HS Preview

It’s November in Ohio, and that means the start of high school basketball practices across the Buckeye State. As most readers know, this site’s home base is the Southwestern part of the state, where we spend most of our Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings taking in games in Greater Cincinnati. As we prepare for the start of the season, lets take a look at the top teams, and players, to keep an eye on in the Queen City this year….

Division I Teams to Watch

1. Moeller Crusaders: A year removed from a 28-1 season in which they were one point away from a State Championship, last year’s Ohio D1 State Runners-Up return several key pieces, and are counting on the development of multiple role players from last year, as they will enter the winter as the pre-season #1 team in the state of Ohio. Coach Kremer has to be excited about his nucleus of 6’10 senior post Jaxson Hayes (Texas), 6’5 senior wing Jeremiah Davenport, senior point guard Sleepy Payton as well as star junior combo guard Deuce McBride. Payton started a year ago for Big Moe, as did McBride, who was second on the team in scoring, while Hayes and Davenport played roles off of the bench. For the fifth spot in the lineup, Moeller could go with senior guard Carlos Garcia, emerging senior forward Dean White or Alec Pfriem, who transferred in from Roger Bacon this fall. Pfriem looks like the leader in this race, as the 6’4 junior has an advanced feel for the game and mature skill-set. Rounding out the rotation, keep an eye on sophomores Max Land, a 6’3 wing athlete, and sharpshooter Jake Younkin, both of whom could play a role on a very deep team. With McBride already having earned acclaim as a defender, as well as the length of Davenport and Hayes, and the speed of Payton, we expect this to be another stingy defensive team at Moeller; however, don’t be surprised if they push the pace offensively, especially with Hayes’ ability to run at 6’9 and the creating abilities of McBride, Payton and Davenport. Given their experience and elite combination of size and athleticism, look for Moeller to be by far the best team in the Southwest Region this season, with a State Championship looking like a legitimate goal for Coach Kremer’s bunch. While the Moeller staff surely doesn’t want to look all the way ahead to March, we are confident that there will be a ton of hype leading into Moeller’s 12/13/17 matchup with Covington Catholic, as the (arguably) most talented teams in Ohio and Kentucky (two schools separated by less than 20-miles) will meet up for a heavyweight showdown game in Northern Kentucky.

2. Princeton Vikings: With a new coach for the second year in a row, and several sophomores looking to crack the rotation, this Princeton team is not nearly as experienced as Moeller; but they might be almost as talented. Of course, it all starts with senior wing Darius Bazley (Syracuse), a smooth 6’9 slasher ranked as the #9 prospect in the nation by ESPN, who will be called upon to put up monster numbers this season if the Vikings are going to contend for a Regional Title. Joining Bazley in the scoring column will be 6’2 senior Darweshi Hunter, who averaged 17 PPG last season, and is considered one of the best long-distance shooters in the area. Fellow seniors 6’5 Dominic Pierce and 6’6 Gabe O’Neal give Princeton even more experienced size, with the gritty Pierce being known as a strong rebounder and defender. There’s also a ton of justifiable excitement at Princeton about the sophomore class, as 6’5 PF Darrion Henry started varsity last year, while guards Kaleb Crawford and Khalil Davis also saw minutes; look for Crawford and Davis to absorb the primary ballhandling roles this year (along with fellow sophomore Isaiah Kennedy, a Huber Heights Wayne transfer), while Henry is a physical presence on the interior. Keep an eye out for two other sophomore forwards in 6’6 Aaron Ward, a high upside athlete, and 6’5 Jaheim Thomas, a junkyard dog, both of whom will emerge this season. Capable of matching Moeller in terms of size and athleticism, expect this Princeton team to mesh as the season progresses; as they could be as dangerous as anyone in March given their talent.

