Westerville Central High School boys basketball coach Todd Minney is hoping the work ethic displayed by his players so far this season helps compensate for their limited varsity experience.
The Warhawks return only two players with significant varsity experience in 6-foot-6 senior post player Jack Birkhofer and 6-5 junior forward Eric James.
Last season, Central finished 11-11 overall, placed fourth in the OCC-Cardinal Division and defeated Logan 60-49 in the first round of the Division I district tournament before losing to eighth-seeded Westerville South 67-65 in the second round.
The Warhawks opened Nov. 30 with a 44-42 victory over St. Charles and played Groveport on Dec. 4. They begin OCC-Cardinal play Friday, Dec. 7, at home against Dublin Scioto.
"A lot of our potential can be reached with hard work," said Minney, who is in his 10th season leading the program. "They're working really hard."
Central lost five players from a year ago to graduation, including guard Christian Graves, who averaged a team-high 13 points last season and was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Graves is playing at Malone University, a Division II school in Canton.
The Warhawks also lost post player Joleon Merchant, who averaged 12.5 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds last season as a junior and was honorable mention all-league. According to Minney, Merchant is academically ineligible.
"We have some pieces," Minney said. "What hurts is we lost a lot of our scoring and the perimeter side of things. Our guys have to get more time in the gym."
Minney said James, who scored 22 points against St. Charles, is attracting interest from Division I college coaches.
Also expected to play a key role this season is 5-11 junior guard Jalen Malone, who saw limited playing time last season.
"We're pretty balanced in terms of where we're going to get our points from," Minney said. "Eric is obviously a premier talent. He's one of the best talents in central Ohio as far as his ability to score. We're not going to put it all on his shoulders. We have a lot of guys who can score. Jack does a real nice job in the post for us and Jalen has been doing a good job at the point."
"We have to sprint the floor, get back on defense and box out," James said. "We're young and athletic."
Also on the team are seniors Charles Carmon (5-10, guard), Jayvon Council (6-1, post player), Tyrone Fennoy (5-11, guard), T.J. Purnell (5-10, guard) and Sam Wells (5-10, guard) and juniors Tommy Mansfield (5-11, forward), Jeremiah Shaw (6-3, post player/forward), Jalen Talley (6-3, forward) and Kwamel Wade (6-4, post player/forward).
"Experience is our biggest concern right now," Minney said. "These guys are getting used to the varsity pace of play. With so much inexperience, we did a lot this summer together to try and get used to it, but you get in and you're playing against better defensive teams than what you get in the summer. It's a new level. We're taking each step as it comes."
Last season, Central went 7-7 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish behind Olentangy Liberty (12-2), Westerville North (11-3) and South (11-3) and ahead of Scioto (6-8), Olentangy (6-8), Dublin Jerome (2-12) and Marysville (1-13).
The Warhawks went 0-3 against South last season and are 0-12 all-time against the Wildcats.
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Liberty and Marysville moved to the OCC-Central and Olentangy moved to the OCC-Capital. They were replaced by Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby and Worthington Kilbourne. Bradley had been in the OCC-Capital and Darby and Kilbourne had been in the OCC-Central.