Johnny Bethea is known by most friends and acquaintances by the first letters of his first and last names, but rather than referring to himself as J.B., he prefers to go by "Jaybee."
It's the first-year Northland High School girls basketball coach's way of being "different."
"Everything I do is just like that," Bethea said.
One thing he hopes doesn't change is the success of the program he inherits from Bill Spencer, who retired briefly after four seasons at Northland but is now Marion-Franklin's coach.
A longtime coach for the All Ohio AAU program, Bethea has the benefit of three key players who helped the Vikings win the City League-North Division last season in seniors Jeana Weatherspoon (5-foot-9, guard/forward) and Charlea Henley (5-7, guard) and junior Alexia Hamilton (5-6, point guard).
Weatherspoon was named first-team all-league and Henley and Hamilton were second-team all-league last year for Northland, which lost to Africentric 74-41 in the City championship game and finished 19-5 overall.
Taylor Pearson, a 2017 graduate who is playing for Marshall University, finished with more than 1,000 career points and averaged 16 points last season while making first-team all-league and second-team all-district in Division I.
Junior guards Jaylen Muldrow and Sarai Swann are others who saw limited playing time last season.
Junior Iyauna Bonner (5-1, guard), a starter for Centennial a year ago, transferred in and must sit out the first 11 games per OHSAA rules.
Also looking to contribute at guard are seniors Taelor Johnnae-Porter Harrison and Brittany Neal, junior Ma'Kaela Warner and freshman Azariah Binford.
The Vikings opened Nov. 28 against Independence, a defending Division II district champion.
"They're growing," Bethea said. "They're learning a different style of basketball, 94-foot pressure (and) how to play fast but under control. It's a different style than what they've played in previous years. Right now, we're working on understanding the game and how to play it from the standpoint of what we're doing, offensively and defensively."
Northland went 14-0 in the City-North last season, finishing ahead of Centennial (12-2), Beechcroft (9-5), Mifflin (8-6), Linden-McKinley (7-7), Whetstone (4-10), International (2-12) and East (0-14).
While Bethea believes Linden could pose a strong threat in the City-North, Beechcroft will be inexperienced after losing seven players to graduation from a year ago when it went 12-9 overall.
Junior Grace Gales, a 5-11 forward, is the only returning starter for the Cougars.
"This will be a real growth type of year," fifth-year Beechcroft coach Mike Moncrief said. "We are extremely young. There are a bunch of new bodies in this gym that I'm still getting to know."
The Cougars open Tuesday, Dec. 5, at home against East.
Juniors Liza Farley (guard) and Shailin Hasty (guard) and sophomore Syrai Armstead (guard) are other returnees.
Juniors Susan Alvarado (guard) and Marqitta Simmons (5-9, forward), sophomore Brittany Fortner (guard) and freshman Labriar Franklin-Paige (guard) are others looking to contribute.
Nubians again have high expectations
With three returning starters from a team that finished 25-4 overall and lost in a Division III state semifinal, Africentric is planning for another extended season.
The Nubians won their fifth state championship in 10 seasons in 2016 before losing to Gates Mills Gilmour Academy 65-54 in a state semifinal last season.
"We're trying to win the state, but it's going to be tough," said 15th-year coach Will McKinney, who entered the season with a 298-61 record at Africentric. "Division III has gotten interesting."
The Nubians opened Nov. 25 by beating Mason 42-40 in the Journey to the Tourney at West Chester Lakota West. Mason was a Division I regional runner-up last season.
The top returnee is Jordan Horston, a 6-0 junior point guard who has scholarship offers from numerous Division I colleges, including Ohio State, Duke and Kentucky. She averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and 6.5 assists last season while making first-team all-City League-South Division and first-team all-district.
Despite having two freshman starters, the Nubians went 14-0 in the City-South to finish well ahead of co-runners-up Eastmoor Academy and Independence (both 11-3). South (8-6) was fourth.
