Jerry Francis' instructions to his Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team sometimes turned into bellows that could be heard well beyond the gymnasium's closed doors during a late November practice.
The Tigers stayed in the gym for more than 30 minutes beyond the practice's scheduled finish then got an additional lecture from their coach in the locker room.
According to Francis, now in his fourth season at Central, such tough love is the only way the Tigers will live up to their own expectations.
"Nothing will change over here, man," Francis said. "I'm kind of hard on them all the time, but if you have strong ballplayers, they're going to do the things they need to do without me having to tell them. They benefit from being in a competitive environment, working in the weight room and working on their games. That's how I know the guys who are self-motivated self-starters."
Ohio State signee Jae'Sean Tate and Arkansas State signee Connor Kern, both of whom played integral parts as sophomores on the 2012 Division I state championship team, pace a squad that returns five players who started last year. Central went 19-8 overall and 10-4 in the OCC-Ohio Division, sharing their second consecutive league championship with Grove City, Newark and Reynoldsburg.
Central also is seeking its third consecutive district title.
Tate, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward, averaged 21.9 points and 12 rebounds last year and was named ThisWeek Super 12 captain, first-team all-district and second-team all-state. The 6-4 Kern, who bulked up during the offseason to 190 pounds, averaged 15 points a year ago.
"Right now, we're just worrying about our first game at Lancaster (on Friday, Dec. 6)," said Kern, who said he has gained about 25 pounds since last season.
"We're just trying to teach all the young kids all of our plays. We older kids have to be patient."
Other returnees are 6-2 senior guard Corey Taylor, 6-5 junior forward Rodney Culver, 6-5 sophomore forward Jalen Tate and 6-0 sophomore guard D.J. Tyree. Culver, Tate and Tyree each started at some point last season.
The only full-time starter lost to graduation was center Darryl LeVert, who now plays at Connors State, a junior college in Warner, Okla.
Dajon Moore, a 6-3 junior guard who transferred from Pickerington North, will be in the mix to start at the point. He averaged 7.6 points last year and was honorable-mention all-league.
Francis didn't mention any players beyond his top seven.
"I want to see those guys continue to earn their spurs, so to speak," he said. "When they perform, we'll mention them, but we have a good group of younger guys who will continue to get better."
Tate enters the season with 1,137 career points, 83 shy of school record-holder Rush Floyd. Tate scored a season-record 595 points last year.
"At the end of the day, I'm all about the 'W,' " Tate said. "When I graduate, it'll be something to come back and look at that (record). But I'm in it for the state title."