Maybe now the members of the Africentric Early College boys basketball team finally will forgive coach Michael Bates.

Maybe now the members of the Africentric Early College boys basketball team finally will forgive coach Michael Bates.

After the Nubians went just 5-15 a year ago, Bates and his coaching staff decided to step up the team's conditioning efforts last summer. Then last fall, he insisted that his players attempt to compete for the school's cross country team.

That extra work is what Bates believes was one of the factors in his team winning three times as many games and making a run to the state tournament.

Africentric lost to Cincinnati Taft 63-50 in a Division III state semifinal March 25 at Ohio State to finish 18-8.

"It was like, 'Look, we're going to set the bar really high,'" Bates said. "I made them run cross country, and they hated me for that. Then to get to the state tournament, we were running on people and weren't getting tired. We changed the way we practice. Instead of giving them three-minute water breaks, we just had them keep a water bottle and kept the next drill coming. Everybody bought into it."

In the loss to Taft, the Nubians fell behind 21-8 after one quarter and trailed 38-26 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Africentric got contributions from several players and rallied to within 52-48 heading into the final period. However, the Nubians struggled offensively in the fourth quarter, as they failed to score in the final 7 minutes, 37 seconds.

Taft junior Adolphus Washington, a 6-foot-6, 250-pounder who has 18 Division I scholarship offers, had 22 points and four rebounds. He scored 10 points in the third quarter and five in the fourth.

"I think a lot of it was nerves," Nubians senior Marquice Taylor said of his team's slow start. "We wanted to do well and be successful. The thing was that if we could beat their initial pressure, we would have been OK. They wanted to speed us up and just try to throw us off or double us."

"I'm astonished that we held them to two points in the fourth quarter," Taft coach Mark Mitchell said. "We really dug in defensively."

It was the final prep game for Taylor and senior Kalomo Figueroa-Jackson, who scored 21 and eight points, respectively. Figueroa-Jackson struggled to 3-for-11 shooting and FuQuan Tucker, who had nine points and nine rebounds, made just four of 13.

Taylor averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while making first-team all-district. Tucker averaged 11 points and six rebounds and Figueroa-Jackson averaged 10 points and 2.5 assists.

The Nubians tied Independence for third in the City League-South Division at 9-5, behind Walnut Ridge (13-1) and Marion-Franklin (10-4) and ahead of Eastmoor Academy (7-7), Briggs (5-9), Columbus West (3-11) and Columbus South (0-14).

Walnut Ridge was a Division I district runner-up and Eastmoor was a Division II district runner-up.

The Nubians were seeded third for the district tournament and beat Liberty Union 57-41 on Feb. 22, Cardington 64-42 on Feb. 25, Centerburg 78-35 on March 1 and Bloom-Carroll 62-53 on March 9 to advance to the regional. They then beat Ottawa-Glandorf 43-38 on March 16 and Archbold 45-38 on March 19 to move on to state.

"We only won five games last year, so to make it to the final four this year feels great," Figueroa-Jackson said. "We're setting the bar high for the juniors, sophomores and freshmen to outdo us."

Figueroa-Jackson and Taylor led a six-member senior class that also included starting guard Darrion Bell. Tucker and Hosie Smith both were starters as juniors and junior Justin Miller saw significant action off the bench.

WRESTLING CLINIC SET - The Columbus Wrestling Club is holding the "Beat the Streets" clinic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at Linden Recreation Center.

Those interested can send their registration to Brian Church by e-mailing him at bchurch@columbuswrestlingclub.org.

Church is a Beechcroft graduate who has coached at Delaware and Marion-Franklin and runs the club. The clinic is open to athletes throughout central Ohio. For more information, visit www.columbuswrestlingclub.org.

BIG EARLY MATCHUPS - A pair of key early-season contests will take place when Whetstone plays host to Centennial on Monday, April 4, in both baseball and softball.

Last season, Whetstone won the City-North title in softball at 14-0 and Centennial was second at 12-2. The Stars won the City-North baseball championship at 14-0, with the Braves placing second at 12-2.