The Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team moved its Jan. 26 practice to Capital City Church.
The Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team moved its Jan. 26 practice to Capital City Church in large part because the Hastings and Jones middle school teams were playing each other later that night in the high school gym and the varsity coaches and players usually attend the games between the middle schools.
For the Golden Bears' five seniors, the games between Hastings and Jones are a chance to reflect on how far they've come in four years. They also provide senior guard Carter Smith an opportunity to jokingly remind classmate and fellow guard Connor Casey - who was standing within earshot - how past games in the rivalry turned out.
"I was never on the winning side," said Casey, a Hastings alum who went 0-4 against Smith's Jones teams in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. "I remember those games pretty well. It feels like just yesterday that Carter and I were going at each other. Now it's funny that we only have a few games left in high school."
If how the Bears have played so far is an accurate indicator, they might have more games left than most area teams. They enter a home game against Central Crossing on Friday, Feb. 3, at 12-3 overall and 9-1 in the OCC-Central Division.
UA holds a three-game lead over Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne.
The Bears probably wouldn't be in this position without Smith and Casey, the only two players on the team who entered this year with much varsity experience. Smith and Casey - each of whom is 5-foot-11 - split time between the freshman team and junior varsity their freshman year, saw some playing time on varsity as sophomores and have started on varsity each of the last two seasons.
"It's funny how ever since middle school we've been sort of intertwined," Smith said.
Last season, Smith averaged 12.5 points and was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district in Division I. Casey averaged 5.5 points and was honorable mention all-league.
This season, Smith is averaging 12.4 points and Casey is averaging 8.1. Each recorded his season high Dec. 20 against Central Crossing, when Smith scored 25 and Casey had 14 in a 76-34 win.
Through 14 games, Casey was leading the area in 3-point shooting at 56.8 percent (26-for-46). Smith was 12th in both 3-point shooting (29-for-69, 42 percent) and free throws (27-for-33, 81.8 percent).
"Our senior year is about what we expected," Casey said. "We're playing maybe the toughest schedule we've ever had. We went out of state (to Richmond, Ind., and Jefferson City, Mo.) and saw some elite teams. I don't think we expected to be undefeated. We got some good experience and seeing the teams we've seen should prepare us for the teams we're going to have to play if we're going to contend for a district championship."
With UA maintaining or increasing its OCC-Central lead the past four weeks, talk around school of when - not if - the Bears will clinch their second consecutive league championship is inevitable. A win over Central Crossing would guarantee at least a share of the OCC-Central title. UA went 13-1 in the league last season to share the title with Coffman.
"I'd be lying if I said I don't look occasionally to see how other teams are doing, but it really is a one-at-a-time approach for us," Smith said. "We don't want to overlook any team. We lost (three) games in December and after tasting defeat, we've worked pretty hard to make sure we don't again. We've put in too much practice time and worked too hard to get where we are to overlook anyone and slip up now."