The Delaware Hayes High School boys basketball program has been hovering near the .500 mark over the past four seasons. The Pacers have gone 42-44 during that span, with two winning records and two losing records.

The Delaware Hayes High School boys basketball program has been hovering near the .500 mark over the past four seasons. The Pacers have gone 42-44 during that span, with two winning records and two losing records.

They could surpass that mediocrity mark this season, with three starters returning, the addition of a move-in and the realignment of the OCC all playing roles in a possible surge.

"We have the potential to have a very balanced scoring team and be a better ball-pressure team defensively than last season because our guards have added strength and aggressiveness," said coach Larry Eberst, whose team will open Friday at home against Marysville. "We've got Sean Rothermel in the middle and he could be one of the dominant post players in central Ohio.

"Plus we're in a division of the OCC where the schools are similar to us in size."

Delaware went 9-12 in 2004-05, then followed with records of 12-10 and 11-10.

The Pacers finished 10-12 last season, losing to fourth-seeded Hilliard Darby 66-55 in the second round of the Division I district tournament after beating Olentangy Liberty 75-57 in the first round. They were 4-6 in the OCC-Central Division to place fourth behind Westerville Central (9-1), Thomas Worthington (8-2) and Pickerington North (5-5) and ahead of Central Crossing (2-8) and Marysville (2-8).

Rothermel is the leading returning scorer at 9.7 points per game. He was third on the team last season behind graduates Rob Matthews (13.9) and Calvin Edwards (13.1), both of whom were honorable mention all-district.

Edwards was first-team all-league and Matthews was on the second team. Rothermel was honorable mention all-league.

"Sean is significantly stronger this year," Eberst said. "He combined his strength with his skills and really has developed into a dominant presence in the paint offensively and defensively."

Joining Rothermel as returning senior starters are Pat Kennedy and Kyle Eberst, the coach's youngest son.

Kennedy is a third-year starter at point guard and Kyle Eberst was a part-time starter at shooting guard last season. Kennedy averaged 7.5 points and 3.1 assists. Eberst averaged 2.6 points.

"Pat is a natural point guard who possesses skills you can't teach," coach Eberst said. "He was born a point guard and we're real excited because he improved every aspect of his game in the offseason. He?'s more physical and more aggressive.

"Plus we started feeding Kyle some at home and he has grown to 6-0 now. He has also gotten stronger. He's our best defensive player and his shooting and penetration have stepped up."

The Pacers think that the addition of strength and aggressiveness in the guard play will help them on both ends of the floor.

"Pat and Kyle could always shoot it from the 3-point line, but now are strong and aggressive enough to penetrate," coach Eberst said. "With Sean in the middle, we can score in the post, play inside-out or beat defenders with the drive if they're coming out away from the basket. On defense, we'll apply more ball pressure because if we do get beat, we have an enforcer with Sean in the lane."

Nick Potter, a 6-2 sophomore who started for Whitehall last season, is expected to be in the lineup at forward and junior Dominic Cassen will start on the wing.

"Nick is an athletic kid who is coachable and works extremely hard," coach Eberst said. "He has good skills and we're excited to have him in our program. Dominic broke his hip before a game last year or he would've had some playing time."

The Pacers expect to be eight-deep to start the season, with senior guard Sean McIntire, junior point guard Alex Stanton and junior wing player Nick Caudill playing key minutes.

"We'll eventually be 11 deep, but we've got five guys who are new to varsity basketball and it could take them time to develop," coach Eberst said. "As a team, we're still trying to find some consistency in our scrimmages and we need to do that relatively quick. You want to jell as you go along, but you also don't want to start slow, put yourself in a hole or lose confidence early."

Delaware will be in the OCC-Capital with Big Walnut, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany, Olentangy Orange and Watkins Memorial.

Big Walnut, New Albany, Franklin Heights and Watkins Memorial were members of the OCC-Central last year. New Albany at 7-3 was runner-up to Dublin Scioto at 10-0. Big Walnut was 5-5, with Franklin Heights and Watkins Memorial finishing 1-9. Mount Vernon was 2-8 in the OCC-Cardinal behind champion Dublin Jerome at 8-2.

"Since the OCC began back in the 1960s, we were always in the same league with Mount Vernon until two years ago," coach Eberst said. "So it will be fun to have our natural rivalry back. It should be a very competitive league overall."