After reaching the Division I state title game a season ago and with the nucleus of that squad back, Westerville South High School boys basketball coach Ed Calo and his players understand there are high expectations for the team.

After reaching the Division I state title game a season ago and with the nucleus of that squad back, Westerville South High School boys basketball coach Ed Calo and his players understand there are high expectations for the team.

Calo, however, stressed it's important for the Wildcats to ignore the hype and prepare for what they know will be a difficult journey back to the state tournament.

Playing at state for the first time, South defeated Garfield Heights 60-57 in a semifinal and lost to Huber Heights Wayne 65-57 in the final. The Wildcats finished 27-2 overall, their most wins in one season.

"We talk about last year occasionally, but last year is last year and that's pretty much what we said," said Calo, who is in his 29th season. "If we're going to be special and create special memories, it has to be based on what we do right now. Last year is in the bank."

The Wildcats opened by defeating Reynoldsburg 81-46 on Nov. 27 at home. They begin the defense of their OCC-Cardinal Division title Friday, Dec. 4, at Canal Winchester.

South should be led by 6-foot-9 junior post player Kaleb Wesson, an Ohio State commit who scored a game-high 25 points against Reynoldsburg. He was named first-team all-league and third-team all-district last season after averaging 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds.

Also back is 6-7 senior wing player Andre Wesson, Kaleb's brother. Last season, Andre was named league Player of the Year, second-team all-district and third-team all-state after averaging 14.9 points.

"We just have to put (the expectations) on the side," Andre Wesson said. "It's nice and everything, but like we say every day, you have to play like a champion. We're going for the top every single day."

Senior wing player Jordan Humphrey (6-3) was first-team all-league and special mention all-district after averaging 12.5 points, and senior Jelani Rogers (5-10) returns at point guard after being named second-team all-league and special mention all-district.

Junior guard Ennis Thomas (6-2) was honorable mention all-league. He scored 11 points against Reynoldsburg.

Also back are seniors Adam Boes (5-10, guard) and Daylan Haynie (6-0, guard) and juniors Anthony Mills (6-2, guard) and Antoine Smith (6-6, forward). Smith, who Calo said has greatly improved since last season, scored 11 points against Reynoldsburg.

Other players are juniors Cameron Caldwell (6-1, wing player) and Jake Garrison (6-3, wing player) and sophomores David Fitzgerald (5-11, guard) and Hafiz Turay (5-9, guard).

Last season, the Wildcats won their 10th OCC title, finishing first (13-1) ahead of runner-up Dublin Jerome (12-2). Calo said he expects another tight battle in the league, especially from Jerome and Hilliard Bradley.

South's schedule also includes a trip to Fort Myers, Fla., for the City of Palms Classic on Dec. 19-23. The tournament will feature teams from throughout the country.

South opens against the winner of Lehigh Acres (Fla.) Senior and Columbia (Mo.) Tolton Catholic.

Tolton Catholic features 6-9 junior Michael Porter Jr., who is considered one of the top players in the country by many college-recruiting services.

"There's always something to work on and that's the good thing about these guys," said Calo, who was named league Coach of the Year last season and earned his 400th career win last February. "They understand that. If we had a group that didn't understand that we'd have problems, but they want to be pushed. They want to be challenged."

Warhawks coach expects improvement

With three key players back, third-year Central coach Donovon Barrett expects his team to improve on its 4-19 record from a season ago.

The Warhawks opened Dec. 1 against Groveport and begin OCC-Cardinal play Friday, Dec. 4, at Dublin Scioto.

"I really like our enthusiasm," Barrett said. "Our practice habits have been really good. The one thing we've talked about since the beginning is communication. We have to continue to get better, but they're doing a good job."

Senior Will Maynus (6-5, forward) averaged 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds last season, and senior Erron James (6-0, guard) averaged 10.4 points. Both were named special mention all-league.

"We're looking much better this year," James said. "We put a lot of work in in the offseason and we picked up the intensity in practice, and I'm working on being a better leader in practice."

Also back is 6-4 senior post player Ryan Menapace.

Other returnees are seniors Mubarak Abdirahman (6-7, post player), junior David Madison (6-2, guard) and sophomore Thomas Hickman (6-0, guard).

Other players are senior Benny Snell (6-1, forward), juniors Evan Davis (6-1, guard), Christopher Fennoy (5-9, guard), Terrance Lang (6-3, forward) and Gage Minney (6-2, forward) and sophomore Solomon Wells (6-2, forward).

"This has been a really good group to coach," Barrett said. "They're real coachable. There are a lot of guys who love the game and we've been able to eliminate distractions. We have good kids, good players and we have minimal academic concerns."

Barrett expects Snell to be a solid contributor after he helped lead the football team to a Division I, Region 1 postseason berth. The University of Kentucky football recruit rushed for 1,826 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Snell played as a freshman, but decided not to play the past two seasons.

"He loves the game and he adds an aspect that we were sorely missing (with) his intensity and competitiveness," Barrett said. "... He'll surprise you with his skill. He can play."

Last season, the Warhawks went 2-12 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish seventh.

Warriors focusing on 'core values'

North returns eight players from a team that finished 7-16 a season ago.

"We really like our kids," third-year coach Shan Trusley said. "We're a great-effort, great-teammate team. Those are the two things we're emphasizing. Those are our core values this year. Be a great teammate, give great effort and let everything else take care of itself because if we do those two things, we'll be OK."

Leading the way should be 6-0 senior guard Corey Benton, who was named second-team all-league and special mention all-district last year after averaging 19.6 points.

"I like this team a lot," Benton said. "We have a lot of younger guys, but a lot of workers. We're putting a lot of time in the gym."

Junior forward Connor Ledford (6-3) was honorable mention all-league.

Also back are seniors Tyrell Gilchrist (5-9, guard), Andrew Jamison (5-11, guard), Nick Meyer (6-3, center) and Josh Moyler (6-4, forward) and juniors Austin Bennett (6-2, guard) and Malik Sammons (6-2, forward).

Other players are sophomores Julius Brown (5-8, guard) and Julian Malone (6-1, guard) and freshman Jeremiah Keane (6-0, guard).

Malone played quarterback on the football team and accounted for nearly 1,300 yards this fall. He was named second-team all-league.

The Warriors opened Dec. 1 against Westland and begin OCC-Cardinal play Friday, Dec. 4, at Hilliard Darby.

"I'd like to think our division is one of the toughest divisions in the state," Trusley said. "You have three teams (in South, Jerome and Bradley) that won 20-plus games last year. You have the state runner-up (in South). You have a defending district champ (in Jerome) and Hilliard Bradley is really good."

Last season, North went 4-10 in the league to finish sixth.