The D-IV boys high school basketball season is almost here…Find out what you need to know before tip-off arrives. JJHuddle is YOUR HOME for Ohio HS Boys Basketball. Preseason All-Ohio Teams, Top Returning Teams & Players, Sleepers & More…
Division IV Overview
The 2012-2013 boy’s basketball season is just days away from getting started with small school towns hoping to hang that coveted OHSAA state title banner in their respective gymnasium.
Division IV, Ohio’s smallest division, has been dominated over the past two seasons by small school giant Berlin Hiland. Following 15 years without a state championship, the Hawks broke through for the East District in 2011 by defeating Harvest Prep for the crown. After a brutal regular season schedule, which featured wins over Akron SVSM, Orrville, Brookhaven, and Worthington Christian, the Hawks (27-1) defeated the odds in the tournament by repeating as state champions with a convincing victory over previously unbeaten Jackson Center.
Hiland will try to become just the second school to three-peat in DIV since the four-division inception in 1988, Columbus Wehrle being the other. This will be a tall task considering Hiland lost 96-percent of its scoring, 90-percent of its rebounding, and 95-percent of its assists. Not to mention losing the JJHuddle DIV Player of the Year in Dylan Kaufman (Findlay) along with JJHuddle 1st Team All-Ohioan Seger Bonifant (West Liberty). Also, departed is 6-foot-7 Neil Gingerich (Ohio Valley) and heady guard Jason Miller (Malone).
Look for the balance of power to shift to the Northeast this season or possibly the Central District. Cleveland VASJ and Richmond Heights are both set for big years in the NE and Newark Catholic returns its top seven from last season’s regional team along with Columbus Africentric (DIV- state semifinalist).
The division seems to be a bit top heavy, and as always, it’s hard to figure out the very deep Northwest. The NW dominated Ohio’s small school division for much of the first decade of the 21st century, but has gone without a title since New Knoxville’s gold in 2008.
Here is a look at some of DIV’s top teams and players.
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Preseason All-Ohio Teams:
Demonte Flannigan (6’7/Sr.)- Cleveland VASJ
Wade Gelhaus (6’5/Sr.)- Fort Recovery
Rico Jones (5’10/Sr.)- Richmond Heights
Duane Gibson (6’3/Sr.)- Cleveland VASJ
Jett Speelman (6’7/Sr.)- Newark Catholic
Zach Garber (6’8/Sr.)- Vanlue
Brian Parker (6’2/So.)- Cleveland VASJ
Carlton Bragg (6’9/So.)- Cleveland VASJ
Kenny Robinson (6’0/Sr.)- Columbus Africentric
Max Kapron (6’5/Sr.)- Malvern
Grant Zawadzki (5’11/So.)- Troy Christian
David Meurer (5’9/Sr.)- Newark Catholic
Ryan Mikesell (6’5/So.)- St. Henry
Kyle Pipenger (6’2/Sr.)- Tri-Village
Elijah Kahlig (6’4/Jr.)- Fort Recovery
Alex Meyer (6’3/Sr.)- Jackson Center
Austin Adams (6’3/So.)- Oregon Cardinal Stritch
Brandon Bailey (6’7/Sr.)- Conotton Valley
Bryan Gee (6’0/Jr.)- Cornerstone Christian
Chad Lands (5’10/Sr.)- Beaver Eastern
Connor McMcreary (5’10/Jr.)- Colonel Crawford
Curtis Geise (5’11/Sr.)- Delphos St. John’s
Dalton Buck (5’10/Sr.)- McComb
Dave Brown (5’6/Sr.)- Toledo MVCD
David Reyes (6’1/Sr.)- Pettisville
Eric Cellier (6’2/Sr.)- Toledo Christian
Geoffrey Beans (6’5/Jr.)- Ottawa Hills
Jerry Brown (6’1/Sr.)- McComb
Justin Mahlmeister (6’4/Sr)- Ironton St. Joseph
Kyle Stahl (6’4/Sr.)- St. Henry
Lucas Janowicz (6’4/Sr.)- Ottawa Hills
Luke Knapke (6’9/So.)- Marion Local
Matt Knight (5’11/Sr.)- Windham
Nick Warnement (6’2/Sr.)- Tiffin Calvert
Roland Newsome (6’3/Sr.)- Yellow Springs
Ryan Arington (6’6/Sr.)- Cincinnati Christian
Stephen Politano (6’0/Sr.)- McDonald
Steven Carpenter (6’4/Jr.)- Fairfield Christian
Wes Mink (6’4/Jr.)- Cincinnati Country Day
*Returning JJHuddle Divison IV All-Ohio perfomers include Demonte Flannigan of Cleveland VASJ (1st Team), Wade Gelhaus of Fort Recovery (2nd Team), Rico Jones of Richmond Heights (3rd Team), Jett Speelman of Newark Catholic (3rd Team), and Zach Garber of Vanue (3rd Team).
