The Pickerington High School Central boys basketball roster features two players who have made verbal commitments and, for the time being, a third player who will play Division I college football. Each played integral parts in the Tigers' Division I state championship run a year ago.
But coach Jerry Francis keeps his players on their toes by constantly changing the lineup, and that seems to have translated into parity.
Junior guard Connor Kern, a Wheeling Jesuit recruit, and classmate Jae'Sean Tate, a forward who verbally committed to Ohio State in November, led the team in scoring entering the week. But they've received plenty of support. The Tigers had 10 players score in each of their first two games and have at least that many players logging minutes as they seek an optimal mix.
"We're still looking (and) still trying to find a good group," said Francis, whose team entered a Dec. 18 home game against Pickerington North with records of 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division. "The nice thing has been the competition in practice. That's what they have to do a better job of, just being more competitive in practice. With that will come the opportunities to play in the games."
Beyond Tate and Kern, who were averaging 19.8 and 18 points, respectively, through five games, the remaining starting spots have been up for grabs. Among the other starters have been seniors Kyran Boyd (guard), Taco Charlton (forward), Darryl LeVert (forward) and Theo Williamson (guard) and freshman forward Jalen Tate.
"(Jalen) is getting better every week," Jae'Sean Tate said of his younger brother, who is a wiry 6-foot-3. "When he develops into his body, he's going to be a great player. But right now, he has some work to do and a ways to go."
Several more players have seen time off the bench, including senior guard Vontress Middleton, junior forward Kameron Smith, sophomore guards Rodney Culver, Eric Marshall and Rael Windley, and freshmen Jaylin Bannerman (forward) and D.J. Tyree (guard).
Charlton, a 6-5 forward committed to play football at Michigan, started the season with the Tigers but is expected to leave the team no later than Jan. 4 to start college classes. He missed two games this past weekend, a 53-52 loss to Reynoldsburg on Dec. 14 and a 54-45 win over Brunswick on Dec. 15, the latter a Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament game at Massillon Jackson.
"Practice is fun when you have as many people going hard as we do," LeVert said. "We compete every day and try our hardest. It makes everybody better."
A challenging schedule looms for the Tigers. They play host to Grove City in a league game Friday, Dec. 21, then participate in the Chick-Fil-A Classic at the South Charleston (W.Va.) Recreation Center on Dec. 28 and 29 before visiting Newark on Jan. 4. Central defeated Newark 65-49 in a Division I district final last year after Newark handed the Tigers their only OCC-Ohio loss, 51-35.
Jae'Sean Tate scored 27 points against Brunswick. That game tipped off about 18 hours after Reynoldsburg handed the Tigers their first home loss since the 2010-11 season. The Raiders' Wendell Davis scored 29 points, including two free throws for the lead with 2.1 seconds to play.
Kern scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, helping erase a 42-28 deficit.
Many Reynoldsburg fans stormed the court after the game, a sight some Tigers said they wouldn't soon forget.
"This hurts," LeVert said. "We'll be fine, but we'll remember this for a while."