By Kurt Stubbs (JJHuddle Senior Writer)
Division II should have plenty of fun as well with defending champion Bishop Watterson returning nearly its entire roster outside of two kids and state runner-up Akron SVSM not only returning plenty, but benefitting from two terrific transfers. DII newcomer Norwalk will also be in the shuffle after bumping down from Division I. The Truckers currently hold a 43-game regular season winning streak. Dayton powers Dunbar and Thurgood Marshall are ready to return to Columbus along with Cleveland aces Central Catholic and Benedictine. Southeast Ohio should have a trio of dandies in Vincent Warren, Athens, and Logan Elm, while Northwest Ohio counters with Elida, Sandusky Perkins, and Lima Bath. We would be remiss not mentioning Columbus Brookhaven and sleepers Cincinnati Hughes, Toledo Rogers, Cincinnati Taft, Cleveland John Hay, and Bishop Fenwick.
TOP TEAMS PER REGION
*Columbus Bishop Watterson (28-1/State Champions)
After years of winning and owning one of the states most well run programs (7 district titles), Vince Lombardo and his Bishop Watterson Eagles captured the one thing that had been eluding them, a state championship.
Behind a gutsy performance from his players, Lombardo watched the clock hit zero as Akron SVSM’s Jalen Hudson nearly missed a game-tying corner three-point shot and the Eagles stormed the court in jubilation. Watterson executed its game plan to perfection and proved once again toughness and execution will trump all else.
The Eagles won’t be a one hit wonder either with 12 of its top 14 players returning from a 28-win team. Oh, and Watterson’s only loss to Brookhaven, it was able to avenge that setback in the tournament en route to a 23-game winning streak to close out the year.
Brookhaven head coach Hallie Robinson said it best “they are an excellent program with a championship quality coach and championship quality kids.”
Returning for the Eagles will be JJHuddle State Tournament MVP, Matt Hughes (6’5/Sr.), and his 10 points per game. He will be flanked by classmates Matt Lehmann (6’5/Sr.), Cody Calhoun (5’10/Sr.), and Andy Grieser (6’3/Sr.). Lehmann also totaled 10 points a night, while Calhoun and Grieser evenly split 16 counters.
Senior Tommy Geraghty (5’8) was a part-time starter, and will bring toughness and depth to the backcourt. Joe DiOrio (6’3/Sr.), Ryan Lewis (6’1/Sr.), Greg Oman (6’1/Sr.), and Mason Fisher (6’0/Sr.) all return with experience as well.
“Our seniors are an outstanding group of young men who play together very well,” Lombardo stated. “Our juniors will be ready to step in as they improve throughout the season.”
Those juniors consist of Noah Matteson (6’5/Jr.), Avery Janning (6’4/Jr.), Ben Kaminski (5’11/Jr.), and Matt Froehle (6’2/Jr.).
The Eagles defense gave up just under 36 points per game, which has been their calling card over the years. Lombardo’s attention to defense over the years is a big reason he has 359-career wins.
Bottom Line: The Eagles won a state championship in their first appearance at the final four, which is a rarity. However, repeating is no easy task considering Cleveland VASJ (’94 & ’95), Cleveland Benedictine (’97 & ’98), and Dayton Dunbar (’06 & ’07) are the only Division II schools to do since the four-division inception beginning in 1988. Though, the Eagles have the talent and coaching to do so. It’s hard to tell what the new regional assignments will be, so we will refrain from guessing. Regardless of site, Watterson will be a major threat to the rest of the state. Watterson’s length, versatility, balance, defense, and toughness will have them in the mix once again. Replacing Bryan Jackson, a ’13 graduate, won’t be easy considering his versatility. Jackson struggled in the tournament, and the Eagles still found ways to win, so Eagle fans should find comfort in that. Look for Lehmann and Grieser to have breakout seasons, as Hughes and Calhoun remain consistent. Many will argue that everyone is playing for second place with the talent Akron SVSM possesses, but something tells me the Eagles aren’t buying that thought.
*Akron SVSM (19-9/State Runner-Up)
It’s no secret Akron SVSM is one of the state’s premier programs, and that dates back even before the days of Lebron James. The Irish made its 11th state tournament appearance a season ago, but fell just short of their seventh boy’s basketball state championship. SVSM dropped a heartbreaking (55-52) decision to Watterson on the season’s final day.
The Irish will be looking to tie Middletown’s state championship record (7) once again in 2013-’14 with a team loaded even for SVSM’s standards. The chemistry appeared to be an issue at times last season, but don’t look for that to be the case this year.
The Irish always play a demanding schedule, and this year could take that to a new level. SVSM will take part in the prestigious City of Palms Tournament held in Fort Myers, Florida in late December. The Irish get the gift of playing Chicago’s Whitney Young featuring Jahlil Okafor (Duke commit) and Paul White (Georgetown commit) right out of the gate. This is all combined with the likes of Hoban, St. Edward, Cleveland CC, Benedictine, Shaker Heights, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Athens, Thurgood Marshall, Warrensville Heights, Dayton Dunbar, Cleveland VASJ, Mansfield Senior, Hoover, and Canton McKinley.
Honestly, we can’t think of more challenging schedule in recent memory.
Though, no one will feel sorry for the Irish with talent they possess. SVSM was going to be very good with the talent returning from last season’s state runner-up squad, which included VJ King (6’7/So.) and Jalen Hudson (6’6/Sr.), but the additions of Josh Williams (6’2/Jr.) and JiBri Blount (6’5/Jr.) have completely raised the level.
King is a consensus top 10 player in the country according to every major recruiting service following a stellar rookie season averaging 17 points, five rebounds, and three assists per game. King will hear from every major university in the country, so to list his offers and interests would be pointless. Yes, he has an offer from the Buckeyes. King is a member of the prestigious USA National Team where he helped the squad win gold at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Uruguay, named 2nd Team All-American by Max Preps, and 2nd Team All-Ohio by both JJHuddle and the AP a season ago. He has added strength and athleticism to his game over the past eight months, so look for an even better King in his sophomore campaign.
Joining King in the starting line up will be senior Jalen Hudson, who averaged 14 points, six rebounds, and three assists as a junior. He is signed to play at Virginia Tech next fall. Hudson has also improved his overall game and should be more consistent during his second year in Ohio. Hudson played travel ball with Team Loaded (NC) alongside the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, who are North Carolina State signees.
Williams comes over from nearby Barberton where he earned AP 2nd Team All-Ohio honors as a sophomore. He averaged 20 points per game for the Division I Magic. He will bring stability to the lead guard position with the ability to score and distribute. This smooth operator is only a junior, but he is already committed to Akron. Blount, who plays travel ball with the King James Shooting Stars, comes to SVSM from The Linsly School in Wheeling, WV. Blount, who is the son of NFL Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount, was a double-double supreme for the Cadets a season ago.
The remainder of the holdovers includes senior Jarel Woolridge (5’10), who averaged five points and four assists as a junior, Henry Baddley (6’4/So.), and football studs Dante Booker (6’4/Sr./Ohio State FB), Travonte Junius (6’3/Sr.), and Aaron Bushner (6’0/Sr.), who missed all of last year with an injury. Also keep an eye on athletic freshman Jayvon Graves and frosh point guard John Williams (Josh’s younger brother).
“We have ten football players who won’t join us until December, which may give us a slow start,” head coach Dru Joyce noted. “Once they get in shape we will compete for another state championship.”
Bottom Line: The Irish are the most talented team in Division II, without question, but that doesn’t always translate into state championships. Though, the Irish are always a threat even when they have average talent for their standards. Coach Joyce owns three state championships with the most recent coming in 2011. Last season was the sixth time he has guided SVSM to Columbus. This is arguably his most talented team since 2003, and the schedule certainly shows it. The Irish will lose some games, but Joyce doesn’t care about wins and losses in the regular season. When you put the uniform on at SVSM, you expect to win a gold trophy and that is exactly what this type of schedule prepares you to do. If the regional alignments remain the same in NE Ohio, the Irish will have a pretty clear shot to the Schott’. Barring a letdown, we would be surprised to not see the Green and Gold in late March.
*Cleveland Central Catholic (18-7)
This is year three of the Jonathan Harris regime, and things continue to look brighter and brighter for the 2009 Division III State Champions. The program was never in shambles, but Harris has built on what was already in place and brought in some talent that was being lost to other schools over the years. Harris took over following a year in which CCC finished state runners-up in DIII and the graduation of Cleveland State junior Anton Grady. Cincinnati Taft destroyed the Ironmen in the title game, 95-52.
Things were pretty dry during the 2011-’12 season, but the future quickly changed when prized freshman Tervell Beck (6’7/So.) decided to enroll at CCC prior to the start of the following school year. Beck along with classmate Brandon Peters (5’10/So.) helped pump new life into the resurging program. Combine those two with emerging sophomore Antwon Lillard (6’5/Jr.) and junior Chelvonte Montgomery (6’2/Sr.), and the result was an 18-win campaign and a district runner-up.
Fast-forward to this season, and all the pieces were in place for a tremendous year before Montgomery (18 ppg.) transferred to Garfield Heights just weeks before the start of the season. Harris isn’t fazed.
“We are looking for big things from our three returning starters in Lillard, Beck, and Peters,” Harris believes. “Overall, I think we have a very strong group that has just as good of a chance as anyone to make it to Columbus. We’ve always been about team first and I don’t think that will change much. We have new faces, but it will be the same approach, team first basketball.”
Lillard averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore. The versatile junior holds offers from Cleveland State, Kent State, Toledo, St. Peter’s, Manhattan, and Arkansas State. Beck is just scratching the surface of his ability level following a season totaling 11.5 points and five rebounds a night. One of the state’s most athletic performers, Beck, holds offers from Cleveland State, Kent State, Ball State, Toledo, and Xavier. Peters will have the keys to the car at the point guard spot with no one looking over his shoulder after netting eight points and dishing out 4.4 assists per contest a year ago. The lefty is a solid true point with the ability to control a game without scoring or taking a lot of shots.
Another key piece will be 6-foot-9 Montel McRae, a transfer who posted 10 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks per game for Cleveland MLK. The junior, who is still raw on the offensive end, has compiled offers from Cleveland State, Kent State, Ball State, Toledo, UMBC, St. Peter’s, and Manhattan, which shows what colleges think of his potential.
Look out for sophomore Desmond Crosby (5’8), senior James Tell (5’10), and junior Drevon Mills (6’4/Jr.), three kids that should really impact the game for the Ironmen.
Bottom Line: CCC will play one of the better DII schedules in Ohio facing the likes of Cleveland VASJ (twice), Cleveland St. Ignatius, St. Edward’s, Benedictine, LaBrae, SVSM, La Lumiere (IN), and Huntington Prep (WV). This will certainly have the Ironmen ready for the DII tournament. CCC’s tournament positioning will go a long way in telling the final tale of this team. If Harris’ team gets placed at Bowling Green State University once again, its chances significantly increase to make a trip to Columbus with avoiding Akron SVSM. Though, the likes of Norwalk, Elida, Sandusky Perkins, and Lima Bath will be at BGSU, which is hardly a cakewalk. Ultimately, wherever CCC ends up, it will be a tough out for years to come.
*Norwalk (24-1/Division I)
The Truckers enjoyed arguably their two best seasons in school history the past 24 months going (47-2). Unfortunately, Norwalk’s past seasons have ended in tournament losses. Thanks to an increase in enrollment, Norwalk was forced to play in Division I the past two seasons.
Norwalk, who currently owns a 43-game regular season winning streak, recorded wins over DI state runner-up Toledo Rogers (70-55), Toledo Whitmer, and Sandusky Perkins (twice) last year before falling to Mansfield Sr. by two points in district play. The previous season, the Truckers dropped a tough decision to Toledo Whitmer in the regionals, which finished state runner-up.
Now, the Truckers are back in DII with talent remaining. The group starts with four-year regulars Ben Haraway (6’1/Sr.) and Jeff Thomas (6’5/Sr.). Haraway, a Malone commitment, averaged 11.5 points and area-leading 5.3 assists per game as a junior. He is one of the best and most underrated floor generals in the Buckeye state. Thomas, a Georgia State commitment, totaled 14 points and six rebounds a night earning him JJHuddle and AP 3rd Team All-Ohio. Thomas is a match up nightmare with his ability to play inside and out along with being able to put the ball on the deck.
Grant Hull (6’2/Sr.) is another returnee for head coach Steve Gray. A three-year letterman, Hull, led the Northern Ohio League in three-point shooting at 45 percent. Jordon Johnson (6’0/Sr.) also returns following a football season playing quarterback. Johnson is the team’s best on-the-ball defender.
Breck Turner (6’1/Jr.), Garret McFarland (6’2/Sr.), Kaleb Cashen (6’5/Sr.), Joseph Hinkley (5’10/Sr.), Matt Davidson (5’10/Jr.), and Brandon Bleile (6’2/Jr.) will give the Truckers significant contributions in different aspects.
“I’m very optimistic,” Gray said. “We want to build on the success we enjoyed last year. We are very athletic with a very good basketball IQ, work ethic, and team chemistry. We have the ability to score and will be a much better shooting team this year. The added depth will help to have very competitive practices.”
Bottom Line: The Truckers are good, very good. It’s a shame Norwalk was in Division I the past two seasons, but it could be a blessing in disguise if it’s able to capture the state title in Haraway and Thomas’ final stand. Norwalk’s calling card will be its quickness and defense, one that gave up just 44 points per game last season, which was a school best. Haraway and Thomas will do their thing, but the Truckers chances at a state title will rely heavily on their role players. Dropping to DII won’t be a walk in the park, but look for Norwalk to play with a confidence and swagger of a championship caliber outfit. This team isn’t used to losing, and we don’t expect that to change. This is a safe pick if you are selecting teams with potential to make it to Columbus. Norwalk has all the tools in its shed.
The Bulldogs have quietly been one of the best DII basketball programs in Ohio over the last several seasons. Elida, who is looking for a three-peat in the always-tough Western Buckeye League, finished state runner-up in 2012 losing on a buzzer-beater to undefeated Dayton Dunbar. Just how good is the WBL? Elida and Ottawa-Glandorf were both at the state tourney in 2012 with O-G winning the title last season.
Coach Denny Thompson welcomes back one of the state’s best players in senior Dakota Mathias (6’5/Sr.). Mathias, a Purdue signee, will play all five positions for Elida. He averaged over 25 points per game as a junior in a do-it-all type campaign. His first three games of the year resulted in 40 or more points each time out, and it was on from there.
Joining Mathias will be seniors Max Stambaugh (6’2), Clark Etzler (6’1), and Chance Weiss along with juniors Louis Gray (5’11), Austin Allemeier (6’0), and sophomore Marquavious Wilson (6’2).
“We have a much improved supporting cast for Dakota this year,” Thompson mentioned. “We will miss the presence of Aric Thompson (graduated), but we have plenty of ability to fill the holes.”
Bottom Line: Thompson hit the nail on the head when he noted the Elida supporting cast and its improvement. Last year, it was mainly Mathias or nothing. That won’t be the case this season. The Bulldogs lost nine games a season ago, three of which were to regional runner-up Lima Bath. The total margin of those three games was 12 points. Five of the remaining six losses were by seven points or less. Therefore, the Bulldogs were close and with the emergence of the supporting cast, Elida could be very good. Mathias will be the best player on the floor most nights out with his versatility, fundamentals, length, and IQ, which is a good place to start every night. NW Ohio will be very good with Norwalk, Sandusky Perkins, and Lima Bath all lurking, and the Bulldogs will be right there amongst the head of the class.
*Sandusky Perkins (21-6/Regional Semifinalist)
The Pirates four-year project is now in year four for head coach Scott McVeigh. Seniors Nic Williams (6’4/Sr.) and David Doster (6’1/Sr.) were placed in the starting line up three years and never left. The Pirates are (62-13) in the past three seasons, which has resulted in a regional runner-up (2012) and district championship (2013).
Perkins fell in regional play last season to the eventual state champion, Columbus Bishop Watterson and in 2012 to state runner-up, Elida.
“We have won back-to-back district championships and we are looking to go further this year,” McVeigh stated. “We are looking to repeat as district champs and get back to at least the regionals.”
Williams averaged 20.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game as a junior. He has already surpassed the 1,000-point mark and was AP 3rd Team All-Ohio a season ago.
“Barring an injury, Nic Williams will become the school’s leading scorer,” McVeigh noted.
Doster, who will likely end up the school’s all-time assist leader, totaled 11.2 points and 5.3 assists per contest as a junior. Senior Kyle Lewis (6’3/Sr.) is another quality option following an 8.7-point and 5.6-rebound season. Look for junior Alec Speer (5’11) to be an immediate impact player for this year’s squad.
“We have a good mix of experienced players in Williams, Doster, and Lewis along with young talent coming up,” McVeigh believes. “This could be a very athletic team that can defend and get up-and-down the floor.”
Bottom Line: Will this be the year Williams and Doster lead the Pirates to the Schott’ or will their hopes be dashed once again in regional play? There is no doubt that this team will be in thick of things in March, but with the addition of Norwalk and mainstays Elida and Lima Bath, getting over the hump certainly won’t be easy. Watterson physically wore down the Pirates in last year’s tournament, so Perkins knows that is an area of concern. With that being said, this team will hope to use its athleticism and defense to get the game up-and-down. If the Pirates are able to do that, the wins will come in bunches. Doster and Williams as much experience as any duo in NW Ohio, which should give Perkins an edge on most nights.
*Athens (22-5/Regional Semifinalist)
The Bulldogs will score points in bunches this winter, but right now most of their roster is doing the same on the (12-0) football team, which is averaging a cool 58.3 points per game. The numbers, which include games of 83 and 74 points, the Bulldogs are putting up are just absurd. The same thing could follow on the hardwood.
Athens won a district championship in 2013 and was one quarter away from advancing to the regional championship game. The Bulldogs watched a 13-point lead in the 4th quarter slip way as Athens fell victim to Vincent Warren in overtime. Athens scored 69 points in that contest, and 67 of those points return.
Junior Joe Burrow (6’4), who scored 28 points against Warren, averaged 16 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore. Burrow, who is the son Ohio University’s quarterback coach, is currently busy breaking records as Athens quarterback. He was AP 3rd Team All-Ohio on the hardwood last winter.
Sophomore Ibi Watson (6’4) averaged 16 points per game as a frosh, but SE Ohio basketball fans will see an even better Watson in year two. Nearly every mid-major school in Ohio is recruiting him. Watson has a chance to be a special player.
