As the Bexley High School boys basketball team prepares for its first season in more than a decade under a new coach, the challenges include replacing the top scorer and a lack of size.

As the Bexley High School boys basketball team prepares for its first season in more than a decade under a new coach, the challenges include replacing the top scorer and a lack of size.

But Todd Phillips, who replaced the retired Dave Gustin, has taken notice of the Lions' work ethic and chemistry.

"They really have a good sense of wanting to play for one another," said Phillips, whose team opens Friday, Dec. 4, with an MSL-Ohio Division game against visiting Madison Plains. "I think they believe we can be good if they do lean on one another. There are no egos and that's refreshing. They know to be successful that we're going to have to use all five guys out there."

Much of Bexley's experience resides in the guard play of seniors Miles Penn (6-foot) and Cole Heilman (6-1) and junior wing player Simon Kroos (6-3).

Senior post player Doran Widener-Love (6-3) was injured last season. He's expected to return by mid-December following a football injury.

The Lions must replace three 2015 graduates in leading scorer Niejel Young (second-team all-district, first-team all-league), Drew Esposito (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) and Drew Elliott (honorable mention all-league).

Also gone is senior Carter Williams, who transferred to Columbus South.

Bexley finished 14-10 overall last season, losing to South 64-63 in overtime in the second round of the Division II district tournament.

In the MSL-Ohio, Bexley finished fourth (8-6) and lost all six meetings against the league's top three finishers in Whitehall (13-0), Worthington Christian (11-3) and Grandview (10-3).

Phillips spent six seasons at Franklin Heights, where his teams produced only one winning season in 2013-14. He said he has been satisfied in watching his players get acclimated to a new system, which will be mostly different on defense.

"I'm much more about protecting the basket, so you're going to see us pack it in and put people in gaps," Phillips said. "When we press, we're going to keep the ball in front of us. Rebounding is going to be a concern and so is guarding the post."

As Phillips looks to build his rotation, seniors Shawn Williams (6-3, post player) and Hudson Wagenbrenner (6-4, wing player), juniors Justin Frey (6-3, wing player) and Tommy Bruning (6-3, wing player), sophomore Shannon Stanley (6-2, post player) and freshman Ryan Callahan (6-1, guard) are expected to be in the mix. Frey is a move-in from Fort Wayne, Ind.

"They've been well-coached, so we didn't have to come in and reinvent the wheel," Phillips said.

In 11 years, Gustin guided the Lions to MSL championships in 2004-05 and 2009-10, when they also reached Division II district finals.

Bragg set on building wrestling program

First-year wrestling coach Chris Bragg is hardly new to the program, having served as a varsity assistant and middle school coach the past six seasons.

His goal is to use that knowledge to help build the Lions into a championship-caliber team. They were fourth (147.5) of eight teams in the MSL-Ohio tournament last season behind champion Whitehall (195.5).

"We're still young, but this junior class is experienced and they've been around the sport for a while," said Bragg, whose team opens Saturday, Dec. 5, in the Tony Pizzurro Memorial Classic at DeSales.

There are more than 20 athletes in the program, and "I've been told that we've haven't had this many wrestlers since the 1980s," Bragg said.

Former coach Bob Triano, who agreed to lead the program for one season, remains as an assistant coach.

Bragg, a 2005 Bexley graduate and former Marine, expects the Lions to be strongest in the middle weight classes.

Last season, junior Eric Crane went 22-15 overall and was the only Bexley wrestler to win a district match. He will compete at 152 pounds.

Junior Perrin Ruff (29-13 last year, honorable mention all-league) and sophomore Michael Johnson (10-18, honorable mention all-league) also competed at district last season. Ruff will compete at 138 and Johnson will wrestle at 182.

Bexley is expected to fill 12 of the 14 weight classes with returnees, including junior Zak Welsh at 132 (21-9 last year, second-team all-league), junior Jon Clark at 145 (18-18, second-team all-league), junior Jalen Hatton at 195 (13-11) and sophomore Grant Robinson at 220 (25-13, second-team all-league).

Bragg said he also has been encouraged by the progress of Clark's younger brother, Eliot, a sophomore who will compete at 170, sophomores Avery Able (182) and Ethan Gammage (heavyweight) and freshmen Hunter Hilgeman (126) and Michael Porter (120).

"We're still young, but the best part of this team is I'll get them back again next year," Bragg said.