*Returning Associated Press Division IV All-Ohio performers include Jett Speelman (1st Team), Wade Gelhaus (1st Team), Demonte Flannigan (1st Team), Ryan Arrington of Cincinnati Christian (2nd Team), Zach Garber (2nd Team), Alton Frizzell of Millersport (3rd Team), Steven Carpenter of Fairfield Chrsitan (3rd Team), and Matt Knight of Windham (3rd Team).
*Division IV- Division 1 commits include Zach Garber (Toledo), Demonte Flannigan (Cleveland State) and Duane Gibson of Cleveland VASJ (Evansville).
*Division IV- Division 2 commits include Wade Gelhaus (Saginaw Valley State) and Jett Speelman (Ashland).
*Cleveland VASJ (15-9)
The Vikings’ enrollment may have dropped over the past 20 years, but the talent certainly has not. Cleveland VASJ won the Division I crown in 1991 and then DII titles in ’92, ’94, and ’95. Seventeen-plus years removed from its last title, the Vikings’ enrollment has dropped all the way to DIV status. Last season, with a team playing three freshmen significant minutes, VASJ made the district final in its first year in DIV. The Vikings fell 67-64, in overtime, to a veteran and talented Richmond Heights’ squad. The Cleveland-based school returns the nucleus of its squad and has the potential to start five Division 1 prospects.
Four-year starter Demonte Flannigan leads the Vikings. The 6-foot-7 Flannigan, a Cleveland State pledge, is one of the best athletes in the state with a college-ready body. Flannigan averaged a team-leading 16.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game as a junior. Senior guard Duane Gibson, an Evansville commit, will flank Flannigan, who swatted away just over two shots per game a year ago. Gibson, at 6-foot-3, averaged 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds, and led the team in assists with 154. Sophomore Brian Parker (6’2) was third on the team in scoring at (10.8 ppg.) and third in rebounding (6.0 rpg.). Parker, who is a strong and athletic lefty, is also drawing D1 interest. The fourth and final returning starter may be the hottest name in Ohio right now in 6-foot-9 Carlton Bragg. The sophomore is loaded with potential and has turned heads over the last couple months at several elite camps/showcases. Bragg is a long and athletic big with a vastly improved offensive face up game along with being a very good eraser on the defensive end. His ability to run the floor, be active, and create match up problem should be a huge bonus for the Vikings. He owns offers from several high-major schools already. Look for his numbers to seriously increase this season.
Sophomore Derek Pardon (6’6) has a chance to the fifth starter, and should be another “big” piece to the puzzle. The big lefty should give head coach Babe Kwasniak another option in the paint along with Flannigan and Bragg. Pardon is another kid, who could eventually land at D1 university. Junior Deandre Forte (6’1), and sophomores Vaughn Johnson (5’10) and Simon Texidor (6’0) are more returnees for the Vikings.
Sophomores Tre Williams (6’3) and Jeff Grudzinski (6’1) are newcomers that Kwasniak will be counting on to provide depth against a brutal schedule.
VASJ opens up with Columbus Africentric in the Clark Kellogg Tip-Off Classic before road games with DI’s Lakewood St. Edward and Euclid. The Vikings will also take part in the Cure for Cancer Shootout at Massillon Jackson where they will meet DI power Westerville North. A very good DIII Beachwood team will be at home along with home/away versus rival Cleveland Central Catholic. In addition, games with Cleveland John Hay, West Virginia power Martinsburg, Akron SVSM, Brush, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Dalton, and home/away against rival Bedford Chanel.
