Licking Heights High School boys basketball coach Nathan Clark enters his third season with higher expectations.

Licking Heights High School boys basketball coach Nathan Clark enters his third season with higher expectations.

"This is my most experienced team," he said. "Last year we only had (two) returning lettermen and this year we have five with some pretty good players coming up behind them."

The roster is highlighted by 6-foot-2 swingman Devon Mattison, who averaged a team-high 13.1 points per game and 6.7 rebounds. A left-handed shooter, he made first-team all-MSL-Cardinal Division and honorable mention all-district.

Licking Heights finished 7-14 overall after a 59-46 loss against Jonathan Alder in a Division II first-round tournament game.

Mattison is one of four seniors in a group also featuring guards Nick Rubbo and Erik Pannell as well as 6-4, 250-pound center Tim Smith, who is a move-in from the Cleveland area.

Mattison and West Jefferson's D.J. Mendenhall were the only juniors selected as first-team all-league players a year ago. Eventual district-champions Grandview (Division III) and Harvest Prep (Division IV) shared the MSL-Cardinal title with Fisher Catholic at 12-2. The Roughriders went 7-7 and the Hornets 6-8 to place fourth and fifth, respectively.

"A lot of talent graduated and the league is probably down a little as a whole," said Clark, who has a 16-30 career record entering his third season at Licking Heights, which includes a 10-win season in 2007-08. "One of the big things is probably whether D.J. Mendenhall comes back or decides to focus on football."

Junior Eyob Tadele takes over as the primary point guard after sharing time last year with Pannell, who will be freed up more to shoot in a lineup that frequently will have four guards on the floor. Junior guard Deonte Holder also started last season.

Two other newcomers to the district, junior guard Brionne Mitchell and freshman center Ronnie Dawson, will contribute. The roster is rounded out by juniors Josh Hoar (guard), Chris Tucker (forward), Malcolm Yarborough (guard/forward) and Thomas Sauer (guard).

"We'll attack the basket and try to create space," Clark said. "We want to be able to control the tempo with our press, too."

The health of Mattison, who has been slowed by a strained Achilles tendon, will be pivotal in the team's plans.

"He's been wearing a boot, but we expect him to be ready for our first game (Friday at home against Bexley)," said Clark, whose team also plays host to Granville on Dec. 8 before opening the league schedule. "He's able to carry a lot of the scoring load, and we think he'll be even better offensively because he's worked hard at improving his (shooting) range. We need his help, and those first two games are really going to tell us a lot about where we're at."