City League boys basketball preview: Rogers favored to win

Rogers brings back three top players for new head coach Rodney Martin.

By Steve Junga / The Blade
Tue, 03 Dec 2019 17:00:00 GMT

Things can change quickly in high school basketball from year to year.

Losing players to graduation and having underclassmen returning as starters are part of the routine.

And gaining players via the transfer route can also make a big impact.

With a mix of these three factors, two-time defending City League boys basketball champion Start finds itself as an underdog to an upgraded Rogers Rams roster, despite coming off the best season in school history.

The Spartans of coach Matthew Wortham finished 22-4 overall in 2018-19, ousting favored Three Rivers Athletic Conference teams St. Francis de Sales and (co-champion) Whitmer in Division I district play — after losing to both in regular-season play — before falling to TRAC co-champion Lima Senior, 51-48, in the regional semifinals.

The turnarounds versus St. Francis (65-44 loss to 60-35 win) and Whitmer (55-47 loss to 31-30 win) reflected the Spartans’ stark improvement from mid-season.

But, Start graduated key players Devin Williams, Alex Perry, Brandon Lewis, Darius Bey, and Tavieon McDonald and brings back only seniors Adrian Michael, Dashad Floyd, and Will Shirley who return with significant experience from 2018-19.

Meanwhile, Rogers brings back three top players for new head coach Rodney Martin, who will also have the services of two talented junior guard transfers — Jamiya Neal, a 6-foot-6 starter from 18-6 St. Francis, and Stephen Coleman, a 6-4 starter from 19-8 Division IV regional finalist Maumee Valley.

They will join the trio of 6-7 senior forwards Da’Sean Nelson and Curtis Jackson, Jr., and 6-3 junior guard Ketann Wyatt, Jr., plus three other letter winners with experience from a 10-12 team (6-4 CL) that was guided by former coach Kettan Wyatt, Sr.

This convergence of talent led City League coaches to tab Rogers as this year’s title favorite in their preseason poll.

The Rams got five of the six first-place votes and 35 of a possible 36 voting points to finish first in the poll, followed by Start, which got the other first-place nod and 29 points in the poll. Bowsher (12-12, 7-3), last year’s CL runner-up, was third at 24 points.

“Team chemistry is the most important thing right now,” said Martin, who took the Rogers post after coaching the past two seasons at Scott. “A lot of people are trying to say things about a run to Columbus, but heck, we’ve got to win some games first.

“Our major weaknesses are consistency in shooting, continuing to share the basketball, and our basketball knowledge. Those are things we need work on right now.”

Martin, a 1986 Rogers graduate who play two seasons for the Rams, has an extensive coaching background, including 12 seasons (2001-06, and 2010-17) as a college assistant spent at Hampton University, Norfolk State, and Bethune-Cookman, and three seasons (2006-09) years as head coach at Tiffin University. He had earlier been an assistant at Libbey (1993-2001) for Leroy Bates, and understands that players alone do not make a championship team.

“The main thing that a lot of people forget is that I’m new to the situation in addition to the kids that transferred in, and then you bring in a new system,” Martin said of his latest coaching stop. “That’s a lot of new pieces and moving parts. Our expectation is just to be as good as we can every day, and then let the process fall where it may.

“There’s no pressure. It’s just basketball. It’s just a game. The young men have to have fun and enjoy it. We take it day by day, don’t worry about what other people say, and just do the best we can. Whatever happens, happens.”

Here's a look at the City League in predicted order of finish based on a preseason coaches' poll:

ROGERS

Coach: Rodney Martin, first season

Last season: 10-12 overall, 6-4 City League

Top players: Seniors Da’Sean Nelson, 6-7, F; Curtis Jackson, 6-7, F; Kevin McCoy, 5-10, G. Juniors Ketaan Wyatt, Jr., 6-3, G; Jamiya Neal, 6-6, G; Stephen Coleman, 6-4, G. Sophomores Nate Houston, 5-11, G; Jordan Kynard, 5-9, G.

Strengths: Experience, size, rebounding, scoring balance

Weaknesses: Depth, perimeter shooting, post defense, post offense

Outlook: Adding the transfers Neal and Coleman to returnees Nelson, Jackson and Wyatt makes the Rams a potentially formidable team — in the City League and come Division I tournament time. This mix makes Rogers an experienced squad with superior size, and depth at guard. Nelson (16.7 points, 8.5 rebounds), Wyatt (14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds) and Jackson (7.1 rebounds) were reliable producers for the Rams last season, while Neal (10.2 points, 5.5 rebounds) and Coleman (14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds) were crucial members of their former teams. “We are working very hard to learn one another,” Martin said. “Team chemistry, discipline, unselfishness, and competing are our main focus. Our goal is to get better, day by day.” If they accomplish each of these goals, the Rams have a chance to join the 2011 and 2013 Rogers teams in reaching the state final four. Winning the school’s second City championship will be the first goal. The Rams’ only prior CL title came in 2012.

START

Coach: Matthew Wortham, fourth season

Last season: 22-4, 10-0

Top players: Seniors Adrian Michael, 5-11, G; Dashad Floyd, 6-0, G-F; Will Shirley, 6-1, F; Tavaz Showers, 5-9, G; Cameron Moran, 5-9, G; Caleb Smith, 6-5, F.

