The last thing Johnathan Hedgepeth wants to do is reinvent the wheel.
Hedgepeth is the Pickerington High School Central girls basketball team's fourth coach in four seasons and fifth since the school district split in 2003, and he simply wants to build on last season's 16-7 overall record and extend the Tigers' season beyond the first round of the Division I district tournament.
Hedgepeth, who was hired in September to replace James Stutzman, hopes having coached junior varsity last year, as well as knowing several players since their days at Ridgeview Junior High, eases the transition.
"These girls are very special to me," he said. "They do have a little bit of familiarity with me because I was on staff last year, so it's not a total shift in dynamics. We haven't come in trying to massively change everything. We just want to build on what they accomplished last year."
The Tigers open the season with an OCC-Ohio Division game against Gahanna on Friday, Nov. 29, at home.
Central returns four starters in 5-foot-8 senior guards Aajah Hawkins and Amari Hawkins, 5-8 junior point guard Taylor Johnson and 5-10 senior forward Allie Luther.
Johnson and Luther both averaged 9.3 points last season. The Hawkins sisters have signed to play at Florida International and Luther has signed to play softball at Kent State.
The lone player from last season who was lost to graduation was guard Phylicia Johnson, who averaged a team-high 9.9 points a year ago.
Other key returnees are 5-7 senior forward Kiara Thomas and 5-8 junior guard Katrina Williams.
Senior forward Kiana Thomas, who was a regular contributor off the bench last year, is expected to miss the entire season with a shoulder injury, Hedgepeth said.
"Just because we're not a really big team (in terms of height), a lot of players will be playing multiple positions," Amari Hawkins said. "That's something we're going to have to do to be better."
The Tigers' roster also includes 5-10 senior forward Julisicia Jordan, 5-4 junior guard Monica Shimp and 5-10 junior forward Kenya Woodard.
Hedgepeth, who said a handful of sophomores and freshmen also could see varsity time, hopes an increased emphasis on transition will help the Tigers build on last season.
"What they learned last year was invaluable -- how to play the half-court (game), how to be patient, how to move the ball," he said. "I want to continue that philosophy of being able to score in half-court sets, but also have them understand that we can get out and run because we have some great athletes ... and understand when it's the right time to do that and when to pull it back."
Central is looking to challenge for the OCC-Ohio championship and a Division I district title this season. Last season, the Tigers went 9-5 in the league to tie Pickerington North for third, behind Reynoldsburg (14-0) and Gahanna (11-3), and lost to 23rd-seeded Upper Arlington 45-42 in the first round of the district tournament despite being the 10th seed.
"We can have another strong year," Luther said. "With all the girls we have back, we can be better than last year for sure."