Despite having a new coach last season in Brian Shininger, the Walnut Ridge High School boys basketball team didn't take a step back.

Despite having a new coach last season in Brian Shininger, the Walnut Ridge High School boys basketball team didn't take a step back.

Instead, the Scots built on a run in which they won City League-South Division titles in 2011, '12 and '14 by advancing to another league championship game, only to lose to Northland 73-61.

In the postseason, Walnut Ridge advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1971 where it lost to Cleveland Central Catholic 54-38 in a Division II semifinal to finish 21-6.

The Scots have several experienced players back as they attempt to make the transition to Division I.

After opening with a 65-62 win Nov. 28 over 2015 Division II district runner-up Cincinnati Taft, Walnut Ridge lost to perennial Division I power Gahanna 55-39 on Dec. 1 before beating Reynoldsburg 72-67 on Dec. 5 in another matchup against a big-school program.

The Scots opened City-South play Dec. 8 at Marion-Franklin.

"(We) definitely think we have lots of pieces you need to be a championship-caliber team," Shininger said. "We'll have to try our best to ignore the expectations.

"As far as the (City-South) goes, I think Columbus South and Africentric are extremely good. Independence, Briggs, Marion-Franklin and West are a little bit of unknowns, but certainly have the talent and pieces to challenge anyone on any given night."

West, which captured City titles in 1998, '99 and 2000, is the last official champion from the City-South. Africentric won the 2005 title game on the court but later had to forfeit the victory.

Walnut Ridge could have the personnel to break that streak this season. In addition to having returned seniors Malik Harrison (6-foot-5, forward), Azende Johnson (6-1, guard), James Manns (6-7, forward), Tarik Wright (6-2 guard/forward) and Kalib Younger (6-4, guard), the Scots have added a key ball-handler in 6-0 senior guard Darnei Hairston - a transfer from Independence - and inside depth in 6-7 junior forward Mar'ye Taylor to their roster.

Walnut Ridge was one of four City-South programs to win district titles last season, along with South in Division II, Eastmoor Academy in Division III and Africentric in Division IV.

Michael Bates, who opened his 11th season as Africentric coach Dec. 5 against Canton Central Catholic, also sees Walnut Ridge as the favorite in the City-South but with a caveat.

"The City League-South is extremely competitive night in and night out," said Bates, who was 140-77 with the Nubians entering this season. "(Walnut Ridge is) defending South Division champs and they return four starters. South was district champs in Division II last year and return all five starters and their bench."

The Nubians, who lost to Harvest Prep in a regional final each of the past two seasons and went 20-7 last winter, are led by 6-5 senior wing player and Bethune-Cookman recruit Houston Smith and 6-3 senior guard Lorenze Gordon-Haynes.

Also expected to contribute are seniors Rondell Clark (6-3, wing player) and A.C. Woods (6-0, guard) and sophomore Tyler Potts (6-0, point guard). Senior Anthony Massey (5-10, guard) and sophomores Jah Bennett (6-6, forward) and Trey Baumgartner (5-10, guard) are key newcomers.

Bates believes chemistry could be his team's biggest strength.

"(This) group has been playing together as a group since sixth grade," he said.

Warriors, Nubians girls again to battle

The Eastmoor and Africentric girls basketball teams split their regular-season matchups a year ago, ending the Nubians' nine-year hold on the City-South championship.

Both teams went 13-1 in the league but the Warriors advanced to the City final because Africentric had competed in the game more recently, and Eastmoor went on to beat Centennial 44-43 for its first City championship.

The Nubians are focused on winning the title back this season.

"We lost in the City-South Division for the first time in years last year, but we're going to be good this year," Africentric coach Will McKinney said. "We've got four starters back and we're going to be deep."

The Nubians have won three state titles, with the most recent coming in 2012. With that in mind, going 20-6 overall last season was a disappointment to McKinney.

Africentric is led by junior guard/forward Leah Morrow, who was honorable mention all-state in Division III last season, as well as junior forwards Kynnedy Azubike and De'Jae Denham.

Morrow was second-team all-district and Azubike and Denham both were honorable mention all-district last season. Denham has committed to Ohio University.

Senior forward Zharia Lenoir and freshman point guard Jordan Horston are other impact players for the Nubians, who were 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the City-South before playing South on Dec. 8. Africentric defeated Independence 77-28 on Dec. 4 in a league game and beat Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown 60-59 on Dec. 5.

Eastmoor went 23-3 overall a year ago under first-year coach Charity Martin-Via, who was named Division II state co-Coach of the Year.

Amani Burke, a 5-8 senior guard and Ohio University signee who averaged 14 points and made third-team all-state last season, is the top returnee.

Also back is senior guard Mahogany Merritt, a Malone University recruit.

Freshman Samaria Rodgers-Gossett is starting at point guard and senior Ovian Whitlow-Moore also is a starter in the backcourt.

Other key players include senior guard Darryl Daniels and senior forward Jala Belcher.

"The team will rely heavily on the experience of its seniors," Martin-Via said. "Their experience and composure are assets to the Warriors. If the freshmen develop well during regular-season play, the team will stand a chance at being four-time district champions and may advance well in regional tournament play."