Heading into last season, Division II looked to be the most competitive and top-heavy of the four divisions in terms of the boys basketball power structure.
That reputation was met as Toledo Libbey’s William Buford and Canal Winchester’s B.J. Mullens finished 1-2 in Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” voting before embarking on their collegiate careers at Ohio State.
Also, two teams Ohio High Magazine tabbed as top tier – Libbey and Chillicothe – staged one of the most exciting state finals in many moons as Chilly won 70-69 with a shot at the buzzer in overtime.
Off to college campuses as well as the 6-5 Buford and 7-1 Mullens are Chillicothe hero and point guard extraordinare Anthony Hitchens (Akron), Dayton Dunbar big man Josh Benson (Dayton) and Delaware Buckeye Valley sharpshooter Scott Thomas (Bowling Green).
While the 2009 class isn’t considered as talent-laden by comparison, D-II still has plenty of star power and several teams that could emerge as the cream of the crop.
TOP PLAYERS: WHO YOU WANT TO SEE
* Garrick Sherman, 6-10, Sr., C, Kenton – Michigan State’s Tom Izzo already has locked up Sherman, which is looking wise after he racked up 23.6 points per game last season and was named second-team all-state.
* Juwan Staten, 5-10, Jr., PG, Dayton Thurgood Marshall – Super quick lead guard who exploded with 23.8 ppg last season. Committed to Dayton.
* Cameron Wright, 6-5, Jr., W, Cleveland Benedictine – Wright is as versatile as he is athletic. The OSU commit averaged 18.5 ppg as a soph.
* Nick Kellogg, 6-2, Jr., PG, Columbus DeSales – Clark’s youngest child already is considered one of the best point guards in the state and manages to get better every year. Big-time scorer (22.1 ppg) who involves others and defends.
* Josh Schuler, 6-2, Sr., SG, St. Paris Graham – Second-team all-state last year after putting up 20.0 ppg for one of Ohio’s top teams.
* Daylen Harrison, 6-7, Sr., WF, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary
* Robert Wilson, 6-4, Sr., F, Streetsboro
* Alex Falk, 6-3, Sr., SG, Upper Sandusky
* Tim Congrove, 5-11, Sr., PG, Circleville Logan Elm
* Caleb Knights, 6-2, Sr., SG, Chillicothe
TEAMS TO WATCH
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary
The Fighting Irish were 15-8 last year but head coach Dru Joyce believes in facing a daunting schedule – and now he has a deep roster better equipped to handle it. “We are pretty loaded,” he said. “I think I can go 12 deep this year. On paper we have everything you need to be a successful team, but that’s on paper. We need to prove it, and I think we will. We have size, a good skill set, speed, depth – we have it all.
“Our key issue will be leadership. I’m curious to see who is going to step up in that regard. But I think they are hungry to have a great season.” SVSM is strong inside and out, especially with 6-7 senior forward Daylen Harrison and 5-9 sophomore Ricky Johnson. Harrison actually is skilled enough to play on the wing, although he averaged right around eight rebounds a game last year to go with his lofty scoring output (17.4 ppg). Johnson, who averaged right around 14 points and four assists last season, started 28 games – the first freshman to appear regularly in the starting lineup for the Irish since a guy named LeBron James. Harrison and Johnson will get plenty of help from seniors B.J. Brophy, 6-7, and Mike Hammonds, 6-1; sophomores DeVonte Beard, 6-1, and Oliver Hildebrandt, 6-5; and 6-5 freshman Lorenzo Cugini. As for the typically adventurous schedule, SVSM will face Warren Harding, Canton McKinley, Massillon Jackson, North Canton Hoover, Lakewood St. Edward, Cleveland Benedictine and Chicago Whitney Young.
The Bengals not only have 6-5 junior wing Cameron Wright in the backcourt, they also are blessed with 6-foot junior point guard Derek Jackson. “Those guys should be outstanding,” coach Rob Stircula said. “Cameron is really playing well right now and Derek just continues to get better. He’s a guy who can just explode this year.”
Jackson averaged 17.5 ppg last season but is “too unselfish at times” according to Stircula. Last season Jackson averaged 5.8 assists a game compared to just 1.2 turnovers per outing. Wright logged 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.0 steals per game in addition to his 18.5 ppg. That dynamic duo added to the other parts could equal very big things in 2008-09 for the Bengals. In fact, two transfers have Benedictine fans talking about a run to the state tournament. Liam Walsh, a 6-5, 220-pound combo forward, has meshed right in with Wright and Jackson in open gyms. Walsh, a junior, came in from Chesterland (Ohio) West Geauga. The other is an even bigger catch – 6-7, 215-pound center Nick Harney, a junior who came over after beginning his prep career at Cleveland Glenville. “I think with the guys we got transferred in we could be a terrific basketball team this season,” Stircula told Bucknuts.com. Benedictine lost the services of 6-9 center Justin Jamison, who transferred to Strongsville to play baseball there. However, Harney should make up for that loss inside and Stircula also is high on senior power forward Robert Stallion, an aptly named 6-4, 180-pound floor burn.
The Bengals also showcase a productive bench, including 6-7 junior Justin Thomas, 6-4 senior Excel McClain, and freshman guards Desmond Ridenour, Luke Heben and Winston Grays. Stircula has won three district titles in as many seasons as Benedictine’s coach, but he believes the Bengals, 19-6 last season, can go much further. “This is the best team we’ve had here by far,” Stircula said.