Strengths: Perimeter shooting, scoring balance, creating pressure

Weaknesses: Post defense, size, inexperience

Outlook: The Spartans are 52-18 in three seasons under Wortham, whose preparation as a coach has become his trademark. A common thread through those first three seasons is relentless defense, especially in the half-court game. Start will need these elements this season to stay competitive, especially until the younger portion of the team develops with experience. Once again, the Spartans will have to overcome a lack of size with sound rebounding fundamentals, and patient offensive execution. The Spartans will also have talented transfer Caleb Smith, who sat out the first half of last season after transferring from Rogers to St. John’s Jesuit, where he averaged 13 points for the Titans. Smith returned to Rogers before the end of the 2018-19 school year, but then trasnferred to Start, and can only play in the Spartans’ first 11 games this season because of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s transfer bylaws. “We lost about 75 percent of our scoring from last year, and we don’t have much experience,” Wortham said. “But, with a couple guys back from last year, and the program’s success the last few years, winning is a part of the culture we’ve built. “It’s not often that the back-to-back City champ is the clear underdog, but Rogers has a super team. We will compete.”

BOWSHER

Coach: Joe Guerrero, ninth season

Last season: 12-12, 7-3

Top players: Seniors Lamar Skipper, 6-0, G; Aric McCrimmon, 6-5, C; Caleb Walker, 6-3, F. Juniors Acarion Belmon, 5-10, G; Quiention Dildy, 5-9, G.

Strengths: Ballhandling, handling pressure, perimeter shooting

Weaknesses: Inexperience, depth, scoring balance

Outlook: The Rebels were City League runner-up a year ago, but have no returning starters and only two letter winners back for Guerrero, who whose team may struggle until the varsity newcomers gain court experience. Skipper (4.1 points) and McCrimmon (1.4) will be counted on for leadership, but they too will have increased roles that will require time to adequately fill. “We graduated five starters from last year’s team that lost [52-48] in the City championship game,” said Guerrero, who is 119-66 with two CL titles at Bowsher said. “Most of our players are from last year’s JV team. How fast they can adapt to the varsity will determine our success.”

WAITE

Coach: Darren White-Owens, second season

Last season: 3-18, 2-8

Top players: Seniors Demond Allen, 6-0, G; TeSean Lamonds, 6-2, F; Javon Pratt, 5-9, G; Rueben Martinez, 6-0, G-F. Junior Cam Stuck, 6-4, F. Freshman Tywaun Clark, 6-2, G.

Strengths: Perimeter shooting, rebounding, size

Weaknesses: Depth, inexperience, creating pressure

Outlook: The Indians look to improve under White-Owens in his second season, with Allen (9 points) and Lamonds (9 points) as starters. But any significant climb in the City League standing may be difficult. The graduation of Mark Randall (17.3 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Vinny Guerrero (11.2 points, 7.8 rebounds) leaves the team without its top two court producers from a year ago. “We are looking to build off of a good summer, where our guys put in a lot of work to get better,” White-Owens said. “Losing first team All-City player Mark Randall will be tough to overcome, but we expect big things from Demond Allen, who is looking to fill a big void this season.”

WOODWARD

Coach: Mark Knabbs, ninth season

Last season: 6-16, 1-9

Top players: Seniors Delveon Lear, 5-6, G; Charles Williams, Jr., 5-10, G; Demetrius Burt, 6-1, F; Kavon Harper, 6-5, F; Antwon Hunt, 6-0, F. Sophomore Dominic Chizmar, 6-2, F.

Strengths: Rebounding, scoring balance, perimeter defense

Weaknesses: Post offense, overall size, overall depth

Outlook: The Polar Bears look to climb from the bottom of the City League standings from last season behind two returning starters and four other letter winners on the roster for Knabbs. Lear (8 points), Chizmar (8.3 points, 6 rebounds) and Harper (4.6 points, 3.7 rebounds) are the top returning court producers on a team that will have to rely on defense and boxing out for rebounds to overcome potential problems in the front court. “Overall, defensively, we’ll be solid this year,” Knabbs said. “We lack experience, but we will make up for it with heart. If they can buy into the system, we will be competitive.”

SCOTT

Coach: Larry Collins, first season

Last season: 8-13, 5-5

Top players: Seniors Antonio Jordan, 6-2, F; Jayquan Newson, 5-8, G; Tae’von Kynard, 6-0, G; Kevin Woodard, 6-2, G-F. Juniors Je’Quan Pack, 6-2, G-F; Christian Neal, 6-3, G-F.

Strengths: Creating pressure, ballhandling, handling pressure

Weaknesses: Depth, inexperience, post offense

Outlook: The Bulldogs saw a bit of a climb last year after the worst back-to-back seasons in the program’s proud and highly-successful City League and statewide history. After winning its last CL title in 2014-15 (21-4 overall, 10-0 City) under former coach Fred Coogler, Scott dipped to 13-8 overall in 2015-16, and followed with 3-21 and 2-19 seasons before recording eight wins last year. But coach Rodney Martin has moved over to Rogers, and Collins inherits a team that graduated the CL’s scoring (21.2 points) and rebounding (11.4) leader in Genesis Warith. What remains are two returning starters and two other letter winners that Collins will count on to increase their production this season. “Our team has the potential to achieve yet to be determined successes,” Collins said. “The key factors this season include how well our team shoots, rebounds, plays defense and takes care of the ball during each contest.”

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