We can say this with confidence, no Division IV team in the state plays a tougher schedule than VASJ and it’s not close. The Vikings, along with their schedule and elite talent, are no doubt our favorite to win the state championship. However, Coach Kwasniak isn’t ready to hear it.
“We have a team that has never accomplished anything in a school that has a storied tradition,” Kwasniak noted.
Cleveland VASJ will have to replace graduates Karl Garner (11.5 ppg.) and Mel Burke Jr. (4.4 ppg.), both guards.
Bottom Line: VASJ plays an absolutely ridiculous schedule for any high school team let alone a DIV outfit, so the Vikings will have some losses coming into tournament play. Nevertheless, this is one of most talented teams in the state regardless of division with the possibility of five future D1 players on the roster. No doubt, it will take a monumental effort for a DIV team to beat this squad.
*Richmond Heights (24-2)
Other than Berlin Hiland, we would have a hard time finding a team with better success over the past two seasons. Richmond Heights has won 48 of its last 51 contests. The Spartans season ended in heartbreaking fashion last year when Hiland’s Seger Bonifant canned a trey in the closing seconds to give the Hawks a 41-40 triumph in the regional championship tilt and would go on to run away with the state gold.
In the loss, Richmond Heights saw high school careers end for Tommy Scales, Ishaam Smith, Kareem Rock, and London Fulton, which for most DIV schools would be detrimental. However, even with Mark Williams (6’8/Sr.) transferring to Montrose Christian (MD), the Spartans have enough talent to be considered one of the state’s best.
Starters Rico Jones and Frank Barber return along with key subs Arthur Christian and Ousmane Bamba Jr. Furthermore, the Spartans will welcome in Lyndhurst Brush transfer Jameel Moore (6’2/Sr.).
Bottom Line: Three all-district performers return in Jones (12.5 ppg.), Christian (10 ppg.), and Barber (7 ppg.) along with a talented transfer in Moore, so expectations should be high once again Size may be an issue matching up with the likes of VASJ, but Richmond Heights should have enough talent to at least play for another district championship.
*Newark Catholic (21-4)
The Green Wave has long been known as football school and rightfully so with its storied history, but Newark Catholic is slowly proving it can be a dominant basketball place as well. The Green Wave earned a runner-up finish in 2010 losing to a strong Dayton Jefferson squad. Despite losing their entire starting squad, NC made it back to the district championship the following year. Last season, under new head coach Eric Sheck, NC reached the regional semis before dropping a tough nod to a talented Columbus Africentric team. In all, NC has won three district titles in the past four seasons.
The Green Wave return their top seven from last year’s unit, including AP Central District Player of the Year and 1st Team All-Ohioan, Jett Speelman (6’7/Sr.). Speelman, who averaged nearly 18 points per contest, was 3rd JJHUDDLE All-Ohio. Seniors David Meurer (5’9, 15 ppg.), Mitch Cox (6’2), Chayce Crouch (6’3), and Kevin Bourne (5’10) and junior Conor Keck (6’7) will join Speelman. The lengthy Keck has grown from 6’5 to 6’7 and should be more of an impact player this season.
Newark Catholic will open at home against a game Columbus Bishop Watterson squad. Other non-league games will feature Bishop Ready, Vincent Warren Local, Alliance Marlington, Fairfield Christian, Zanesville Rosecrans, and either Johnstown Monore or Big Walnut in the Green Wave holiday tournament.
NC and Columbus Africentric will be heavy favorites to advance to the Schottenstein Center, but Coach Sheck wants to hear nothing of the sort.
“We have to keep our composure and take it one game at a time,” Sheck mentioned. “We have to remember this is a team game and not be selfish. The kids can’t buy into the hype, because last year is last year and we have won nothing yet. We haven’t won a game yet. We need to stay disciplined and focused.”