While the departure of 7-1 center Sean Hobbs is big both literally and in terms of the loss of an intimidator inside, the Stallions could be more dynamic this season.
Ike Ariguzo, a versatile 6-5 performer and senior, will shift down to the five spot. The result could be a more dynamic attack with 6-2 junior guard Nick Kellogg running the point of a four-out, one-in alignment. Joining Kellogg on the perimeter will be 5-9 Adam Griffin and a pair of reliable seniors in 6-3 wing Nick Goff and 6-0 off-guard Zak Gabarcik. Goff averaged 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season and those numbers figure to go up. Griffin, the son of former Ohio State grid superstar Archie Griffin, is coming off an impressive summer and fits in with coach Blair Albright’s aggressive tactics on both ends of the court. “With Ike at the five he can play out on the floor but also in the post, which is good for us because we are really going to open up our offense this year with the dribble-drive, motion game,” Albright said. “It’s really predicated on getting to the rim and creating perimeter shots. It’s an attacking wide-open style of offense.” DeSales advanced to the state semifinals in Division II in 2006 and ’07 but lost in the district finals to Columbus Eastmoor Academy last season to finish 19-4. A brilliant season from Kellogg could give the Stallions another deep run. “As he got more and more dangerous last season we got more and more dangerous,” Albright said. “But I trust Nick to make the right reads and decisions. He can probably score even more than he does but he has a good balance of when to look for his opportunities and when to find others.”
A magical season burst in Columbus for the 2007-08 Bulldogs as they fell 78-70 to eventual state champion Chillicothe in the semis. PS came in undefeated and averaging 89 points per game but the wheels came off against Chilly as the Bulldogs shot just 21 percent from the field in the first half and finished at 35 percent. Even Ken Grisdale, co-Coach of the Year in Division II last season, couldn’t find solutions as his team finished 9 of 35 from three-point range and bowed out at 25-1. However, as Grisdale pointed out afterward, there is no shame in losing to the No. 2 team in the state poll. Plus, the 16th-year coach could have enough to make another run, especially with all the postseason experience his squad gobbled up in March. Yes, the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to replace 6-3 guard Ben Umbel, who was a first-team all-state performer and averaged 14.0 ppg. However, there is lots of returning firepower. Guard Niko Fatimus came on last season as a sophomore and figures to have a more prominent role. He should be joined in the backcourt by 6-1 guard Ben Brocker. Another member of the now robust junior class is 6-4 forward Ben Donlow, a board eater and returning starter. Donlow should get plenty of help from 6-5 forward David Baker, yet another junior. Poland Seminary advanced to the state tournament for the fourth time last season but is 0-4 in state semis, including losses each of the last two years. Grisdale would like nothing better to return again this spring and prove his frenetic style can take the Bulldogs all the way to the top.
St. Paris Graham
Graham’s 2007-08 story is very similar to Poland Seminary’s. The Falcons entered the postseason ranked No. 5 in Division II by The Associated Press after logging an undefeated regular season. Their destiny appeared to be perfection after knocking off Cincinnati Taft in a district final and taking out Mullens’ Canal Winchester squad in a regional semifinal. That was followed by a thrilling 69-61 survival in overtime over Kettering Alter, earning the school’s first appearance at state. However, Graham struggled to hold up athletically to Libbey and lost 51-44 in the opening semifinal game as Buford logged 21 points and 10 boards. Senior guard Josh Schuler had an off day from the outside. Coach Brook Cupps, a former player in the program and the school’s athletic director, said he was able to see a half-full glass after a 26-1 finish. “Our goal is always to play to our potential and reach our potential, and at the end of last year I felt we were doing that,” he said. “Of course we wanted to win the state, and that is always our goal, but I am very proud of that team.” Easing the off-season pain for the Falcons is the return of Schuler and, it can be assumed, his 20 points per game. He will be rejoined in the backcourt by classmates and fellow returning starters Ben Rosenberger and Austin Jones. The 6-0 Rosenberger will run the point and the 6-2 Jones, who averaged right on 11 ppg last season, will play off the ball with Schuler. All three can stroke the deep ball. Graham loses starting forward Travis Crooks but welcomes back 6-4 Ethan Ward, who averaged 12 ppg as a sophomore last season. Another youngster, 6-0 sophomore guard Nick VanHoose, also appears ready to make a big contribution as well as 6-1 junior forward Casey Crable. “We have six kids capable of scoring at any time,” Cupps said.
The defending state champs will try to trudge onward without Hitchens at the point and Ray Chambers inside. Freshman Malik London could make an immediate impact teaming with 6-2 senior shooting guard Caleb Knights.
Some coaches believe C-J may be the best team in the area regardless of division.
The Wolverines lost the 6-10 Benson and lots of experience in the backcourt, but they always manage to showcase impressive talent.
Michigan State recruit Garrick Sherman, a 6-10 senior center, provides a great focal point for a team that is developing around him. Sherman is the No. 1 college prospect in the Class of 2009.
Legendary coach Joe Petrocelli can never be counted out. With a career mark of 719-252, he enters the season ranked second in all-time wins to Kalida’s Richard Kortokrax (726-282).
Also Keep An Eye On
Circleville Logan Elm, Dover, Byesville Meadowbrook, Cincinnati Taft, Greenfield McClain, Lexington, Upper Sandusky.