Three weeks into November, the Northland High School boys basketball team had experienced only two bad practices, according to coach Sean Taylor.
He believes that is a testament to the focus of a senior-laden roster aiming for the Division I state championship.
Despite having just one key senior a year ago, the Vikings reached a state semifinal, where they lost to Mentor 80-69 to finish 28-1.
"We should be better because of the fight we went through last year," said Taylor, whose team opens Friday, Dec. 6, at Centennial in a City League-North Division game. "We know what it's going to take because we went to the final four and we didn't accomplish our goal."
Back are seniors Jhustus Cornley (6-foot-1, guard), Ty Hairston (6-1, guard), Derek McKeithen (6-3, guard), Kenny Sloan (6-0, guard), Donte' Smith (5-9, guard), Jaylen Tucker (6-6, forward) and Shemar Waugh (5-9, point guard).
Waugh, who has signed with Ohio Dominican University, averaged 7.5 points and made honorable mention all-district last season along with Hairston (10.5 points per game), McKeithen (10.6 ppg) and Tucker (9.8 ppg).
Also back are junior Doug Taylor (6-8, post player) and sophomore Seth Towns (6-7, forward). Towns averaged 9.8 points and made honorable mention all-district a year ago, and Taylor averaged 2.7 points.
Others looking to contribute are juniors Seth McCoy (6-2, guard) and Maleek St. Vall (6-0, guard) and sophomore Jordan Kinchen (5-9, guard).
Northland beat Africentric 55-53 in overtime in last season's City League final to extend its winning streak in City games to 104, including the last seven league finals.
In the postseason, Northland beat Olentangy Liberty 52-48 in a district final and Canton Timken (74-47) and Gahanna (62-53) in the regional.
Armani Towns, who was second-team all-district and averaged a team-best 13.6 points, was the only key player lost to graduation.
The Vikings are scheduled to play in three events that coach Taylor believes should help prepare his team for another long tournament run: the Beach Ball Classic (Dec. 26-31 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.), the Good Samaritan Flyin' to the Hoop Invitational (Jan. 18 at Kettering Fairmont) and the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic (Jan. 25 at Ohio Dominican).
"If we can play together, I think we'll be OK," coach Taylor said.
Bearcats again hope to contend for titles
A year ago, the Brookhaven boys basketball team lost three regular-season games by a total of six points, including 63-61 and 59-57 in overtime to Northland.
During the postseason, the Bearcats came up just short against eventual Division II state champion Watterson in a 56-52 overtime loss in a district final to finish 21-4.
Although the top three scorers from that team graduated, coach Hali Robinson likes his team's potential to build on that success.
The top returnee is 6-3 senior Ronnie Williams, who has signed with Ohio Dominican and is expected to play several positions, including point guard.
Brookhaven opened Nov. 29 with a 54-47 loss at Gahanna.
"Right now we're working on chemistry and finding personnel packages, and the kids will continue to grow as the season progresses," said Robinson, who is 180-59 in 11 seasons. "I'm pretty pleased with the diversity and the skill set of the kids."
Williams, who averaged about nine points last year, is the only senior.
Juniors Shadrick Kimble (6-4, guard/forward) and J-Saun Davis (6-4, post player) also return after being key players last season.
Sophomore Macyah Fleming (6-3, guard/forward) is expected to be a starter.
Also looking to contribute are juniors Curtis Armstrong (5-10, guard), Lawrence Buttrum (6-2, forward), Raequan Camara (6-2, forward), Melieck Evans (6-2, forward), Brandon McEwen (5-9, guard), Dre Mills (6-5, forward) and Raequan Moody (6-2, guard/forward) and freshman Bahati Haralson (5-8, guard).
Deiondray Martin (18 ppg) and Randal Clarkson (14 ppg) now are playing at a junior college in Texas, and Kevin Greenhow (15 ppg) also was among those lost to graduation from the team that finished second (11-3) in the City-North last season.
Cougars aiming to take step forward
Beechcroft boys basketball coach Humphrey Simmons believes the Cougars can contend for the City-North title even though his top scorers from a year ago graduated.
The Cougars, who went 11-14 overall and were fourth in the league at 7-7 last season, return a pair of juniors who averaged 10 points in 6-2 forward Joshua Chellers and 5-10 guard Robert Martin.
Seniors Darius Ford (6-1, guard/forward) and Tarik Woods (5-11, guard) are other key returnees.
Beechcroft opened Nov. 29 by losing to Ready 63-49 in the L-Town Tipoff Classic at London. On Nov. 30, the Cougars defeated Yellow Springs 63-55 in the event's consolation game.
"I'd definitely like for us to win the City championship and win district," Simmons said. "We have a high bar. We have to make teams play our type of basketball. We've got a running team with a motion offense."
Also looking to contribute are juniors Donte Burt (6-3, forward), Toliver Cunningham (5-10, guard), Deontre Keys (6-2, forward) and Anthony McClendon (6-2, forward) and sophomore Michael Powers (5-11, guard).
Despite winning just nine regular-season games a year ago, Beechcroft made it to a Division II district semifinal, where it lost to eventual district champion Marion-Franklin 61-60.
Patrick Ngene-Igwe, who averaged 18 points and made third-team all-district, led a 2013 senior class that also included Khaleed Franklin (14.5 ppg) and Maurice Hale (6 ppg).