City League races could be 'wide open'
Having won the previous five City championships and featuring three Division I college recruits, the Northland boys basketball team not surprisingly won its sixth consecutive City title last winter.
Including City finals, the Vikings had won 89 consecutive league games entering this season. Also expected last season was that Walnut Ridge would win the City-South Division. The Scots did that and lost to Northland 66-55 in the City final.
Things might not be as predictable this season, at least in the City-South, according to Africentric coach Michael Bates.
"I think the City-South is wide open this year," said Bates, who is in his seventh season. "The parity is just great this year. Marion-Franklin probably has the most returning with (Anthony) Anderson and Marquiez Lawrence, but you know Walnut Ridge is going to be tough. Eastmoor's always tough with (John) Draper still there. And to me, I think (Columbus) South is the favorite. They're returning everyone, including Ellis Williams, who has signed to go to Bryant (University)."
Last season, Walnut Ridge went 14-0 to win the City-South, ahead of Africentric (12-2), Eastmoor Academy (9-5), Marion-Franklin (9-5), Briggs (5-9), Independence (5-9), South (2-12) and West (0-14).
The Nubians made it to a Division IV state semifinal for the second consecutive season, losing to Jackson Center 53-50 to finish 22-4. Seniors Kenny Robinson (guard) and Trevonn Saunders (guard) were starters and senior Cyquil Tucker (guard) also saw action.
Eastmoor was a Division II district champion a year ago under first-year coach Jim Miranda and is expected to be led by Draper, a senior guard who made first-team all-district last season.
Walnut Ridge lost the City championship game for the second consecutive season but bounced back to earn a Division I district runner-up finish.
The Scots lost nine players to graduation. Senior Rob Wheelwright, a 6-3 forward who has verbally committed to play football at Wisconsin, and 6-6 junior forward Robert Bowers are expected to lead the way for Walnut Ridge.
Other key players for the Scots are seniors Ty Pack (5-9, guard) and Darius Strickland (6-4, forward), junior Dymiere Finch (6-2, guard) and freshmen Malik Harrison (6-3, guard) and Tarik Wright (6-2, guard).
Pack and Strickland are transfers from Licking Heights.
"I think we'll be more blue-collar this year," said Scots coach Jason Bates, who is in his fifth season. "Whoever wins the City will probably have a couple losses this season."
In the City-North last season, Northland went 14-0 to place ahead of Brookhaven (12-2), Centennial (9-5), Beechcroft (6-8), Mifflin (6-8), Columbus East (5-9), Whetstone (3-11) and Linden-McKinley (1-13).
The Vikings lost four starters, including the Division I district Player of the Year in 6-8 forward Jalen Robinson, from a year ago when they finished 22-2 overall, but they opened with a 71-69 win over Toledo Rogers on Dec. 1.
Freshman Seth Towns had 21 points and junior Derek McKeithen scored 18.
The only City-North team to win a district title last season was Brookhaven, which finished 19-5 overall.