Having Da'Keisha Mann on the court gave the other players on the Brookhaven High School girls basketball team someone they knew they could count on the last two years when they were in need of instant offense.

Having Da'Keisha Mann on the court gave the other players on the Brookhaven High School girls basketball team someone they knew they could count on the last two years when they were in need of instant offense.

Now that the 5-foot-9 forward is playing for Ohio University, coach Reggie Lee will learn if his suspicion is true in regard to a group of seven returning letterwinners that he believes could be ready to blossom.

Brookhaven, which finished 16-6 overall last season, opens Dec. 9 against East.

"I'm very comfortable going into the season with this group," said Lee, who is 463-144 as he enters his 28th season.

"Maybe sometimes they deferred to (Mann) when they could have done things themselves. Watching them over the summer, I've seen a lot of improvement in their basketball sense and in their basket-ball knowledge. They all seem to like the game."

The Bearcats don't have a proven scorer after losing Mann, who averaged 17.0 points, made a team-best 33 3-pointers and finished with 1,167 career points. She also was first-team all-district and made the ThisWeek Super 12 team. Monay Cherry (6.8 points), Lacy Byrom-McClure (7.5 points) and Charqua Brown also graduated and junior point guard Monique Hughes is not playing this season.

What Brookhaven does have is a strong group of sophomores led by guards Brianna Holmes and Travecia Franklin and a pair of returning post players in senior Lorraine Levels (6-foot-2) and junior Jourdan Stanhope (6-0) to build around. Holmes made 17 3-pointers and averaged 5.7 points.

Also returning are senior guards Keahana Fontes (5-foot-8) and Datona Ball, and 6-1 senior Timiika Crumpton is back with the program after not playing the last two seasons.

Sophomore twins Madison Morris (5-6) and Marah Morris (5-10), sophomore Khalia Hardin and freshman Jasmine Johnson are others expected to contribute.

With 18 players out for the team, Brookhaven has slightly lower numbers overall than a year ago.

"To me, it's been a great transition," Ball said. "We lost a great player (in Mann), but it makes us strive to get better. We have a lot of heart and determination. (Our quickness) is definitely going to be a strength for us. We're coming together really well and I think our hard work is going to get us there."

The destination Ball was referring to was the City League-North Division championship, which the Bearcats won for the second consecutive season by going 13-1. Their only league loss came when Northland snapped a 19-game losing streak to the Bearcats with a 51-42 victory at Brookhaven.

The Vikings finished third at 10-3 in the City-North behind the Bearcats and Mifflin (12-2), which Brookhaven beat 60-49 and 51-50.

The Bearcats lost to Africentric 71-41 in the City championship game.

In the Division I tournament, Brookhaven beat Olentangy 36-32 before falling to Pickerington Central 58-51 in a district semifinal.

"Even with the sophomores, these girls have a lot of experience playing in AAU and playing for us last year," Lee said. "We could, team-wise, be quicker overall at the defensive end than the last two or three years.

"Northland's got some experience coming back and they beat us late in the season. Mifflin's always going to be tough."