Despite losing four players from last season who now are playing collegiately, the Northland High School boys basketball team had no intention of taking a step back this season.
The Vikings won all seven games during the 2012 portion of their schedule, but that isn't the only evidence coach Sean Taylor has seen regarding the players' focus this season.
"Our chemistry has been real good. These guys like each other," he said. "It's a great feeling coming to practice. They don't want to drop off. After we lost what we lost from last year, teams are expecting us to be down."
Northland lost to graduation a trio of players who made the ThisWeek Super 12 a year ago and are playing at the Division I college level in Jalen Robinson (Dayton), Devon Scott (Dayton) and Jordan Potts (UNC-Greensboro). A fourth starter from last season, Ke'Chaun Lewis, is playing for Fairmont State.
In their absence, senior Armani Towns, juniors Derek McKeithen and Shemar Waugh and sophomore Seth Towns have helped the Vikings remain among central Ohio's best teams. Armani Towns and McKeithen played contributing roles a year ago, Waugh is a transfer from Canal Winchester and Seth Towns is in his first season on varsity.
Northland opened with a 71-69 win over Toledo Rogers on Dec. 1 and defeated defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central 58-42 on Dec. 8.
In City League-North Division play, the Vikings won their first five games by an average of 40.6 points. They improved to 8-0 overall on Jan. 5 with a 62-55 win at Cleveland St. Ignatius, which entered the matchup 6-0.
The Vikings followed that contest with what was expected to be their toughest league test to date when they played host to Brookhaven on Jan. 8. They entered the matchup having won 94 consecutive regular-season games against City League opponents, including the past six City championships.
"It's been going pretty well," said Armani Towns, who averaged 7.1 points a year ago as the Vikings went 22-2 and were Division I district runners-up.
"Last year, we had four big seniors, so everybody doubted us this year. We share the ball a lot more than last year and have good team chemistry. We communicate on the court more."
Defense, according to Taylor, has been an early strength.
"We want to pressure teams for 32 minutes."
Brookhaven boys learn from first loss
After opening with a 55-52 win over Westerville South on Dec. 4, the Brookhaven boys basketball team began City-North play by losing to Centennial 62-60 on Dec. 7.
The Bearcats responded by winning their final six games of the 2012 portion of their schedule, with five of the victories coming by double digits. They were 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the City-North before playing Northland on Jan. 8.
"(The Centennial game) was surprising because we didn't play well at the closing moments of a contest," coach Hali Robinson said.
"We had a mental mistake that cost us, but we don't look back. We don't coach backward. We've moved forward."
Seniors Randal Clarkson and Kevin Greenhow both averaged in double figures a year ago and have been among the top players again this season.
Senior Blake McEwen and junior Ronnie Williams are other returnees.
Taking on key roles are 6-foot-3 sophomore forward J-Saun Davis and 6-5 senior post player Deiondray Martin.
Martin is a move-in from Detroit who has signed to play for Eastern Michigan.
"The truth of the matter is that we're a team that's based on the sum of its parts," Robinson said. "We have to have great effort every night to be at the best of our ability every night."
Beechcroft boys going through transition
The Beechcroft boys basketball team entered the week 2-4 overall and 2-3 in the City-North.
According to coach Humph-rey Simmons, the Cougars have begun to grasp some of the ideas he's attempted to implement in his first season.
"I've been very happy with the work they've done as a team," he said. "They're staying together as a team and they believe in what I'm selling. We've been running a lot of motion offense because we have a lot of guards."
Senior Khaleed Franklin, who averaged 19 points last season, again is among the team's top scorers. Senior Patrick Ngene-Igwe, who averaged 17 points for Linden-McKinley a year ago, also has been a key contributor.
Franklin had 26 points and Ngene-Igwe scored 20 in a 72-67 win over Mifflin on Dec. 7 and Ngene-Igwe had 21 and Franklin added in a 75-70 win over Columbus East on Dec. 14).
"There's been a lot of attention on Khaleed since he's coming off such a good season last year, but there's been a lot of focus on Patrick, also," Simmons said. "We've been working a lot on boxing out."