Hilliard Bradley High School boys basketball coach Mike Limbird has been stressing to his team the importance of playing as a unit and developing depth given that it lacks much height and experience this season.
"Without size or experience, we're going to need to develop some depth," said Limbird, who is in his fourth season leading the program. "We need to play smart, play hard and play together. We don't have any stars, but we have a collection of guys that realize the strength a team can have when they play as one unit."
Bradley returns no starters from last season, when it finished 9-12 overall and placed sixth in the OCC-Capital Division. Its only returning letterwinner is 6-foot-2 junior Brady Simpson, who can play forward and guard.
"Brady is a versatile wing player who did a lot this summer to improve his skill level," Limbird said. "We will need to lean on his experience, defense, and rebounding. Brady will have to do a little of everything for us."
Zack Popovec, a guard who started last season as a sophomore, also was expected to return, but he will miss the season because of an injury sustained this fall playing football.
"I looked around on the floor and, without Zack, I really haven't played with these guys before, except for when we started in the offseason," Simpson said. "We'll miss Zack because he was a hard worker and could play inside and outside.
"Basically, we're a new squad learning together."
Bradley opened Nov. 30 with a 45-44 loss to Central Crossing. Simpson had a team-high 14 points and 5-8 freshman point guard Brandon Glenn scored 12.
In addition to Simpson and Glenn, 6-4 junior post player Ryan Reffitt and sophomore guards Blake Hanson (5-8) and Jackson Murphy (6-1) are expected to be key contributors, according to Limbird.
"(Glenn) is very skilled and getting better every day," Limbird said. "He is starting to feel comfortable leading our team on offense. (Reffitt) is still getting used to his big frame. He missed all of last year with a back injury but is ready to step up and be a leader. He is extremely hard-working and will continue to get better as the year progresses."
Also on the team are senior Dhruv Patel (5-10, guard), juniors Yousef Hamoud (5-8, guard), Connor McDunn (5-10, guard) and Gaileh Gaileh (6-6, post player), sophomores Nick Ingstrum (5-10, guard) and Preston Rapp (5-10, guard) and freshmen Noah Callahan (6-0, guard) and Derek Dunnagan (6-0, guard).
With just three players taller than 6-1, the Jaguars plan to employ a defensive strategy designed to help with rebounding.
"We run the pack-line defense, which relies on all five guys communicating to keep the opposing offense out of the paint and off the free-throw line," Limbird said. "We want to force outside, contested shots and keep ourselves in good rebound position."
The Jaguars also plan to primarily utilize an offense that matches their strength, which Limbird said is their collective basketball IQ.
"We run the Princeton offense, which is built on making hard cuts, reading the defense and working as a team to get high quality shots," he said.
Bradley went 6-8 in the OCC-Capital last season to finish behind co-champions Mount Vernon and Olentangy Orange (both 11-3), New Albany (10-4), Big Walnut (7-7) and Delaware (7-7) and ahead of Franklin Heights (3-11) and Watkins Memorial (1-13).
The Jaguars, who lost to Dublin Coffman 69-50 in the first round of the Division I district tournament a year ago, moved to the OCC-Cardinal last summer as part of OCC realignment. Also in the OCC-Cardinal are Hilliard Darby, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Westerville Central, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne.
Bradley opens league play Friday, Dec. 7, at Jerome.
"I think we're motivated to do some things this season that many people may not expect us to do," Simpson said. "Even though we're young, I think we have some talent and other teams could be looking past us."