Sophomore guards Alexia Smith (5-9) and Nyam Thornton (5-11) are back after starting last season, and both already have scholarship offers. Smith averaged 11 points and 5.5 rebounds a year ago.
Other returnees are seniors Iyanna Hairston (5-10, forward) and Antoinette Williams (5-5, guard), both of whom have committed to Central State, and juniors Kazhmere Hopgood-Smith (6-2, center) and Kayanna Hopson (5-8, guard).
Freshman Malia Johnson (5-10, forward) already has an offer from Wright State.
Sophomore Sakima Walker (6-1, forward) is a transfer from Hartley who must sit out the first 11 games.
Another newcomer is freshman Arianna Smith (5-11, forward).
76ers hope to build on last year's success
Independence had the ground-breaking season it was looking for last winter when it captured its first district championship and finished 20-6 overall.
With three key players back, the 76ers again are looking to reach that level of success.
Independence opened Nov. 28 at Northland.
"We're looking to build off the success of last year," coach Keith Johnson said. "Even though we lost seven seniors, we are returning four players that have varsity experience. We're looking for them to step up and lead this year."
Seniors Kobie Burnside (5-9, guard/forward) and London Woods (6-0, center) and junior Carlisa Strickland (5-6, guard) are the top returnees.
Last season, Burnside averaged 8.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and shot 38 percent from 3-point range, Woods averaged 6.4 points and 6.2 rebounds and Strickland averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 steals.
Also returning is senior Tionna Bonner (5-8, guard/forward).
The other senior in the program is Serenity Triplett (5-8, forward).
Also looking to contribute are juniors Kiara Beatty (5-8, forward), Rama Diop (5-6, guard/forward) and Shay Hinkle-Moore (5-8, forward/center).
Independence and Eastmoor tied for second in the City-South, splitting their two league contests, but the 76ers beat the Warriors 37-34 for a Division II district title before falling to Dayton Carroll 68-45 in a regional semifinal.
"This year's team is inexperienced but has the potential to come together and be something special," Johnson said. "We're hoping to jell throughout the year and make another deep run in the tournament."
Warriors poised for move to Division I
Led by a strong sophomore class last season, Eastmoor Academy was a Division II district runner-up.
The Warriors have returned every key player from a year ago when they finished 14-9 overall and tied Independence for second in the City-South, and have added a talented junior to the mix in 5-9 forward Hailey Jordan, who transferred from Hartley.
Eastmoor opens Thursday, Nov. 30, at home against Albany Alexander.
"(We) must now adjust to the new OHSAA assignment of Division I, but the motto is 'Discipline, scholarship, purpose, integrity and leadership,'" coach Charity Martin King said.
"The mantra is 'No excuses.' ... They have grown as a team and are finding comfort in their roles. The Warriors will lean on (our) junior class who aren't just teammates, they're family."
The only seniors are Allayah Hughes (5-8, guard) and Kenadee Dixon (5-6, guard). Last season, Hughes averaged nine points, four steals and four assists and shot 36 percent from 3-point range.
Juniors Mchale Grant (5-9, guard/forward) averaged 14.9 points and 10 rebounds and made first-team all-league and all-district and special mention all-state.
Junior Samaria Rodgers-Gossett (5-6, guard) averaged nine points, five assists and four steals and made second-team all-league, special mention all-district and honorable mention all-state.
Junior Teresa Craig (5-8, guard) averaged seven points and three steals and was honorable mention all-league.
Junior Mallory Barnes (6-0, center) averaged five points and eight rebounds and junior Kahlani Pack (5-10, forward) averaged six points and six rebounds.
Jordan averaged 10.6 points and seven rebounds and was first-team all-CCL, third-team all-district and special mention all-state last season for Hartley, which was a Division II district champion and, like Eastmoor, has moved up to Division I.
"Our team strength is that we're well-rounded in scoring," Martin King said.