Although his team lost nine players from a year ago to graduation, first-year Westland High School boys basketball coach Seth Martin believes the Cougars can develop into a contender in the OCC-Central Division.
Martin took over a team that finished 18-7 last season, but returned just one player with varsity experience in 6-foot-3 senior forward Toury Freeman.
"The guys are working hard," Martin said. "They're buying into what we're trying to do. We have a lot more athleticism than I anticipated coming in. We have a good mixture of some juniors and seniors at the varsity level and I'm really impressed with the freshmen and sophomore classes."
Freeman saw limited minutes for former coach Todd Parker, who resigned last April after 10 seasons at Westland.
"As the only returning player it's kind of hard, but everybody is working hard," Freeman said. "We should be good. I have to lead them in doing better, working hard and keeping their heads up. Even though we're small, we still have heart and we're ready to play anybody."
The Cougars, who opened Nov. 29 against Grove City in the Grove City Tip-Off Classic, visit Marysville on Friday, Dec. 6, for their OCC-Central opener.
Last season, Westland went 9-5 in the league to finish third behind champion Olentangy Liberty (13-1) and Dublin Coffman (12-2).
"On paper, Coffman and Upper Arlington are going to be the top teams and everybody else is going to be very competitive," Martin said. "A lot of other people have lost a lot from last year, so whatever young guys mature the quickest is going to be a team that can compete for the other top spots."
Westland has had to replace its starting five, which was led a year ago by point guard Kersey Long and guard/forward J.J. Smith. Long, who is playing at Capital University, averaged a team-high 17.6 points and Smith, who is playing at Ohio Christian, averaged 14.2 points and led in rebounding at 11.6 per game.
Martin said senior Isaiah Evans (6-0) has emerged as the starting point guard, but senior Hussein Karshe (5-10) and junior Nico Thaboun (5-8) also will see time at the position.
Other seniors are guards Mohamed Berete (6-0), Jaquan Henry (6-2) and Jerry Shields (6-2).
Other players are juniors David Freeman (6-2, forward), John Gebhardt (6-6, forward) and Javon Watson (6-2, guard) and sophomore Koran Montague (6-4, forward).
"We want to play up-tempo and push it, but we also want to be disciplined," Martin said. "We just can't push it for no reason. We want to push with a purpose, get good looks and try to score quickly. Defensive-wise, we want to try and create some havoc and get some turnovers."
Martin, who is an intervention specialist at Westland, coached the Lakewood boys team the past two seasons, compiling a 12-33 record.
He was an assistant for the women's team at Muskingum University in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, and his coaching resume also includes stints as an assistant men's coach at Slippery Rock University and Shippensburg University. He also served as an assistant boys coach at Zanesville Maysville.
As a player, Martin led Zanesville to the Division I state title in 1995 and a state runner-up finish in 1997.
Girls basketball team returns starting five
Girls basketball coach Hugo Quint is feeling optimistic because the Cougars have returned their starting five from last season, when they were 10-13 overall and tied Central Crossing for fifth (5-9) in the OCC-Central behind co-champions Coffman and Hilliard Davidson (12-2).
Westland opened Nov. 29 at Central Crossing.
"We had a good summer," said Quint, who is in the fourth season of his second stint with the Cougars. "I have conditioned this group harder than any group I've ever had. This core has raised the bar. We have kids who have worked and should reap the benefits."
Senior forward/guard Christina Simpson (5-6) and senior point guard Tanesha Dixon (5-7) led the team in scoring last season. Simpson averaged 11.5 points and Dixon averaged 10.2, and both were named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district in Division I.
"We've developed a lot since my freshman year until now," Dixon said. "It's been a journey, but we're coming. Hopefully we stay injury-free. We should have a good season if we do that and work hard."
Also back is sophomore forward Camryn Moreno (5-9), who averaged 8.0 points and was honorable mention all-league last year. The other returning starters are senior forward/guard Rachelle Marcum (5-6) and junior forward/post player Hunter Kershaw (5-11).
Last season, Kershaw was lost for the season after breaking her left leg in a 42-39 loss to Thomas Worthington on Dec. 14. She averaged 9.7 points.
Junior forward/guard Sarah Demana (5-4) was a contributor off the bench last season.
Other seniors are Philisha Jackson (5-5, forward/post player) and Arajae Taylor (5-4, guard). Taylor is a transfer from Independence.
Other players are juniors Savannah Badillo (5-6, forward/post player), Jaide Douglas (5-4, guard) and Brianna Taylor (5-5, guard) and sophomores Kaylee Barber (5-4, forward/post player) and Madison Dale (5-3, guard).
"I think we can compete with teams in our league," said Quint, who also coached Westland from 1995-2005. "I don't think most of the leagues will be settled until the last week (of the regular season). People are going to knock each other off. Those things will happen because the caliber of athlete is better."
White steps down as football coach
Steve White resigned as football coach Nov. 22.
In three seasons, he compiled a 3-27 overall record and 0-21 mark in the OCC-Central.
He was an assistant under Brian Smith in 2010.
"It was a very tough decision," White said. "The relationships that you build with the kids, those things will last a lifetime."
This season, Westland finished 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the league, with the win coming against Columbus East 28-12 in week two.
Westland has lost 41 consecutive league games, with the last win coming against Hilliard Darby 46-29 in 2006 -- the last season the team had a winning record (7-4) and qualified for the postseason.