Jelani Simmons expects to receive constructive criticism from time to time from his coach.

Sometimes that feedback comes when he's sitting at the dinner table, but that's just part of the territory given that his coach also happens to be his father.

The 6-foot-5 senior guard for the Beechcroft High School boys basketball team is in his final season playing for coach Humphrey Simmons, who is in his sixth season heading the program.

"It's fun and it's tough," Jelani said. "He's really on me the most and really pushes me harder than anybody because he expects a lot, but it's fun that we can talk at home about what happened in the game."

The father-son duo have helped guide the Cougars to new heights this season.

Beechcroft expected to contend for City League-North Division and Division II district championships a year ago, but settled for finishing 14-8 overall and 10-4 in the league, well behind champion Northland (14-0), and lost in the second round of the district tournament.

Coming off a third consecutive 14-win season, the Cougars have broken through this winter.

Beechcroft defeated host Northland 83-74 on Dec. 22, handing the Vikings just their second loss in league play since the 2006-07 season and their first league loss at home since 2006.

The winning has continued at a steady pace for the Cougars, who followed a 67-55 loss to Division I state power Pickerington North on Jan. 6 by winning their next five games.

Beechcroft was 13-1 overall and 9-0 in the City-North after beating Linden 88-74 on Jan. 26 and before playing International on Jan. 29 and Northland on Jan. 30.

The Cougars were first in the Division II area coaches poll and third in the state poll last week, and they could be on their way to their first appearance in the City League championship game since 1994.

"(The state ranking is) huge for the Beechcroft boys basketball program," coach Simmons said. "In the early 2000s and 1998, they were at the top of the rankings and we haven't been there for a long time. Just sitting there and seeing it, it's a big blessing just from where our program has come from. I don't want them to get caught up in it because our big goal is a state title, but to be ranked like that is a huge honor for us."

Jelani, a three-year starter who signed with Youngstown State in November, had 969 career points entering play Jan. 29.

He's come a long way in recent years from a physical and mental standpoint, according to his father, considering he endured a torn hamstring while in middle school and then missed the summer season between his sophomore and junior years because of a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Last April, Jelani traveled to Italy with Team Ohio to compete in a tournament that helped bring added maturity.

"Him sitting out that whole summer (before his junior season) helped him grow as a player," coach Simmons said. "He couldn't play, but he saw the game from a different view and started playing with a chip on his shoulder.

"When he went over to Italy where he was the leading scorer, I noticed a big difference in his game. He (recognized) how they take basketball seriously over there."

Jelani, who was averaging 21 points through 13 games this season after averaging 16 last season, will be traveling to Germany with Team Ohio this spring.

"(Traveling to Italy) was a fun experience," he said. "I got to explore Italy and see what was over there. The basketball was different. They play a different style. They really didn't miss any shots if they were open.

"This year, I'm attacking the basket more and I finish more, being more of a leader on the court. I know nothing really gets in my head."

Simmons was one of five players averaging in double figures through 13 games for the Cougars. The others were senior guards Datrey Long (15.5), Teon Jennings (11.0) and Elijah Bishop (10.0) and senior forward Ther'Ron Jennings (14.0). The Jennings are twins.

Another key player for the Cougars is Simmons' cousin, junior Na'elle Simmons, who was averaging seven points.

For coach Simmons and his son, the next few weeks will be the final ones they will spend together from a basketball standpoint.

"For the last couple years, we've been hoping for this type of season and it's finally come," coach Simmons said. "This is the best complete group I've had since I've been coaching here. I say complete because they're honor roll students and great basketball players.

"Just seeing (Jelani) sign his letter of intent to go to Youngstown (State), I teared up because it's about to be over as far as me being his coach and part of his basketball career. Now I'm just going to be dad after he graduates. ... It's a bittersweet moment."

Eastmoor girls team preps for postseason

The Eastmoor Academy girls basketball team was the only team that had a mathematical chance to dethrone two-time defending City-South champion Africentric heading into its matchup with the Nubians on Jan. 29.

The Warriors were 14-5 overall and 11-1 in the league after beating South 79-32 on Jan. 26. Africentric defeated West 62-1 on Jan. 26 to improve to 16-1 overall and 12-0 in the league.

Eastmoor, which closes its league schedule Friday, Feb. 2, at Marion-Franklin, lost to the Nubians 69-47 on Dec. 22.

Equally as important for the Warriors is how they adjust to the move from Division II to Division I for the district tournament, which gets underway Feb. 17.

"I think we're doing great," coach Charity Martin King said. "I'm really, really impressed. As the season has gone on, we're getting better. Division II statewide is just a tough division, but mentally you have got to adjust to Division I and the type of depth they have."

Mchale Grant, a guard/forward, had 31 points in a 92-38 victory over Briggs on Jan. 23. She's part of a junior class that also includes guard Samaria Rodgers-Gossett and forward Hailey Jordan, a transfer from Hartley who has been an impact player.

The only seniors are guards Allayah Hughes, who has committed to Wilberforce, and Kenadee Dixon.

"My 2019 class has settled into their roles really, really nicely," Martin King said. "Hailey Jordan (has) been a wonderful addition. She's been a powerhouse. We can put her in the 3 spot or the 4 spot, she can shoot and she can rebound. I like what I'm seeing."

City wrestling duals down to four teams

On Thursday, Feb. 1, West will be host to the City wrestling dual championships.

The Cowboys will face East in one semifinal and Mifflin will face Whetstone in the other, with the winners competing for the championship and the losers meeting in the third-place match.

Walnut Ridge won the past three City dual titles. But on Jan. 25, the host Scots beat Beechcroft 60-12 but were eliminated from title contention with a 48-24 loss to East. Also at that site, East defeated Beechcroft 54-6.

On Jan. 25 at Mifflin, the host Punchers beat Linden 45-18 and Independence 59-0 to advance to a semifinal.

That same night, the Cowboys beat Centennial 51-15 and host South 48-30 to reach a semifinal, and host Whetstone defeated Marion-Franklin 60-11 and Northland 60-12 to advance to a semifinal.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek