The Watkins Memorial High School boys basketball team is seeking its first winning season in 22 years.
The Warriors last finished with a winning record in 1990-91, when they went 14-8. That season, they were members of the original Licking County League. The league is being revived next school year and the Warriors would like nothing more than to post a winning record in their final season in the OCC-Capital Division.
Watkins Memorial is off to a strong start, as it was 2-0 before opening OCC-Capital play Dec. 7 against Delaware.
Last season, the Warriors finished 4-17 overall and 1-13 in the OCC-Capital and lost to fifth-seeded Westerville North 68-39 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
"We're confident we're going to win more games this season since everyone is more comfortable in our system now," second-year coach Pat Dimmick said. "Last year was like a first-year program and we're going to build off that. We're not going to take a step back. All these guys are working their tails off and everyone is getting better."
The Warriors, who defeated Licking Valley 64-61 in their opener Nov. 30 and beat Johnstown 50-41 on Dec. 4, return three starters in seniors Kevin Crawford (6-foot-5, post player), Aarmanni Garnett (6-3, guard) and Thomas O'Sickey (6-1, guard).
Last season, Crawford averaged a team-high 8.7 points and 6.9 rebounds and was named honorable mention all-league.
"Kevin will be one of our three main scorers," Dimmick said. "He can play inside or outside and we like that. If his defender doesn't come out, he can shoot it. If the defender comes out, that takes a big guy out of the paint and could help us use our quickness to drive inside."
Against Johnstown, Crawford had a pair of first-half dunks and finished with 16 points. Garnett and O'Sickey both scored 10 points.
Last season, O'Sickey averaged 6.3 points and 2.5 assists and made 33.7 percent of his 3-point field-goal attempts. Garnett averaged 4.7 points and 4.8 rebounds.
"Thomas O'Sickey is a very good shooter who should help us stretch defenses," Dimmick said. "Aarmanni Garnett is very athletic and does a fantastic job on defense for us. He worked hard in the offseason and his offense is coming around for us now."
Shaquan Harris, a 5-8 senior, has taken over at point guard, replacing 2012 graduate Le'Trel Taylor, who averaged 12.9 points last season and was second-team all-league. Rounding out the starting lineup is 6-2 junior forward Hunter Holton.
Also expected to be key contributors are seniors Clay Gray (6-0, guard) and Phillip Reger (6-2, guard).
Rounding out the roster are juniors Jared Clark (forward), Shawn Johnson (forward), Zach Lescalleet (guard/forward) and Ben Shroyer (guard).
Against Licking Valley, O'Sickey had 20 points, Crawford scored 15 and Gray scored nine.
"I think we already have much better chemistry than we had last year," Crawford said. "If we keep playing like we are, playing together and improving on defense, I think our chances are pretty high that we'll have a winning record."
Last season, Watkins Memorial won two of its first four games but won just two of its final 17. Four of its losses were by five points or fewer.
The Warriors finished eighth in the OCC-Capital a year ago behind co-champions Mount Vernon (11-3) and Olentangy Orange (11-3) as well as New Albany (10-4), Big Walnut (7-7), Delaware (7-7), Hilliard Bradley (6-8) and Franklin Heights (3-11).
Their only league victory came against Big Walnut, 45-42 in their league opener.
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy, which had been in the OCC-Cardinal.
"We're going to have to execute much better and rebound better when we get into playing the big guys in the OCC," Dimmick said. "We're a work in progress."