The Licking Heights High School boys basketball team is hoping to begin the season better than it has in recent years.

The Licking Heights High School boys basketball team is hoping to begin the season better than it has in recent years.

The Hornets opened 0-4 last year after starting 1-3 in 2009-10. They were able to recover both seasons, finishing 11-10 in 2009-10 for their first winning season since 2006-07.

Last year, they rode a 12-game winning streak to a 14-7 finish.

"We try to schedule some good teams or some bigger Division II teams early to prepare us for our league season, so we love the early challenges," said fifth-year coach Nathan Clark, who enters the season with a 42-33 record at Licking Heights.

"On the other hand, we definitely want to start stronger and it's something we've talked about as a team."

The Hornets open Friday, Dec. 2, at home against Bexley and play host to Granville on Dec. 6 before their first road test Dec. 10 at Harvest Prep in the MSL-Cardinal Division opener.

The Hornets were seeded eighth in the Division II district tournament last year and lost to Granville 65-57 in the first round after building a 42-20 lead early in the third quarter.

Licking Heights finished second (11-3) in the MSL-Cardinal behind Harvest Prep (14-0) and ahead of West Jefferson (10-4), Grandview (8-6), Fisher Catholic (5-9), Liberty Union and Millersport (both 3-11) and Berne Union (2-12).

However, the OHSAA penalized Harvest Prep for non-compliance, causing the Warriors to forfeit the 2010-11 season, which included Division IV district and regional titles, as well as a state runner-up trophy. They are banned from postseason play in all sports this school year, and the boys basketball, girls basketball and football teams also are banned from the postseason in 2012-13.

That means the Hornets officially finished 16-5 overall last season and 13-1 in the MSL-Cardinal, which was the league's top record. But the Mid-State League decided to vacate the championship and not name a champion.

"We don't get a trophy or a banner to put on the wall," Clark said. "We're using that as motivation this year. It showed the guys how close we were, that the league title was within reach. So we want to got out and win that championship this year. The top four teams in the league should be Grandview Heights, West Jefferson, Harvest Prep and (us). We expect to be in the mix for a shot at (the league championship)."

The Hornets lost three players to graduation. In addition, junior forward Ronnie Dawson and junior guard Dewey Rice did not return. Dawson, who was the team's leading rebounder last season and was second-team all-league, is coming off knee surgery. Rice is now at Briggs.

Junior Darius Strickland (6-foot-4, forward) returns to lead the team after being honorable mention all-league a year ago. He will be joined in the post by sophomore Babe Murphy (6-3, forward).
Junior Tyron Pack (5-10) will be the point guard, with senior Cameron Tennyson (5-10) and junior John Righter (6-1) on the wings.

"We expect Babe Murphy and Darius Strickland to have excellent seasons in the post," Clark said. "We will look to John Righter to be our outside jump shooter when teams help in the middle. Tyron Pack is a tremendous penetrator and will run the point. Cameron Tennyson will be asked to defend our opponents' best player each game."

Rounding out the nine-player roster are juniors Willie Carter (6-1, forward), Tyshad Green (5-10, guard) and Sherard Pollard (6-3, forward) and sophomore DeAnthony Hosley (5-10, guard).

Licking Heights plans to be an up-tempo team that will use mostly man-to-man defense.

"We force a lot of turnovers, which we use to score baskets in transition," Clark said. "We outrebounded our opponents in every win last year and look to control the boards, especially on the offensive end.

"We are continuing to solidify our half-court defense, making sure our off-the-ball defense is in the right positions. We also need to keep improving our half-court offense and see options two and three if the defense takes away our first option."