3. Walnut Hills Eagles: Coach Hill returns one of the best guards in the area in 6’4 senior combo Kameron Gibson, our breakout player of the year prediction, as well as multiple other contributors from last year’s team, as the Eagles look to be the class of the ECC. Gibson has the ability to create offense for himself or others off of the dribble, but Walnut Hills will also be counting on 6’6 sophomore post Nick Smith to have a breakout year as well as a skilled post who can score from 15-feet and in. On the defensive end, look for 7’0 senior Zubi Nwankwo to make his presence known around the rim after transferring in this fall, while Coach Hill’s son, junior point guard Ryan Hill, is as pesky of a defender as you’ll find. Expect sophomore wing Michael Grant to also contribute offensively, while four-year varsity contributor Hunter Davison will start on the wing, on a Walnut Hills team that has length, athleticism and grit. This year’s team might not be as gifted of a scoring team as last season’s, but we should see the Eagles win a lot of games this winter.

4. Lakota East Thunderhawks: Coach Adkins’ leads the top candidate to challenge Princeton in the GMC, as his squad returns the league’s leading scorer from last season on a team that won 16-games. 6’3 senior wing Jarrett Cox scored over 18 PPG last season, and should eclipse that this year, as the Fairmont State pledge has the ability to get buckets from different levels with his combination of physical play and skill. Cox certainly will be the go-to-guy, but senior guard Jackson See is also a capable scorer, and 6’5 junior post Kyrell Metts has a lot of upside as an athletic interior player. We’re also going to be keeping a close eye on the sophomore class at East, as reports from the spring indicate that Coach Adkins will be breaking in some new bodies early this winter.

5. LaSalle Lancers: After 27-years of the Dan Fleming administration, LaSalle has a new head coach in longtime assistant Pat Goedde; however, don’t expect a whole lot to change regarding the Lancers’ style, as Goedde has just as much intensity and passion as his predecessor. The Lancers did lose a lot of their rotation to graduation last June, but we believe their style of play, experience at winning big games and more talent than people give them credit for will lead to victories this season. 6’2 senior guard Riley Haubner came on strong as a scorer late last season, while we love the physicality and athleticism of 6’7 senior post Josh Whyle (a Cincinnati football commit). This year’s Lancers probably won’t threaten Moeller for the GCL-South crown, but we do believe they’re the clear-cut number two in the division.

6. Mason Comets: Just like LaSalle, Mason graduated a lot of their top players last spring, but Coach Richards always finds ways to reload and compete for a GMC crown (which he did last season as the Comets finished second in the league and won 21-games en route to a Regional Semifinal appearance). This year’s team will have some unknowns, but will also almost surely benefit from Richards’ patented style of defense that has shown an ability to control games over the years. Senior wing Noah Pedelty is a bouncy shooter who can score in bunches when he’s feeling it, and should emerge as this year’s go-to scorer after playing a supporting role last season. Additionally, senior point guard Tanner Knue returns to his starting role from last season as a steady floor general with big game experience. On paper we don’t see a whole lot separating Mason from their rival, Lakota East, as the Comets will also have the potential to challenge Princeton for the league title.

Also Considered: St. Xavier, Elder, Oak Hills, Withrow, Winton Woods, West Clermont, Wilmington

Divisions II-IV Teams to Watch

1. Hughes Big Red: A year removed from winning the CMAC outright after posting a 10-0 league record, and finishing with 20 total wins, Hughes is back with just as much talent in ’17-’18. The Big Red return star point guard Giovanni Santiago, who averaged 15 PPG and 7 APG in his first year since transferring in from Puerto Rico; Santiago should play an even bigger role this year, as the 6’0 senior has already earned NCAA D1 scholarship offers. However, a new face will likely lead Coach Wyant’s team in scoring, as 6’2 senior DJ Brewton, a Mount Healthy transfer, has scoring ability from deep and at the rim, after averaging 16 PPG a year ago. Also returning for the Big Red is senior wing AJ Smith, who averaged 12 PPG last season and should provide shooting, length and transition scoring again this season. Look for Brewton, Smith and Santiago to put up huge scoring numbers, and also receive support in the box score from senior guard Dwayne Rosado and versatile senior forward Shawn Hawkins (a transfer from Shroder). With versatility, athleticism and a plethora of scorers, Hughes only lacks size, and has the talent level to make a deep run in the State Tournament in D2.