Sophomore Zacciah Saltzman (6’0) averaged 12 points a night in his rookie season, and appears to be healthy after missing a big chunk of last season and the entire offseason with a back injury. Juniors Ryan (6’4) and Adam (6’4) Luehrman, who are twin brothers, combined for 14 points and 13 rebounds as sophomores. Ryan, who is being recruited by D1 schools as a wide receiver, also missed a good piece of last season with a back injury.
Remember the name, Griffin Lutz (6’0/Fr.), as he will be a dandy at Athens High School. Juniors Evan Cooley (6’1) and Sam VanderVen (6’0) along with seniors Kaliq Carr (5’11) and John Buck (6’2) will provide adequate depth for the Bulldogs.
“Being healthy will be the key for us,” stated Jeff Skinner, the Bulldogs’ headman. “We have enough talent returning and new talent arriving to have a very successful season. Our focus this season is centered on being cerebral and playing with great effort. The talent is there, if healthy.”
Bottom Line: Athens is going to be very good once the football players return and team chemistry surfaces. At times, last year, Athens was a little sloppy with the basketball and erratic, but that should change with arrival of Lutz, a healthy Saltzman, and the emergence of Watson. Burrow handled the ball quite a bit last year, and he is adequate, but the above three should do the majority of the ball handling freeing Burrow up to use his athleticism. We are getting word that the SE District could get only one regional representative this season, which if true, that would be a shame. Athens, Vincent Warren, and Logan Elm will all be very good, and these three teams are definitely worthy of getting two to regional play. Skinner has definitely upgraded the schedule knowing some losses are coming, but he has bigger goals in mind for this team. The Bulldogs are built for a three or four year run at minimum, and this team has a great chance to be playing deep into March. The pieces are certainly in place.
*Vincent Warren (26-2/State Semifinalist)
It was a year of firsts for the Warriors in 2013. Warren Local, one of SE Ohio’s best basketball programs year-after-year, won the school’s first district and regional all in the same season. The Warriors made it interesting en route to Columbus tipping in a shot at the buzzer to beat New Philadelphia in the regional title tilt after holding a 17-point lead in the 3rd quarter and overcoming a 13-point 4th quarter deficit to knock out Athens in overtime of the regional semis.
In the win over Athens, current senior Evan French (6’4) scored 27 points in the 4th quarter and overtime to help propel the Warriors into the regional final. Warren owned a 21-game winning streak before dropping its state semifinal game to Akron SVSM.
French averaged a shade over 19 points per game as a junior earning him AP 1st Team and JJHuddle 2nd Team All-Ohio honors. French will attend D2 power West Liberty University next fall.
French may get a lot of the headlines and rightfully so, but classmate Reece Patton is one of the more underrated players in Ohio. Patton scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds against SVSM in the state semis. He averaged 14 points and seven rebounds for the season. Look for him to continue to emerge and make a D2 program very happy down the road.
French and Patton will do most of the scoring, but perhaps the most talented player on the team is versatile junior Michael Hall. The 6-foot-5 Hall tallied nearly 12 points per game for a 26-win team. He has the ability to play all three-perimeter positions and is a great distributor of the pumpkin. Hall is drawing interest from many D2 schools and some D1’s.
Seniors Corey Newlin (6’1), Marshall Church (6’4), and Andrew Drayer (6’2) along with juniors Andrew Henthorn (5’9), Collin Welch (6’0), Blake Kidder (6’0), and Aaron Mazurkiewicz (5’11) all return from last year’s state tournament roster.
“We just try to get better every day,” said Blane Maddox, who will be starting his 15th season as head coach of the Warriors.
Bottom Line: What do the Warriors do for an encore? Warren returns three prominent players from last year’s banner season, which is a good place to start. The Warriors will miss departed seniors Dylan Leffingwell, Evan Yabs, Adam Lang, and Danny Pannell, who provided rebounding and defensive prowess. French, Patton, and Hall will be good enough on most nights, but to beat teams such as newly added Bishop Watterson, the supporting cast will have to emerge. The final outcome of this team will likely fall on the shoulders of the newbies, because we know what the above three are capable of doing. Teams like Athens and Logan Elm will make it extremely difficult for Warren to win another district, but the veterans on this team know what it takes to be playing on the season’s final weekend and that is huge.
*Dayton Dunbar (21-7/Regional Finalist)
The Wolverines are the gold standard when it comes to basketball in Ohio over the past decade winning four state championships since 2006 and being a model of consistency on the floor. Dunbar is currently tied with Columbus East for third with five gold trophies.
Dunbar, who is one of the hottest tickets in Dayton, won 21 games last season following its first unbeaten season (28-0) in 2012 and losing three solid college players. Coach Peter Pullen is (204-32) in nine seasons as the boy’s coach at Dunbar, which includes nine-straight 20-win seasons and four state championships. The guy has talent, but there is no denying, he can flat out coach.
