Upper Arlington News

Boys Basketball

Lessons learned last season helping Bears

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The Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team isn't living in the past, but it is relying on lessons learned a year ago.

A year after going 11-11, finishing in the middle of the pack in the OCC-Central Division and losing in the first round of the Division I district tournament, the Golden Bears are off to their best start since 2010-11 -- they won 19 of their first 20 games en route to finishing 20-2 -- and have their sights set on rejoining the area's elite.

"We learned a lot from last year. We didn't do so well, but this year we're finding a way (to win)," senior forward Logan Richter said.

"A lot of that is experience. A lot of us have been here. All of us have played in these down-to-the-wire games. We've played so much basketball together that we're used to it. We know how to handle ourselves. The pressure doesn't get to us and we can execute down to the wire and close these games out."

UA, which lost to Olentangy 43-41 in its postseason opener last year on a tip-in as time expired, returned all but one player from last season. The Bears were 14-1 overall and 8-1 in the OCC-Central before visiting Central Crossing on Jan. 28. A 36-34 win at Olentangy Liberty on Jan. 24, coupled with Dublin Coffman's 54-53 loss at Marysville that same night, gave UA sole possession of first place in the league, one game ahead of Coffman and Liberty.

The Bears' only loss was to Liberty, 34-31 on Dec. 13.

"I think we're turning some heads outside of our locker room. We don't want to be the class that lets the UA basketball tradition down," said senior guard Kevin Vannatta, who has committed to play for the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

"We all expected to come in and have a really good year. A bunch of the young guys had good offseasons and all of our veteran players are back and have matured."

UA has had three close wins that have kept it in league title contention. In addition to the win over Liberty, the Bears defeated Coffman 43-40 on Jan. 10 and edged Thomas Worthington 36-30 on Jan. 17.

Last season, the Bears were 2-4 in games decided by six points or fewer.

"We had a lot of close games and, in too many of those, we'd lose," Richter said. "This year, we are finding ways to win. That's what it comes down to.

"I know I keep going back to last year, but it's good to talk about last year. We struggled and people lost interest. We're playing well and it feels good to get the interest back in there. People are realizing there's something special going on."

Through 15 games, Vannatta was averaging 16.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists to lead a deep roster. Coach Tim Casey regularly uses 10 players, including Danny Hummer (6.8 points, 4.1 assists, 1.9 steals), Wes Davis (6.5 points, 2.7 rebounds), Gabe Akins (5.9 points, 1.6 assists) and Richter (5.3 points, 3.2 rebounds).

Akins saw considerable playing time last season as a sophomore, and Davis is a move-in from Kingwood, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

"I mostly worked on my offensive game and moving off the ball more (during the offseason)," Akins said. "I've always been in attack mode when I'm on the floor, but I've been working off the ball and, that way, I can create more scoring opportunities."

Others seeing regular playing time are Chris Allocco, Griffin Caldwell, Austin Heath, Harrison Heath and Michael McGovern.

"It's fun to coach that way, when you can look down the bench and see guys you can trust," Casey said. "All of them come in and fill a certain role. It makes life easier."

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