2. Taft Senators: After finishing 2nd in the CMAC a year ago, the Senators got their revenge on Hughes in Sectional Final play, knocking off the Big Red as Taft advanced to the Regional Semifinals. Some key seniors are gone from last year, but Taft’s cupboard is never bare, as Coach Bradley has a stable of “Taft kids”. What we mean by that is that Taft has both quality and quantity at the guard position, with pesky guards DeMarco Bradley Jr (junior), Stevie Stewart (senior transfer from Shroder who averaged 13 PPG last year), Dashawn Lawrence (senior who led the CMAC in assists last season) and Derrick Heard (senior). That four-man guard core is going to be feared by many this season, as we can expect plenty of signature Taft full-court pressure and fast-paced offense as well. On the wings and in the front-court the Senators are also on the smaller side; but with toughness, athleticism and talent we expect them to be just fine, as junior Chris’Seon “Grown Man” Stringer returns after missing much of last season with an injury, while junior forward Dontae Mosley and senior power forward Mahamadou Sammassa should also make huge impacts. Taft might not have the offensive talent of Hughes, but this team has cohesiveness and a certain type of mentality, enough that we think the CMAC will come down to a photo finish.

3. Wyoming Cowboys: If CHL coaches thought that Wyoming would take a step back after graduating a star-studded senior class last year they were wrong. Just a year after posting a 24-2 record and winning the league outright, Coach Edmonds’ Cowboys return two key pieces and will surely continue to build on the momentum of the last few seasons, as they hope to fight off Deer Park in the league. Leading the charge this year for Wyoming will be junior point guard Joey Edmonds, one of the state’s top floor generals, who averaged 14 PPG and 4 APG last year. Look for Edmonds, a deadeye shooter from deep, to average more points this year, but we also expect 6’5 sophomore forward Evan Prater (who started last year as a freshman) to average around 15 PPG as well. Joining Edmond and Prater will be heralded freshman guard Isaiah Walker, who has the bloodlines, size and skill-set of a potential all-city player in time.

4. Deer Park Wildcats: Wyoming and Deer Park are 1A and 1B pre-season in the CHL, which is a testament to the improvement that the Wildcats have made in Coach Gentry’s second year, as the team won 11 games last season (after winning just 3 combined games in the years preceding Gentry’s tenure). With a talented crew of transfers mixing in with some top returning talent, Deer Park is our easy choice as the top ranked D3 team in Cincinnati; led by sophomore guard Mark Wise (who averaged 15 PPG last season), junior wing Ibrahima Athie (12 PPG last year) and senior wing Jalen Rose (16 PPG last season), we are expecting Deer Park to put up some high scoring totals this season. Wise projects as one of the city’s top guards, but he’ll also receive assistance this year from two talented backcourt transfers, as sophomore Steve Gentry Jr (Purcell Marian) and strong bodied senior Damani McEntire (Oak Hill Academy/VA) are both enrolled at Deer Park. Gentry Jr will start as a pass-first point guard for the Wildcats, while McEntire will assist Wise in attacking the rim for baskets. Deer Park has some size with 6’6 junior Joe Hocker (who missed last year with injury), but expect this group to play a lot of guards, and play really fast en route to a lot of wins.

