Westerville South High School boys basketball coach Ed Calo admits that it was a little different and more challenging preparing for this season.
For the first time since 2011-12, the Wildcats entered the season without a Wesson in the program, as 6-foot-9 Kaleb Wesson graduated last spring and is playing at Ohio State along with his brother, 2016 graduate Andre Wesson.
"We've been there before, we've been small before," said Calo, who is in his 31st season. "In the 30-something years, well more than half of them we've been like this in regards of being small. It's something that's not new to us. It's just something that's new recently."
South opened Dec. 1 with a 61-58 win over visiting Gahanna and played Dec. 5 at Worthington Kilbourne. The Wildcats begin OCC-Buckeye Division play Friday, Dec. 8, at home against Olentangy.
Last season, South finished 19-6 overall and won its 12th OCC title, going 10-0 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish three games ahead of runner-up Westerville North (7-3). The Wildcats' season ended with a 41-39 loss to Hilliard Davidson in a Division I district semifinal a year after winning the state title.
Kaleb Wesson averaged 21.7 points and 11.3 rebounds last season and was named Ohio Mr. Basketball as well as district and OCC-Buckeye Player of the Year. He also became the eighth player in South history to score 1,000 career points and set the program's season record for rebounds with 272, finishing as the program's career leader with 790.
"Kaleb has moved on and we're excited for him," Calo said. "The brothers were awesome and we're very proud of them. Every time one of them steps on the floor, it's a great feeling. Now it's time for us to step up."
The Wildcats return five players from a year ago, but each has limited varsity experience. The returnees are seniors Elton Sunnyway (5-8, guard), Emmanuel Sunnyway (6-1, forward) and Hafiz Turay (5-10, guard) and juniors Ryan Greggs (6-0, guard) and Jordan McMillian (6-0, guard).
Against Gahanna, McMillian had 15 points and Emmanuel Sunnyway scored 13.
"This team works hard," Turay said. "Everybody likes to be tough and get after it every day in practice. I have to be one of the leaders. I'm one of the oldest guys on the team, the most experienced. I was on that 2016 state championship team, so I know what it takes to win."
Also on the team are seniors Abu Jalloh (6-1, guard), Malique Lyshe (5-9, guard) and Freeman Poku-Yeboah (6-5, center), juniors Devin Caldwell (5-11, guard), Kwabena Darkwa (6-1, guard) and Jacob Singleton (6-3, guard) and sophomores Xavier Cannaday (6-0, guard), Jalen Norwood (5-9, guard) and Stephen Saint-Cyr (5-11, guard).
"All the coaches are looking forward to the challenge," Calo said. "As long as the kids are working hard and focusing on what we have to focus on, keep the noise and distractions away from them, come to practice every day, we feel great about them."
Morton expected to lead wrestling team
Wrestling coach George Crooks expects his team to be led by sophomore Aaron Morton (160 pounds).
"Aaron has a good chance to make it to the (Division I) state tournament," said Crooks, who is in his third season of his second coaching stint at South. He also coached the Wildcats from 2003-04 through 2007-08.
"He wrestled 80 matches this summer. He had a real good year as a first-year wrestler as a freshman and he's really put in some time. We might also have some surprises. We have guys who want to get it done."
South opened Dec. 2 in the Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational at Upper Arlington, scoring 91 points to finish eighth of 12 teams, behind champion Vandalia Butler (267). Placing third were Morton (160), junior Jacob Shalvey (145) and freshman Brian Tennant (113).
"I want more district qualifiers and a couple state qualifiers," Crooks said. "I want to do better at dual meets and tournaments."
In addition to Morton and Shalvey, other key returnees are juniors Seth Chrisman (126) and Bobby Henderson (138).
Others expected to contribute include seniors Coleman Bates (182), Wesley Easterlin (152) and Justin Sams (220), juniors Andrew Flynn (170) and Zach Sicilian (heavyweight), sophomores Brendan Cleaver (195) and Dylan Winters (132) and freshmen Fuanyi Fobellah (106) and Nick Ifju (120).
"We have 23 kids and all 23 are here just about every day," Crooks said. "They've had a great offseason and they work extremely hard. They believe now they have the right to win because of all the time and work they've put in."
Last season, the Wildcats went 0-5 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish sixth, behind champion Olentangy Liberty (5-0). Their opening league dual is Jan. 10 at Olentangy.
Dec. 1 -- vs. Gahanna
Dec. 5 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
*Dec. 8 -- vs. Olentangy
*Dec. 14 -- at Olentangy Liberty
Dec. 16 -- at Dresden Tri-Valley
*Dec. 22 -- at Olentangy Orange
Dec. 28 -- vs. St. Charles
*Jan. 5 -- vs. Westerville North
Jan. 6 -- vs. Cleveland East Tech
Jan. 9 -- at Pickerington Central
*Jan. 12 -- at Westerville Central
Jan. 13 -- at Cleveland St. Ignatius
*Jan. 19 -- at Olentangy
Jan. 20 -- vs. Johnstown
Jan. 23 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Jan. 26 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
Jan. 27 -- at Thomas Worthington
*Feb. 2 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
Feb. 6 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*Feb. 9 -- at Westerville North
*Feb. 16 -- vs. Westerville Central
Dec. 2 -- Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational at Upper Arlington
Dec. 5 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley
Dec. 9 -- Jeremy Ammons Kilted Klassic at Sparta Highland
Dec. 14 -- at Grove City
Dec. 20 -- at Liberty Union
*Jan. 10 -- at Olentangy
Jan. 13 -- at Buckeye Valley with Columbus East and North Union
*Jan. 18 -- at Olentangy Liberty
Jan. 20 -- Panther Invitational at Pickerington North
*Jan. 25 -- vs. Westerville North
Feb. 6 -- at Mount Vernon
*Feb. 8 -- at Olentangy Orange
*Feb. 15 -- vs. Westerville Central
Below are the coming schedules for the South girls basketball, bowling and swimming & diving teams:
*Dec. 8 -- At Olentangy
Dec. 9 -- Holiday Baker Marathon at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Dec. 12 -- Delaware at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Dec. 13 -- Big Walnut at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 8 -- At Upper Arlington
Dec. 9 -- Hilliard Darby at Hilliard YMCA