Austin Ping knows that he is being counted on to be a leader as the only senior on the Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team, but the 6-foot-3 forward doesn't think that provides any extra pressure.
Ping and junior guards Danny Hummer (6-0) and Kevin Vannatta (6-3) are serving as team captains.
"I just try to be a leader at all times," Ping said. "I don't really feel like I'm the only senior. We have a lot of young guys, but that doesn't mean they're not leaders. Every single guy understands their role and leads in their own way. I just have to do my best to compete at all times. I take being the only senior as a huge role."
Hummer and Vannatta are the only returning starters for UA, which finished 16-6 overall last season and won its third consecutive OCC-Central Division championship.
Vannatta averaged 11.5 points and was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district and Hummer was honorable mention all-league.
"We definitely have athleticism," Vannatta said. "Austin Ping is an unbelievable rebounder, and we have a bunch of other young guys who can step up."
The Golden Bears open Friday, Dec. 7, at home against Thomas Worthington in a league game.
"We know we have a target on our back since we've won (the league) the last couple of years," Hummer said
UA lost five players from a year ago to graduation, including guards Carter Smith and Connor Casey and forward Cameron Hood.
Last season, Smith averaged 13.9 points and was first-team all-league and third-team all-district and Casey averaged 8.3 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Hood averaged 8.5 points and was special mention all-league.
"You have a veteran backcourt with Danny and Kevin, even though they're only juniors," 12th-year coach Tim Casey said. "They've played a lot of basketball in key situations. We'll lean on them in a lot of respects as far as effort, intensity and leadership and their ability to mentor some of our younger players."
Hummer, Ping, Vannatta, 6-5 junior forward Logan Richter and 6-0 sophomore forward Griffin Caldwell are the projected starters.
Also on the roster are juniors Corbin Dennis (6-1, forward), Harrison Heath (6-2, guard) and Matt Skidmore (6-4, forward), sophomores Gabe Akins (6-1, guard), Chris Allocco (5-9, guard), Carter Casey (5-7, guard), Spencer Pinnick (5-10, guard), Austin Heath (5-10, guard), Michael McGovern (6-3, forward) and Wynn Brown (6-0, forward) and Polish exchange student Oscar Malinowski (6-8, forward).
Last season, the Bears were seeded seventh in the Division I district tournament and defeated Briggs 55-42 in the first round before losing to 12th-seeded Mount Vernon 53-42 in the second round.
UA went 12-2 in the OCC-Central, followed by Dublin Coffman (9-5), Thomas Worthington (9-5), Westland (8-6), Worthington Kilbourne (8-6), Hilliard Davidson (7-7), Hilliard Darby (3-11) and Central Crossing (0-14).
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty, both of which had been in the OCC-Cardinal. Last season, Liberty went 21-3 and lost to eventual state champion Pickerington Central 60-58 in a regional semifinal.
"Our league is as good as it's been," coach Casey said. "Getting off to a good start is really important."