Bottom Line: The Green Wave return the entire squad from last year’s regional team, so it would be crazy to think they won’t be one of the state’s best teams. NC will have to conquer Africentric’s pressure and athleticism if it wants to advance past the regional.
*Columbus Africentric (22-4)
The Nubians are one of the best small school teams in the state and regardless of what some may think, are very well coached and their players execute game plans. Africentric will be looking to make its third consecutive trip to the state tournament and third overall in DIV.
Head Coach Michael Bates has done a tremendous job with Nubians and he appears to have a unit primed to make another run. In all, the Africentric returns seven of its 11-man rotation that jumped out to a big lead against Jackson Center in last year’s state semis before running out gas in the second half.
The Nubians welcome back their backcourt in seniors Trevon Saunders (5’10) and Kenny Robinson (6’0). The duo will likely carry the scoring load until some of the less experienced guys get more game action.
“We are looking for our senior guards for leadership,” Bates said. “The experience on our team is in the backcourt, where we will look to (Trevon) Saunders to be our floor general and (Kenny) Robinson to step in and lead us in scoring.
Seniors Cyquil Tucker (6’1), Leo Ross (5’10), and Neshaun Walls (5’9), junior Akil Cornish (6’0), and sophomores Ulmer Manzie (6’7) and Jaquan Harrison (6’3) all saw significant minutes last year. Harrison should play a much bigger role this season after spending last year mainly as the 6th man. He is very good athlete and has the ability to own the paint. Manzie is another kid to keep an eye on as he should have a breakout year.
“Jaquan Harrison will step into a starting role and hopefully build on his promising freshman season,” Bates continued. “He is extremely athletic and developing a more consistent jump shot. I’m also very excited about Ulmer Manzie. He played JV last year (his first year playing basketball). He had a great summer and is developing into a nice post player.”
Freshmen Houston Smith (6’3), Kyree Bell (5’7), and Parell Tyler (6’2) will all be thrust into the mix.
“We are also excited about freshman Houston Smith,” stated the Nubians boss. “He is 6’3, athletic, and can play inside and outside.”
The Nubians will play a more than formidable schedule including games with Cleveland VASJ, St. Clairsville, Peebles, Coshocton, Walnut Ridge, Eastmoor, Marion-Franklin, and Columbus South.
Africentric will likely be battling Newark Catholic for supremacy in the Central District.
“Newark Catholic will be tough,” Bates relayed. “They are definitely the team to beat in our area.”
Bottom Line: The Nubians will once again be a favorite to return to the state tournament. The key to the season for Africentric will be how quickly the frontcourt emerges.
SOUTHWEST/WEST CENTRAL OHIO
*St. Henry (20-5)
The Redskins returned to Division IV last season, and wasted little time joining in the fun. St. Henry survived district games with Convoy Crestview and favored Fort Recovery to return to regional play. The Redskins season was cut short by eventual state runner-up Jackson Center, 37-30 in the regional semis.
Starters Kyle Stahl (6’4/Sr.) and Jordan Bender (6’0/Sr.) return to lead a very formidable squad. The key piece to the puzzle is Ryan Mikesell (6’5/So.). The sophomore, who thrives with the ball in his hands and attacking the basket, played a vital role as a frosh, but his contribution should be greatly increased this season after a productive offseason. The other returnee is Alex Post (6’0/Sr.).
Coach Eric Rosenbeck will welcome back senior Kent Hemmelgarn (6’0), who missed last year with an injury. Juniors Tyler Schwieterman (5’11) and Jason Jacobs (6’2) are new additions along with sophomore Evan Prenger (6’0) and freshman Mitchel Stammen (5’10).
“If we stay healthy, we can be a good basketball team,” Rosenbeck noted.
Bottom Line: St. Henry gave up just under 45 points per game and 38 percent shooting a year ago, and defense will once again be its calling card. Though, with the emergence of Mikesell as a scorer, the Redskins now have a much-needed scoring threat. As always, the district will be very tough.
*Fort Recovery (20-3)
It would be hard to list St. Henry without having Fort Recovery close by, which is why the Indians are just one spot beneath the Redskins. FR’s season ended at the hands of St. Henry a year ago, 48-39 in the district championship. Fort Recovery has won the MAC championship two of the last three seasons, including last year.
