Newark High School boys basketball coach Jeff Quackenbush's take on last year's postseason run is appropriate in context given the fact that the team won the Division I state championship, its fourth overall but first since defeating Canton McKinley 47-42 in the Class A final in 1943.

Newark High School boys basketball coach Jeff Quackenbush's take on last year's postseason run is appropriate in context given the fact that the team won the Division I state championship, its fourth overall but first since defeating Canton McKinley 47-42 in the Class A final in 1943.

"That's history," said Quackenbush, whose team beat Lakewood St. Edward 65-52 in the final a year ago to finish 24-4. "It's a new year. We don't talk much about last year."

Three starters, including honorable mention all-district picks Dane Kopp and Rahlin Watson, return from the team that won its final 14 games, including over Zanesville 53-48 in a district final and Westerville South 62-57 in a regional final.

Kopp, a 6-foot-9 center, will need to get more involved offensively. Watson, a 6-1 wing player, provides shooting range from the perimeter. Point guard Cody Dennison, a fourth-year starter, also is back, as are key substitutes such as seniors Taylor Huffman (6-3 forward) and Shaun O'Keefe (6-4 wing player). Guard Jeff Jones, who returns after not playing a year ago, is another senior.

The team's style likely won't change much despite losing four graduates, including two-time ThisWeek Player of the Year Greg Avery, who averaged 19.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

Avery, the school's sixth player to surpass 1,000 career points with 1,131, is playing at Western Carolina University after also earning first-team all-district and third-team all-state. He spurred offers from larger Division I schools, including Bowling Green, and capped his stay at Newark by scoring a career-high 33 points in the state final. Another key loss was post player Will McCoy.

"We'll play a lot of man-to-man (defense), get the ball up and down the court as fast as can, try to limit our turnovers and take smart shots," said Quackenbush, whose team opens Saturday at home against Columbus Briggs.

"It's no secret."

Also look for juniors Ryan Dierks, Ryan Sole and James Kurzawa in the usual eight- or nine-player rotation. Sole is a guard and Kurzawa a 6-2 forward. Dierks, who should be able to make up at least some of Avery's points, averaged 19.7 points and nearly five assists and was third-team all-district in Division II last year at Licking Valley, where he started as a freshman.

"He grew up with a lot of our kids," said Quackenbush, who has a 131-75 record entering his 10th season with the Wildcats, including 47-6 the past two years. "He's come in and fit really nice, but he's still learning our system and our way of doing things."

Rebounding, especially at the defensive end, and developing depth are the top concerns, Quackenbush said.

The Wildcats went 8-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division won by Hilliard Darby (9-1), which now plays in the OCC-Central. The newcomers are Pickerington North, Pickerington Central, Grove City and Reynoldsburg, which won last year's OCC-Buckeye title.

The OCC-Ohio opener is Dec. 9 at Gahanna.

"I liked the six-team league (as opposed to eight) because it gave us better variety with our non-league schedule," said Quackenbush, whose team defeated Canal Winchester, led by B.J. Mullens, 71-57 at home over Christmas break and also lost to eventual Division II state-champion Chillicothe 59-53 last season.

"I think expectations are still high. That's why our kids practice and compete so hard every day."

•ELSEWHERE -- Dublin Scioto and Westerville South captured the other Division I district titles a year ago. Canal Winchester and Eastmoor in Division II and Ready and Columbus Academy in Division III also advanced to regional play. In Division IV, Harvest Prep and Worthington Christian won the district championships, and Worthington Christian lost in the state final to New Knoxville.

The other state champion was Ottawa-Glandorf in Division III.