Junior Amos “AJ” Harris, who is arguably the best point guard in Ohio, regardless of class, will lead Dunbar. Harris pledged to Ohio State in August after another successful travel season with the King James Shooting Stars. Harris totaled 14.7 points and 6.1 assists per game helping Dunbar reach a regional final before dropping a heartbreaking (60-59) decision to Jaaron Simmons and Alter.
The Wolverines also welcome back senior William Green (6’2), who really emerged during last year’s tournament run playing high-level basketball. Green, who averaged 12.8 points and 8.1 rebounds as a junior, scored 25 points against Alter in Dunbar’s season finale. We really look for Green to breakout in his senior year following a very productive spring/summer.
Senior Jordan Smith (6’2) is another kid ready to break out after a solid ending to last season. He averaged nearly 10 points per outing. Junior Doriane Dawson (5’9) is coming into his own as well. Dawson chipped in nearly nine points and six assists as a sophomore. Dawson performed very well for a talented All-Ohio Black travel squad.
Sophomore Terrance Landers (6’3), JoQuan Thomas (5’7/So.), and DeVaughn Alexander (5’5/So.) will round out Dunbar’s top seven. Landers possesses plenty of talent, so look for him to erupt as well.
Evan Clayborne (6’6/So.), a Dayton CJ transfer, and Robert Williams (6’2/Jr.), a Thurgood Marshall transfer, will miss the first 11 games due to transfer rules. Both will provide immediate impact upon arrival especially Clayborne for a team lacking size.
Dunbar’s schedule will be as good as it’s ever been.
“I think this may be our toughest schedule to date,” Pullen said. “We have challenged this team to be the best it can be in the post season, so our schedule is worthy of the top competition.”
Bottom Line: We believe last season was a perfect example of just how good this Dunbar program is and will continue to be. The Wolverines, who were in a reloading stage, found a way to win 21 games and advance to the regional championship falling just a point short of another state tournament appearance. Alter needed a heroic late field goal by Simmons to knock off the Wolverines. This team will likely be fueled by that game especially a competitor like Harris, who missed two freebies at the end of that game, which would have given Dunbar a three-point lead. Harris worked extremely hard in the spring/summer to improve an already elite game. He is nearly impossible to keep out of the lane and is shooting the outside shot with more confidence. More so, he is a tireless on-the-ball defender that plays much bigger than his size. The improvement of Green, Smith, Dawson, and Landers should also pay huge dividends. There will be teams Dunbar just presses out of the gym, but eventually it will need an inside presence and Clayborne will have to step up upon arrival. At any rate, we look for Dunbar and Thurgood Marshall to be playing a big time game in late March with a trip to the Schott’ on the line.
*Dayton Thurgood Marshall (23-2)
The Cougars have been knocking at the door since 2009, and last year was supposed to be the year the dead bolt was taken off. Thurgood captured the silver medal on two difference occasions, 2009 and 2011, but never did it have a team as dominate as last year’s group.
The Cougars laid waste to the likes of Middletown, Winton Woods, Evansville Bosse (IN), Dunbar (twice), Akron SVSM, Toledo Rogers, Richmond (IN), and Beavercreek only dropping one regular season contest to nationally-ranked Findlay Prep (NV).
Though, it was evident, by tournament time TM was not playing its best basketball. Whether it was peaking too early, tired legs, or overconfidence, the Cougars weren’t the same team in February. The Cougars narrowly escaped Dayton Meadowdale (48-41) before falling to upstart Kettering Alter in district play (62-58). What is crazy? Thurgood didn’t even make it to March, which was a total shock.
Graduation took outstanding seniors Mark Alstork (Ball State), Edmond Early, Gerry Green, Law Williams, Anthony Williams, and Darren Groves. Alstork averaged 20 points per game, while Early totaled 10 points an outing.
For most schools that would be a lot of talent to lose, but the Cougars have plenty in place to be very successful once again led by a strong senior class.
Senior point guard Rachaun Martin (5’10) should be the centerpiece of this club with his ability to handle the basketball and run a team. Classmates Davion Ashe (6’3), Tremaine Hawkins (6’2), Dwayne Chastain (6’2), Landon Brazille (6’6), and Jordan Jones (6’1) all add a different dimension. Chastain is one of the state’s best shooters.
Sophomore Derrick Daniels (6’8) is a bundle of talent and continues to improve. He is one of the state’s best 2016 prospects. He brings the ability to play above the rim and step out and knock down shots. Classmate Darnell Hoskins Jr. (5’10), who is the son of head coach Darnell Hoskins Sr., is a fierce competitor.
