For multiple reasons, the Africentric Early College boys basketball team isn't expecting to have an easy time defending its City League-South Division championship.
There's the issue of the Nubians' youth after a trio of 2013 graduates helped them go 22-4 overall and 13-1 in the league a year ago.
Coach Michael Bates also thinks the City-South will be deeper from top to bottom.
"You could see the representative in the City championship game from the South Division easily having two or three (league) losses," Bates said. "Walnut Ridge was rebuilding last year and they're ready to play. Eastmoor (Academy is) always going to be tough. They lost two games to (Africentric) and they return most of their guards.
"Marion-Franklin ... will be kind of young, but they're long and they play hard and fast. (Columbus) South returns all of their guards. Independence returns four starters and even (Columbus) West has (senior guard) Charles Holland back, and he had 24 against us last year."
The top returnees for Africentric, which lost to Northland 55-53 in overtime in last season's City championship game, are 6-foot senior guard Akil Cornish, juniors Ulmer Manzie (6-8, center) and Jaquan Harrison (6-4, guard/forward) and sophomore Houston Smith (6-4, forward).
Also looking to contribute are senior guard Darik Artis and junior guards Chase Brown and Shawon Wilson.
"I'm excited about the future, but it's a lot of teaching," Bates said.
Africentric lost to Cincinnati Summit Country Day 46-44 on Dec. 7 to fall to 0-2 entering its league opener Dec. 9 against Briggs.
Eastmoor, which is led by senior guard Jahmal Hughes, was second (12-2) in the league last season, followed by Walnut Ridge (8-6), South (7-7), Marion-Franklin (6-8), Briggs (5-9), Independence (5-9) and West (0-14).
While Africentric was a Division IV district runner-up, Marion-Franklin won a Division II district title and Eastmoor (Division II) and Walnut Ridge (Division I) lost in district semifinals.
Back to lead Walnut Ridge are seniors Dymiere Finch (6-2, point guard) and Brandon Paschal (5-10, guard) and sophomore Tarik Wright (6-3, guard). Senior Robert Bowers (6-6), who has committed to play football at Michigan State, also could contribute after missing the football season with an injury.
Other key players for the Scots include seniors Marcellus Taylor (6-6, post player) and Jihad Lake (6-0, guard).
"Even the so-called bottom teams are going to be tough to beat (in the City-South) this year," Scots coach Jason Bates said. "We've got a great mixture of youth, talent and experience. I think it's really one of my best rosters."
Africentric girls out to hot start
With nine returning players and a new leader in the post, the Africentric girls basketball team has its sights set on another season of championships.
The Nubians have won six City titles in eight seasons and have captured nine consecutive district titles, including a year ago when they went 22-6 and were Division III state runners-up.
"We've got nine kids back from last year, so we should be really, really good," said Will McKinney, who is in his 11th season as coach.
The biggest addition is senior Alexa Hart, a 6-3 post player who sat out last season after transferring from North Ridgeville Lake Ridge Academy. She has signed with Ohio State.
Back from the team that lost to Anna 67-49 in the state final are senior guards Sierra Harley (5-10), Kyrah Jones (5-7), Alexis Parks (5-5) and Darianne Seward (5-5), senior forward Ayrielle Stith (5-7), junior guards Dejanique Franks (5-6), Dayana Johnson (5-3) and Renee Waters (5-7) and junior forward Taylor Nixon (5-8). Parks has signed with Western Michigan and Seward with Detroit Mercy.
Marley Hill, a 2013 graduate who was one of the state's Players of the Year last season, is playing at Cincinnati.
The Nubians were 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the City-South before playing Briggs on Dec. 9. They beat Westerville North, which competes in Division I, 65-50 on Dec. 4.
Eastmoor girls have younger look
After winning six consecutive Division II district titles from 2005-10, the Eastmoor girls basketball team got back to the regional a year ago after not making it the previous two seasons.
If the Warriors make it two district titles in a row, they'll do so with a roster that features no key seniors.
"We're very, very young, but we're talented," third-year coach Tia Jameson said. "They have that experience of playing in AAU programs that are competitive. They get along great."
Eastmoor was 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the City-South before playing West on Dec. 9.
Junior guards Imani Hill and Anee Brasell and sophomore guard Amani Burke are the top returnees from the team that went 22-5 a year ago.
Other key players include sophomore guards Jala Belcher, Rahnia Price and Mahogany Merritt, freshman guard Chyna Chambers and freshman forward Amari Grace, who is the team's tallest player at 5-10.
Eastmoor lost the district's Player of the Year, Tajanee Wells, to graduation. She averaged 16.5 points and six assists and now is playing at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike.
The Warriors opened league play Dec. 3 with a 52-49 win over Walnut Ridge, which got 25 points from senior guard/forward Taylor Kilgore-Barr and nine from sophomore guard Destiny Johnson. Kilgore-Barr is a transfer from Hartley.