Entering its third season, the Hilliard Bradley High School boys basketball team is well beyond the point of taking baby steps.

Entering its third season, the Hilliard Bradley High School boys basketball team is well beyond the point of taking baby steps.

The Jaguars think they're on the verge of crossing the .500 threshold, entering the upper echelon of the OCC-Capital Division and making a respectable postseason run.

"We have to play harder defense and just play harder as a team," senior guard Jacob Starinsky said.

"It's about paying attention to detail. We have to be more aware of situations than we've been in the past, just be more focused."

The Jaguars went 9-12 overall and 7-7 in the league last year, losing to Bexley 64-60 in the first round of the Division II district tournament. Bradley led the Lions by 12 points in the first half and didn't trail until the final minutes, a fate that summarized much of its season.

"Defense is a pride issue, something where you have to buy in to what's going on at that end of the floor. We never really seemed to commit to it last year," said third-year coach Michael Limbird, whose team opens Friday, Dec. 2, at Westerville North. "We shot about 49 percent from the floor and on that stat alone you wouldn't guess we were 9-12.

"The way we look at (defense) is it's not really about the number of points you allow per game, but more the field-goal percentage. We want to shoot above 50 (percent) and allow less than 40 (percent). If that's about what you allow, you should win quite a few of your games."

The Jaguars lost five players to graduation, including guards Evan Bell and Derek Tieman. Bell was special mention all-league last season and Tieman was honorable mention all-league.

In addition to Starinsky, Bradley returns 6-foot-7 senior forward Trent Weaver - an Ohio Dominican University signee who averaged 17.2 points and 11.4 rebounds last season and earned first team all-league and all-district and special mention all-state - 6-0 senior shooting guard A.J. Dixon and 5-10 senior point guard Tyler Armstrong.

Armstrong is expected to split duties at the point with two 6-0 sophomores, Brady Simpson and Zach Popovic. Simpson and Popovic played mostly junior varsity last year.

Starinsky mostly played inside last season but has moved back to his natural position with the return of 6-3 senior forward Kevin Girardi, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury in his left knee.

"He's an absolute glue guy," Limbird said of Girardi. "He rebounds well, he outlets well and defensively he is solid. And he's smart. I teach AP calculus and AP physics and have him in both. He's an outstanding student-athlete."

The Jaguars will miss the services of 6-4 sophomore Ryan Reffitt, who Limbird said almost certainly would have seen considerable time but will miss the entire season with a vertebrae injury sustained during football.

Also on the team is 5-9 junior guard Dhruv Patel, who likely will play a backup role to start the season.

Bradley finished fifth in the OCC-Capital last season behind New Albany (13-1), Delaware (11-3), Mount Vernon (10-4) and Olentangy Orange (9-5) and ahead of Big Walnut (4-10), Franklin Heights (1-13) and Watkins Memorial (1-13).

Limbird, whose team opens league play Tuesday, Dec. 6, at home against New Albany, sees the potential for a better finish, however.

New Albany lost seven graduates, including all five starters, from last season when it reached a Division I district final before losing to Westerville South 69-54.

Delaware will be without its top player in senior guard Matt Bingaya, a Morehead State signee who averaged 21 points last season but will miss this season with a knee injury suffered playing football.

"We know how to win, but we need to learn how to finish better," Weaver said. "We lost too many games in the fourth quarter last year. We have to be a hard-working team. We have to be willing to do some dirty work. All we need to care about is winning."