Juniors Mike Mills (5’10) and Asante Patterson (6’4) will bring even more depth to the Cougars’ line up.
“We always play one of toughest schedules in the state,” Hoskins said. “We are looking forward to another competitive year of great Ohio style basketball.”
Bottom Line: Thurgood Marshall will likely be the hungriest team in Ohio after last year’s letdown of sorts. This team will have a different make up, but talent still remains in large quantities. This group of seniors took a backseat to last year’s seniors, but now it’s their turn to shine. Thurgood will have many of the same characteristics with its toughness and relentless defensive pressure, but one upgrade could be its ability to knock down perimeter shots. Alstork could shoot, but most of his game was off the dribble. Chastain should feast off penetration with his ability to bury triples. The Cougars’ depth will come in waves, which gives them an advantage in an up-and-down contest. One concern could be having too many players of equal ability, which can cause chemistry issues. Though, Thurgood will make another run at that elusive gold trophy, but rival Dunbar will likely be standing in the way. We anticipate the possibility of another Thurgood/Dunbar late March match up with a trip to Columbus on the line. If Thurgood has an advantage it would be on the interior with Daniels and Brazille. However, there is a lot of basketball to be played between now-and-then, and we know Hoskins is just concerned about the opener.
More Top Teams by Region
Columbus Marion-Franklin, Columbus Brookhaven, Granville, Columbus De Sales, Columbus Eastmoor Academy, and Bloom-Carroll.
West Holmes, Dover, John Glenn, Indian Valley, Tuscarawas Valley, and Steubenville.
Norton, Canfield, Akron Kenmore, Akron East, Akron Springfield, Akron Buchtel, Mentor Lake Catholic, Akron Hoban, Poland, Alliance, Cleveland John Hay, Cleveland Benedictine, and NDCL.
Celina, Tiffin Columbian, Defiance, Toledo Rogers, Toledo Scott, Clear Fork, Ontario, Lima Bath, and Lexington.
Logan Elm, Miami Trace, and Chillicothe Unioto.
Franklin, Cincinnati Woodward, Tipp City Tippecanoe, Bellefontaine, Cincinnati Hughes, Cincinnati Taft, Springfield Shawnee, Kettering Alter, and Bishop Fenwick.
1st Team: Dakota Mathias- Purdue (AP/JJHuddle), Luke Kennard- Franklin (AP/JJHuddle), and Evan French- Vincent Warren (AP).
2nd Team: Josh Williams- Akron SVSM (AP/Division I), VJ King- Akron SVSM (AP/JJHuddle), and Evan French (JJHuddle).
3rd Team: Jeff Thomas- Norwalk (AP/JJHuddle/Division I), Nic Williams- Sandusky Perkins (AP), Taren Sullivan- Lima Bath (AP), and Joe Burrow- Athens (AP).
Player Watch List
Aaron Van Buskirk (6’6/Sr.)- Norton
Ahmad Frost (6’0/Sr.)- Cincinnati Wyoming
Amos “AJ” Harris (5’9/Jr.)- Dayton Dunbar (Ohio State)
Andrew Tincher (5’11/Jr.)- Springfield Shawnee
Andy Grieser (6’3/Sr.)- Bishop Watterson
Anthony Christian (6’3/So.)- Akron Hoban
Antwon Lillard (6’5/Jr.)- Cleveland CC
Ben Haraway (6’1/Sr.)- Norwalk (Malone)
Brady Arnold (5’10/Sr.)- West Holmes (West Liberty)
Brandon Peters (5’10/So.)- Cleveland CC
Cameron Kuhn (6’0/Sr.)- Vermillion
Cameron Mack (6’2/Sr.)- Ontario
Cameron Summers (6’3/Sr.)- Meadowbrook
Cedric Pettiford (6’3/Jr.)- Washington CH Miami Trace
Chase Hambel (6’3/Sr.)- Philo
Christian Grider (6’4/Sr.)- Indian Lake