The Indians return two of the best players in DIV, Wade Gelhaus (6’5/Sr.) and Elijah Kahlig (6’4/Jr.). Both players are regarded as solid D2 prospects. Gelhaus (Saginaw Valley State commit) has secured 831-career points heading into his senior year. Junior Ben Dilworth (6’0) is the other returning starter. Juniors Kent Retz (6’3) and Alex Kaiser (6’0) along with senior Mason Evers (6’2) will be called to bigger roles this season. Look for newcomers Jacob Schoen (6’1/Sr.) and freshmen Kyle Schroer (5’8) and Darien Sheffer (5’9) to also have an impact.
“If we can replace the toughness and leadership of (Jason Pottkotter and Jared Kahlig), I think we can be a good team at the end of the season,” mentioned head coach Brian Patch. “Some concerns for us will be rebounding and having some others stepping up to be able to score after Wade (Gelhaus) and Elijah (Kahlig). We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are looking forward to challenges in front of us and the team we think we can be.”
Bottom Line: The Indians return an AP 1st Team All-Ohioan and 2nd JJHUDDLE All-Ohioan in Gelhaus, so that is always a good place to start. Look for Kahlig to step up as a scorer this season. Pottkotter and Jared Kahlig did a lot of the dirty work last year, which may be more of loss than people might imagine. Fort Recovery should be one of the favorites in a very tough district with St. Henry, Delphos St. John’s, Marion Local, and Convoy Crestview.
This could be a banner year for the Patriots. Tri-Village returns four starters from a team that lost in the district finals to eventual state runner-up Jackson Center, 40-35 in overtime.
“We are excited and expectations are high in Patriot country,” stated Josh Sagester, Tri-Village’s head coach. “The theme for this year is ‘unfinished business’ as we have a few goals that we would like to accomplish before we lose this core group of seniors. As I see it, we have a lot of sweat equity and that cannot be replaced.”
Kyle Pipenger (6’3/Sr.) leads the returning starters coming off a junior year averaging 21 points per game.
“He had a phenomenal year as a junior and I expect him to pick up where he left off,” Sagester noted. “He’s getting several Division 2 looks and I expect his stock to continue to rise.”
Pipenger will be blanketed by marksman Shade Brubaker (6’0/Sr.), seasoned point guard Matt Werner (5’11/Sr.), and 215-pound Tyler Cook (6’6/Jr.). T-V also returns shot blocker Andrew Wilcox (6’7/Sr.). Newcomers Colton Linkous (6’3/So.) and Kaleb Chowning (6’4/Sr.) will provide depth.
“Our 6th man is Colton Linkous, who is as good as a sophomore around,” Sagester said. “The sky is the limit for him.”
Bottom Line: Tri-Village is a senior-laden team with a go-to-guy in crunch time, which usually equates to a very good year. This is a team that could make a Jackson Center-like run. The ingredients are basically the same.
*Troy Christian (17-6)
The Eagles are on the rise in small school basketball. Troy Christian is one of the emerging small schools in Ohio. The Eagles proved they belong with the big boys in DIV following a school-record 17-win season a year ago, which ended in a hard-fought loss to Dayton Jefferson in a district semis match up, 39-30.
TC is looking to three-peat as Metro Buckeye Conference champions and making an even deeper run through the DIV state tournament. The Eagles return over a 1,000 total points from a team that gave up just 41 points per game.
Coach Ray Zawadzki’s son, Grant Zawadzki (5’11/So.), leads a list of four returning starters. Zawadzki led the team in points at 14.2 points a game along with setting records for most assists (117) and steals (65) in a season and a single game. Senior Christian Salazar (6’5) returns after averaging just below 10 points and nine rebounds as a junior. Nathan Kirkpatrick (5’10/Sr.) and Spencer Thomas (6’0/Jr.) scored (8.3) and (7.1) points a night respectively as starters a season ago.
