When Donovon Barrett took over the Westerville Central High School boys basketball team in May, he believed he was inheriting a program loaded with potential.

When Donovon Barrett took over the Westerville Central High School boys basketball team in May, he believed he was inheriting a program loaded with potential.

Barrett replaced Todd Minney, who resigned following last season and had helped form the program after the school opened in 2003.

Barrett was the boys basketball coach at Buckeye Valley the past 14 seasons. He led the Barons to seven Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference titles, including the last four.

"We have some pieces," Barrett said. "It's been a productive preseason in a sense that we have a good feel for what our strengths and weaknesses are. You want to capitalize on your strengths and define your weaknesses. I like our flexibility."

The Warhawks opened Nov. 30 with a 54-53 loss at Groveport. Senior Kwamel Wade (6-4, forward/center) scored 18 points and senior Eric James (6-5, guard/forward) scored 12.

Central visits Dublin Scioto on Friday, Dec. 6, for its OCC-Cardinal Division opener. Last season, the Warhawks finished 12-12 overall and went 6-8 in the league to place fifth behind champion Westerville North (14-0).

The Warhawks return four starters, including James and 6-0 senior guard Jalen Malone. James averaged a team-high 15.5 points and was first-team all-league and third-team all-district in Division I last season, while Malone averaged 11.8 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

James has committed to Duquesne University.

"We feel confident, but we still have to go out there and play," Malone said. "On paper, we should be good, but when we go out there it's not always the way it's supposed to be. When we play hard, we're really good (and) we are really hard to beat. When we play lazy, that's when we lose to teams. We stick around with teams that we shouldn't be sticking around with."

The other returning starters are Wade and 6-2 senior forward Jalon Talley. Wade averaged 8.9 points and a team-best 5.0 rebounds last season, when he was special mention all-league.

Seniors Tommy Mansfield (6-0, guard) and T.J. Pannell (6-0, guard) also return.

Other players are senior D'Andre Davis (5-5, guard), juniors Ben Cooper (6-4, center), Kyle Freytag (6-7, center), Braylen Thomas (5-11, guard) and Hunter Todd (6-1, guard/forward) and sophomores Erron James (6-0, guard) and Will Maynus (6-4, forward).

"We have good kids," said Barrett, who is a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Heritage Middle School in Westerville. "We have a good core group. They're very coachable. That's one thing I've been pleasantly surprised with. It's just the process of getting them where we want them to be."

Barrett is looking forward to challenging for a league title and facing Westerville North and South.

"Both have a lot of players coming back," he said. "It's a battle night in and night out, plus the added incentive of being Westerville schools. You have to be ready to go."

Several opposing coaches have said Central is the team to beat in the league.

"I don't mind that," said Barrett, who also is the school's girls tennis coach. "I'm a direct, honest person. I told them that we should be pretty good, but should be and will be are two different stories. I use the word earn a lot and we have to earn it. We have to earn what we get."