The Hilliard Darby High School boys basketball team's roster underwent major changes during the offseason.
The Panthers, who finished 14-9 overall last season and went 8-6 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to place fourth behind champion Westerville North (14-0), lost six players to graduation. They also lost point guard David Dennis, a two-year starter who transferred to Harvest Prep for his junior season.
Darby, which opened Nov. 29 with a 54-35 loss to Thomas Worthington, returned only two players with significant varsity experience in 6-foot-1 senior guard Taylor Van Winkle and 5-11 junior guard Jordan Clark.
"We have two guys back in Taylor Van Winkle and Jordan Clark, so we have a lot of spots to fill," coach Mark Hess said. "We had a good senior class and the kids were hard-working kids and they were good teammates. Hopefully, this group learned a lot from them."
Last season, Van Winkle averaged a team-high 13.5 points, led the team with 57 3-pointers and had a team-best 83.3 free-throw percentage, making 55 of 66 shots from the foul line. A four-year varsity player, he was named honorable mention all-district in Division I and second-team all-league.
Clark averaged four points last season.
"We have a good group of guys and they are competitive with a lot of fire," Van Winkle said. "I think for the past couple of years that I have been more of a shooter and an offensive-minded player. I'm becoming more of a leader and an all-around player. I have to worry about the little things I didn't have to worry about in the past."
Also back are 6-3 senior forward Zach Cowen and 5-11 junior guard Joey Schnieder.
Clark had a team-high 10 points against Thomas Worthington. Van Winkle had eight points, 6-1 junior forward Lorenzo McLaurin scored seven and Schnieder scored five.
"Jordan is going to run the show (as point guard)," Hess said. "He's been around awhile and did a good job for us last year. Jordan gives us a little more scoring from the point, and we'll be working in plays around that ability."
Rounding out the roster are juniors Trevor Cox (5-8, guard), Mo Museitif (5-10, guard) and Josh Palsgrove (6-2, forward) and sophomores Braeden Hook (6-1, forward), Luke Miller (6-1, forward), Nick Powers (6-1, guard), Ethan Ritchey (5-10, guard) and Nate Skelskey (6-1, guard).
"Right now, we're practicing with guys who haven't played together a lot with players from varsity, j.v. and freshmen teams from last year," Hess said. "Now they have to all compete and play together on varsity."
Darby, which played Marys-ville on Dec. 3, opens OCC-Cardinal play Friday, Dec. 6, at home against Westerville North.
"This is a hard-nosed, hard-working group," Hess said. "We're not big, but we're a bunch of scrappy guys. They aren't experienced, but they have great attitudes. They are still learning and they are coachable. We have to scrap every night ... every possession. We have to out-battle people."
Last season, Dennis averaged 9.1 points and 5.1 assists and made honorable mention all-district and third-team all-league. Among the seven players lost to graduation were forward Nic Baker, who averaged 11 points and shot 43.1 percent from 3-point range (50 of 116) and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league, and guard Cade Carter, who made honorable mention all-league.