-nosed kids.”
For Ralph, the win on Saturday was extra sweet after missing out on Columbus back in 1999.
“I was an assistant at Kettering Alter from 1993 through 1998, but left before the 1998-1999 season to take a job in the athletic department at the University of Dayton,” Ralph said.
It just so happened that the Alter Knights went on to win the 1999 Division II state championship behind Keith and Adam Waleskowski