5. Purcell Marian Cavaliers: Last year Purcell had to rebuild after losing a dominant 2016 senior class; now, it’s their time to shine again the GCL Co-Ed as Coach Kerr’s group looks primed to make a run. Returning three of the top juniors in the city doesn’t hurt either, as Purcell has capable scorers, and tough-minded athletes that fit Kerr’s in-your-face defensive style. The leader of those three juniors is 6’1 wing Javonta Lyons, a strong and tough lefty who can put his shoulder into you on the drive or knock down shots. Lyons averaged 14 PPG last year, and should be joined in double-figures this season by 6’5 forward AJ Garrett, a promising athlete who averaged 8 PPG last season, and versatile 6’3 combo guard Alex Dotson, a slashing playmaker who Purcell missed dearly last season after an injury held him out. Finally, keep an eye on sophomore sharpshooter Jared Baldock, a Finneytown transfer who averaged double figures last year for the Wildcats. Expect for Kerr to find some role pieces to fill out the rotation, as we are counting on this season to be part one of a strong two-year run for the Cavaliers.

Also Considered: Woodward, Mt. Healthy, Indian Hill, Madeira, North College Hill, Aiken

Division I Pre-Season All-City Team
Darius Bazley – 6’9 SF Princeton (Player of the Year)
Deuce McBride – 6’1 Junior PG/SG Moeller
Greg Tribble – 6’1 Junior PG/SG Winton Woods
Jarrett Cox – 6’2 Senior SG/SF Lakota East
Jaxson Hayes – 6’10 PF/C Moeller
Kameron Gibson – 6’3 Senior PG/SG Walnut Hills
Dylan Beaugard – 5’10 Senior PG Wilmington
Darweshi Hunter – 6’2 Senior SG Princeton
Jeremiah Davenport – 6’5 Senior SF Moeller
Abba Lawal – 6’11 Junior C Withrow

Honorable Mention: Sleepy Payton (5’11 Senior PG Moeller), Alec Pfriem (6’4 Junior SG/SF Moeller), Zubi Nwankwo (7’0 Senior C Walnut Hills), Noah Pedelty (6’4 Senior SF Mason), Bobby Jefferson (6’4 Senior PF St. Xavier), Nick Smith (6’6 Sophomore PF Walnut Hills), Khalil Davis (6’0 Sophomore PG Princeton), Riley Haubner (6’2 Senior SG LaSalle), Jackson Ames (6’10 Sophomore C West Clermont), D’Marco Howard (6’0 Junior PG/SG Hamilton), Jaylen Mason (6’1 Senior SG Winton Woods), Nick Deifel (6’1 Senior SG Oak Hills), Zach Harp (6’3 Senior SG Elder)

Divisions II-IV Pre-Season All-City Team
Terry Durham – 6’4 Senior SF/PF Woodward (Player of the Year)
Giovanni Santiago – 6’0 Senior PG Hughes
Joey Edmonds – 5’10 Junior PG Wyoming
DJ Brewton – 6’2 Senior SG Hughes
Mark Wise – 6’2 Sophomore SG Deer Park
Chris’Seon Stringer – 6’3 Junior SG/SF Taft
Lorenzo Sparks – 6’0 Senior SG North College Hill
Bryce Hunt – 6’6 Senior PF Reading
Javonta Lyons – 6’1 Junior SF Purcell Marian
Xavier Johnson – 6’2 Senior PG/SG Summit

Honorable Mention: D’arris Dean (5’10 Junior SG Aiken), AJ Smith (6’4 Senior SF Hughes), Shawn Hawkins (6’4 Senior SF Hughes), DeMarco Bradley Jr (5’8 Junior PG Taft), Stevie Stewart (5’9 Senior PG Taft), Evan Prater (6’5 SF Sophomore Wyoming), Nekhi Smith (6’5 Sophomore SF Shroder), Colin Shaw (6’1 Senior SG Indian Hill), Grant Whisman (6’6 Sophomore SF Middletown Madison), Steve Gentry Jr (5’8 Sophomore PG Deer Park), Damani McEntire (6’2 Senior SG Deer Park), Jack Cravaack (6’6 Senior PF Madeira), Brice Hill (6’4 Junior SF Seven Hills), AJ Garrett (6’5 Junior PF Purcell Marian), Jared Baldock (6’0 Sophomore SG Purcell Marian)

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