The Westland High School boys basketball team is off to a strong start in its pursuit of its first winning season in eight years.
The Cougars opened Nov. 30 with a 61-57 overtime win over Brunswick in the inaugural Grove City Tip-Off Classic and defeated Grove City 92-81 in the event's championship game Dec. 1.
Westland was 2-0 before its OCC-Central Division opener Dec. 7 against Marysville.
Last season, the Cougars finished 10-11 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Central and lost to Grove City 83-79 in the first round of the Division I district tournament. Their last winning season was 2004-05, when they went 21-4, shared the OCC-Buckeye title with Dublin Coffman and won a district championship before losing to Cincinnati Moeller 76-73 in a regional semifinal.
"This team is very intent on winning because they haven't tasted it before, but that's also a scary thing," 10th-year coach Todd Parker said. "We have a little bit of expectations."
Westland returns six players, including four who saw significant playing time last season in seniors KyJuan Grace (6-foot-1, point guard), Kersey Long (5-10, guard), J.J. Smith (6-4, guard/forward) and Devan Williamson (6-4, forward).
Last season, Smith averaged 10.4 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds and was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Long averaged 12.4 points last season to tie 2012 graduate Kris Carius for the team lead and was special mention all-league. One of six players from a year ago who graduated, Carius was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
The other returnees are seniors Cory Beesler (6-0, guard) and Steven Gonzalez (6-0, forward).
In the Tip-Off Classic, Long scored 25 points against both Brunswick and Grove City and was named tournament Most Valuable Player. Smith also made the all-tournament team. He had 22 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists against Grove City after spending much of the game against Brunswick on the bench with foul trouble, scoring just five points.
Beesler and Grace both had 16 points and Williamson scored 10 in the Tip-Off Classic championship game.
"It is extremely important for us to have wins early in the season because we have not had much success in the past," Parker said. "Early wins will help us understand how we have to play. Early losses would destroy our confidence. Getting off to a great start in games let's us control the game and play the way we want to, not the way our opponents want us to."
Rounding out the team are seniors Cory Beasy (6-6, post player), Jalen Brown (6-3, forward/guard), Korey Browning (6-4, forward), Rollin Byrd (6-0, guard) and juniors Myles Fowler (6-2, guard) and Toury Freeman (6-1, forward).
"We expect to do (well) this season," Long said. "We ended our season last year with a loss in the first round (of district) and it really hurt us, so we want to come back and make a statement."
Last season, Westland tied Worthington Kilbourne for fourth in the OCC-Central, behind Upper Arlington (12-2), Coffman (9-5) and Thomas Worthington (9-5) and ahead of Hilliard Davidson (7-7), Hilliard Darby (3-11) and Central Crossing (0-14).
As part of OCC realignment, Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty.
Last season, Liberty went 21-3 and lost to eventual state champion Pickerington Central 60-58 in a regional semifinal.
"It's going to be a very competitive division," Parker said. "UA and Coffman are always tough and Liberty is well-coached. We can be right up there with them if we get some things taken care of. We have an opportunity to do it, but you have to win the tough games and you have to be able to beat Coffman and Arlington. You have to protect your home court."