Conner Eckles (5’9/Sr.)- Washington CH
Connor Bowen (5’11/Jr.)- Millbury Lake
Connor McLaughlin (6’2/Sr.)- Ashtabula Edgewood
Corey Hill (6’2/Jr.)- Marietta
Cory Saddler (6’5/Jr.)- Clarksville Clinton-Massie
Dakota Mathias (6’5/Sr.)- Elida (Purdue)
Daniel Sapp (6’4/Sr.)- Streetsboro
David Doster (6’1/Sr.)- Sandusky Perkins
David Ivey (6’1/Jr.)- Dayton Carroll
Davion Ashe (6’3/Sr.)- Thurgood Marshall
DeAndre Austin (5’10/Sr.)- University School
Derek Gray (5’9/Sr.)- Clyde
Derik Lewis (5’10/Jr.)- Akron East
Derrick Daniels (6’8/So.)- Thurgood Marshall
Dillon Young (6’0/Sr.)- Logan Elm
Drew Rackley (6’0/So.)- John Glenn
Dwight Nared (6’5/Sr.)- Cincinnati Hughes
Elijah Pughsley (6’1/Jr.)- Cincinnati Hughes
Evan Crowe (6’3/Jr.)- Franklin
Evan French (6’4/Sr.)- Vincent Warren (West Liberty)
Fadil Robinson (6’7/Sr.)- Toledo Rogers
Frank Catrine (6’1/Sr.)- Bishop Fenwick
George Chammas (6’2/Sr.)- Poland
Gerell Williams (6’3/Sr.)- Lorain Clearview
Griffin Lutz (6’0/Fr.)- Athens
Hayden Cunningham (6’1/Sr.)- East Liverpool
Ibi Watson (6’4/So.)- Athens
Isaiah Jones (5’11/Jr.)- Cincinnati Woodward
J.J. Kukura (6’2/Sr.)- Alliance
Jacob Wolfe (6’4/Sr.)- Poland
Jaden Greenwood (6’1/Jr.)- Springfield Shawnee
Jalen Hudson (6’6/Sr.)- Akron SVSM (Virginia Tech)
Jalon Tuttle (5’10/Jr.)- Indian Lake
James Manns (6’5/So.)- Marion-Franklin
Jansten Locke (6’0/Sr.)- Minerva
Jared McCray (6’6/Sr.)- Minford (Louisville FB)
Jeff Thomas (6’5/Sr.)- Norwalk (Georgia State)
Joe Burrow (6’4/Jr.)- Athens
Joey Schmitz (6’0/Sr.)- Bloom-Carroll
John Cirillo (6’5/Sr.)- NDCL
Jordan Barr (5’9/Sr.)- Lancaster Fairfield Union
Jordan Felgenhauer (6’3/Jr.)- Tuscarawas Valley
Jordan Smith (6’2/Sr.)- Dayton Dunbar
Josh Williams (6’2/Jr.)- Akron SVSM (Akron)
Justin Blanks (6’0/Sr.)- Norton
Justin Hill (5’9/Jr.)- Circleville
Kaileb Sheets (6’1/So.)- Pomeroy Meigs
Katwan Singleton (6’3/Jr.)- Defiance
Keegan Saben (6’2/Fr.)- Kettering Alter
Kenny Kaufman (5’9/Sr.)- Cincinnati Taft
Kevin Daniels Jr. (6’2/Sr.)- Cincinnati Hughes
Kyle Dixon (6’3/Jr.)- Poland
Kyle Strange (5’11/Jr.)- Chillicothe Unioto
Logan Thompson (6’2/Sr.)- Logan Elm
Luke Kennard (6’5/Jr.)- Franklin
Mark Kosteloc (6’10/So.)- NDCL
Matt Hughes (6’5/Sr.)- Bishop Watterson
Matt Lehman (6’4/Sr.)- Bishop Watterson
Max Oyer (6’2/Jr.)- Bellefontaine
Michael Hall (6’5/Jr.)- Vincent Warren
Michael Schwieterman (6’4/Jr.)- Kettering Alter
Nic Williams (6’4/Sr.)- Sandusky Perkins
O’Shay Vinson (6’3/Sr.)- Akron Kenmore
Parrish Martin (5’9/Sr.)- Alliance
R.J. Jones (6’1/Jr.)- Cleveland Benedictine
R.J. Mims (5’9/Sr.)- Whitehall-Yearling
Raychaun Martin (5’10/Sr.)- Thurgood Marshall
Reece Dupler (6’2/Jr.)- Hebron Lakewood
Reece Patton (6’3/Sr.)- Vincent Warren
Ridge Winland (6’0/Sr.)- Clear Fork
Ronnie Williams (6’3/Sr.)- Columbus Brookhaven
Ryan Faulconer (6’2/Jr.)- Greenfield McClain
Ryan Hoying (6’4/Sr.)- Celina
Taren Sullivan (6’4/Sr.)- Lima Bath
Tervell Beck (6’7/So.)- Cleveland CC
Trey Guilliam (5’11/Sr.)- Defiance
Tristin Tillman (6’1/Jr.)- Bellefontaine
Victor Dorsey (6’8/Sr.)- Akron Springfield
VJ King (6’7/So.)- Akron SVSM
William Green (6’2/Sr.)- Dayton Dunbar
William Orr (6’0/Sr.)- Johnstown Monroe
Xander Smart (6’2/Sr.)- Dayton Carroll
Xavier Holston-Sims (5’10/Jr.)- Columbus Eastmoor Academy
Zacciah Saltzman (6’0/So.)- Athens
Zavier Powers (6’2/Sr.)- Mentor Lake Catholic