Juniors Nathan Boone (6’11) and Logan George (6’4) should provide the Eagles depth along with size. Holden Varvel (6’0/Jr.) is a newcomer to the line up.
TC will have to replace Jacob Grant’s (11.4 ppg.), who was lost to graduation.
Bottom Line: Troy Christian will have an excellent chance to make a deep tournament run, but getting past the likes of Dayton Jefferson and Lockland is easier said than done. On paper, the Eagles have the look of a regional qualifier.
*Jackson Center (27-1)
Jackson Center is coming off a remarkable season in which the Tigers won 27 consecutive games to reach the state championship game before losing to powerhouse Berlin Hiland.
The Tigers will have to find a way to replace the graduated Andy Hoying, who shared the Associated Press DIV Player of the Year award with Hiland’s Dylan Kaufman. In addition, Hoying earned 1st Team JJHUDDLE All-Ohio honors. Despite the enormous loss of Hoying along with fellow classmate and starter Troy Opperman, Jackson Center has enough returning to challenge in the Kettering Regional once again.
Three starters return in Alex Meyer (6’3/Sr.), Trey Elchert (5’9/Sr.), and Eric Ryder (6’5/Sr.) along with talented 6th man Gavin Wildermuth (6’1/So.).
“We hope to build upon the success we have experienced the past few years,” noted Scott Elchert, Jackson Center’s head coach. “We have a nice group of experienced veterans that we hope mix in with our newcomers.”
Other returnees include Levi Winner (6’3/Sr.), Nathan Wahrer (6’1/Sr.), and Nathan Hensley (5’8/Sr.), Joey Frye (5’8/Sr.). Look for freshman Drew Sosby (5’10/Fr.) to also be in the mix.
Bottom Line: Meyer (14.1 ppg.) and Wildermuth should carry the scoring load, but the Tigers will need to continue to smother offenses with their stellar defense. JC gave up just 41.6 points per game a season ago. The Tigers should be a major player once again in the Kettering Regional.
*Colonel Crawford (19-5)
There was a logjam of teams in consideration for the No. 10 spot, but Colonel Crawford won out. Coming off a regional appearance in 2012, the Eagles look to continue their success in 2013 with a host of returnees.
“We return a lot of varsity players and have depth,” said David Sheldon, Colonel Crawford’s boss. “Though, we must get better on the defensive end of the floor.”
Six lettermen return from a team that lost to unbeaten Edgerton (46-40) in the regional semis at Bowling Green University. Junior Connor McCreary (5’10), who was 2nd Team All-North Central Conference as a sophomore, averaged 13.5 points and 2.8 assists per game. Austin Adams (6’0/Sr.) returns after scoring (10.5 ppg.) as a junior.
Seniors Clay Jury (6’4) and Alec Hetzel (6’2) return on the interior along with classmate Spencer Tackett (5’11) on the perimeter. Junior Nate Klingenberger (6’4) is another solid option in the paint. The above four all averaged between four and five points per game.
The list of newcomers includes senior Mitch Cook (6’2), juniors Logan Sager (5’10), Nick Adams (5’10), and sophomores Todd Entenmann (6’2) and Clay Martin (6’3). Both Entenmann and Martin are guards with nice size for the position.
Bottom Line: Colonel Crawford should be the favorite once again at the Willard District, but Plymouth and Norwalk St. Paul are also expecting big things. The Eagles will need to replace departed seniors Matt Metcalf (12.7 ppg.) and Jordan Shell (8.1 ppg.), which means some new faces must step up. Look for McCreary to have a breakout year.
Don’t Sleep On These Teams
Convoy Crestview, Marion Local, Delphos St. John’s, Miller City, Pettisville, Antwerp, Kalida, Continental, Edgerton, Dalton, Cornerstone Christian, Lutheran East, Toledo Christian, Ottawa Hills, Toledo MVCD, McComb, Arlington, Leipsic, Columbus Grove, Franklin-Monroe, Norwalk St. Paul, Plymouth, Malvern, Berlin Hiland, Hannibal River, Conotton Valley, Dayton Miami Valley, Lockland, Dayton Jefferson, Fairfield Christian, Beaver Eastern, and Vanlue.