As first-year coach John Wheeler prepares the Northridge High School boys basketball team for the coming season, he has been trying to make sure his Vikings know all phases of the game from every vantage point on the court.

As first-year coach John Wheeler prepares the Northridge High School boys basketball team for the coming season, he has been trying to make sure his Vikings know all phases of the game from every vantage point on the court.

Wheeler is a 2000 Utica graduate and was an assistant coach for seven seasons in the Westerville South girls program under coach Jeff Brenning. He takes over for Brent Cahill, who was 32-32 in three seasons, including a 14-7 finish last season.

"When I was at Westerville South under coach Brenning, he said it always has a different view when you move 18 inches down the bench," said Wheeler, whose team opens Friday at home against Gilead Christian. "You not only have to communicate with the players, but also the parents and your responsibilities are much higher. It can be a lot of work."

Senior forward Bret VanDervort (6-foot-2) is the top returnee in scoring (9.2) and rebounds (6.2) and will be joined by fellow seniors Derek Hull (5-10 guard), Ryan King (6-4 post player) and Alex Scott (5-11 point guard).

Other seniors include Justin Dague (5-10 point guard), Barry Roth (6-0 forward) and Cody Smith (5-9 guard). Wheeler said Smith's preseason training was slowed by cracked ribs and a partially deflated lung suffered during football season.

"We have a new guard-oriented perimeter offense similar to the one we ran the past couple of years over at Westerville South," said Wheeler, who is assisted by Shaun Boening, Jordan Burnworth and Bruce Johnson. "Our philosophy is to develop basketball players and we want versatile players who can play up-tempo and be fast-paced in the half court. That makes us tough to guard.

"I think our half-court offense is different from what they have run in the past because it's a hard-cutting, up-tempo offense where you have five guys on the court who are a threat."

The roster is rounded out by junior E.J. Snyder (6-2 forward) and sophomores Cody King (5-11 guard) and Tony Rios (6-3 post player).

"I think our versatility will help us. We want the No. 1 to be able post up as well as the No. 5 being able to come out and play the point," Boening said. "We also need to buy into the idea of team and realize that when you make a mistake, you not only let yourself down, but you also let your teammates down."

Along with versatility, the coaching staff has been emphasizing defense.

"Defensively, we want to get in their stuff with tough man-to-man. We want to be very intense on the defensive side of the ball," Wheeler said. "We tried to add a little pressure. We really emphasize pressure."

Last season , the Vikings tied Fredericktown for second in the MBC at 10-4 behind Utica at 13-1 and ahead of Centerburg and Loudonville at 7-7, Johnstown at 6-8, East Knox at 3-11 and Danville at 0-14.

The Vikings open league play Dec. 9 at Danville. They beat the Blue Devils 66-35 and 61-52 last season.

•The girls team opened last Saturday at Fisher Catholic and will open its MBC schedule Thursday at Danville. It will play another league game Saturday at home against Fredericktown.

At a glance

•Coach: John Wheeler, first season

•Opener: Friday vs. Gilead Christian

•Key players: Derek Hull, Ryan King, Alex Scott and Bret VanDervort