The Africentric Early College girls basketball team lost a pair of four-year regulars and a key backup, but its goals have not changed.

The Africentric Early College girls basketball team lost a pair of four-year regulars and a key backup, but its goals have not changed.

In addition to seeking its fourth consecutive City title, the Nubians believe they should be in the hunt once again for the Division IV state championship. After capturing the state title in 2007, Africentric lost to Berlin Hiland 44-37 in the final a year ago to finish 25-2 overall.

Seniors Ashar Harris (5-foot-11) and Shardai Morrison-Fountain -- who have signed letters of intent to play for Morehead State and Marshall -- and sophomore Raven Ferguson (5-11) are returning starters.

Both Harris and Morrison-Fountain are close to 1,000 career points.

The Nubians open Saturday at Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown.

"I've been pleasantly surprised," said coach Will McKinney, who is 98-23 overall in five seasons. "They've been going hard, playing hard. We're trying to win the state. That's our expectation. That's our goal and that's what we're shooting for."

Morrison-Fountain averaged 14.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists and made second-team all-state last year. A ThisWeek Super 12 selection the last two seasons, Morrison-Fountain had 21 points and six assists as Africentric beat Brookhaven 71-41 in the City final.

Harris made honorable mention Super 12 last year and third-team all-district and has averaged double figures in rebounds the last two years.

Morrison-Fountain and graduate Tyeasha Moss -- who is playing for Xavier after finishing with more than 1,500 career points and helping the Nubians to district titles each of the last four seasons -- made the Super 12 last year.

Alesia Howard, another graduate who made first-team all-district along with Morrison-Fountain and Moss last year, made honorable mention Super 12 last year and is playing for Massachusetts. The other player lost to graduation was guard Cedra Chambers.

Also on the team are juniors CharVonna Chandler, Jimesha Mills and Kayla Wallington, sophomores Brien Babbs (5-9), Chelsea Chambers and Brittany Thomas (5-9) and freshmen Jasmine Brooks (5-8) and Quanita Fair (5-8).

The Nubians lost their only regular-season game last year to Chicago Whitney Young 47-43 after a 3-0 start and won their next 22. Included in that run were wins over Ridgedale 74-29 in a district final, South Webster 75-66 and Waterford 71-44 at the regional level and Convoy Crestview 47-42 in a state semifinal.

Africentric went 14-0 in the City-South.

"We scrimmaged against Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame, Grove City, Miami Trace, Mifflin, New Albany and we did pretty well against all of those teams," McKinney said. "I'm excited."

•MIFFLIN PREVIEW -- The other team to represent the City at the state tournament last year, Mifflin, returns five players.

The Punchers, who went 20-5 overall and finished second at 12-2 in the City-North behind Brookhaven (13-1), have spent much of the preseason looking for consistent guard play.

Mifflin opens Saturday at Harvest Prep and plays Tuesday at Reynoldsburg. Its league opener is Dec. 9 at Whetstone.

"Right now we're trying to get our offense going," said coach Troy Taylor, who is 205-50 in 12 seasons with the Punchers. "This is a big lineup for high school basketball. We just have to get somebody to commit to making decisions. Mack has probably only had about a year and a half of high school basketball because of injuries. I will say that we'll be a good defensive team."

J.D. Campbell, who was a four-year regular at point guard and was first-team all-district in Division II, is playing for Columbus State. Amber Arter, who was honorable mention Super 12 and averaged a team-best 13.0 points, and forward Janae Johnson also were among those lost to graduation.

Senior post player Patricia Mack (6-0) is the leading returning scorer ( 9.0 per game). She should be joined in the frontcourt by juniors Sateria Lawhorn (6-0) and Alisa Marshall (5-10), although Marshall also could see time at guard.

Senior De'Asha Talley is expected to take over at point guard. Sophomore forward Shanevian Holden (6-0) is another returnee.

Others on the team include junior guards ShaRhonda Gaither and D.J. Elmore and senior guards Catherine Packer and J. Montaie. Packer is the cousin of former Pickerington and Ohio State star Marscilla Packer.

Mifflin lost to Brookhaven 60-49 and 51-50 for its two league losses but won its final eight of the regular season. After beating Big Walnut 41-21 to win a district title, the Punchers downed Circleville 36-24 and Millersburg West Holmes 61-55 at the regional before losing to eventual champion Kettering Alter 45-31 in a state semifinal.

"The way I look at it, I have 19 scrimmages," Taylor said. "I think the City thing should be gone as a focus altogether. Hopefully when the tournament rolls around we'll be jelling. I'm sure Northland and us will make a run, and definitely Brookhaven."

•NUBIANS SIGN -- Morrison-Fountain and Harris signed their college letters of intent at a school ceremony Nov. 14.

Morrison-Fountain also considered Akron, Toledo and Milwaukee-Wisconsin before committing to Marshall, which is located in Huntington, W.Va. The Thundering Herd lost in a Conference USA semifinal last year to finish 17-16 overall and are coached by Royce Chadwick, who enters his 25th season and has more than 500 career victories.

At Morehead State, Harris will join former Africentric starter Chynna Bozeman. Last season, Bozeman averaged 12.3 points and was second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference for the Eagles finished 11-19.

Mike Bradbury is in his second season as Morehead State's coach.

"(The Marshall coach) came down to see Shardai and the assistant coach really liked her," McKinney said. "It wasn't a far trip so she liked the distance. Ashar and Chynna are good friends. She went there to visit and pretty much loved it from the start. I'm proud of both those girls."