For the Reynoldsburg High School boys basketball team's senior class, leading the program to its third Division I district championship was a development that came in stages.
After most of the Raiders' eight seniors got to know each other in elementary school, they showed promise when they teamed up for the first time in seventh grade.
Two years later, the 2015 senior class that featured players such as Lloyd Chatman and Ashton Dulin played what senior guard Elijah Thurston believes was a key role in the growth of his class.
"We've all been friends forever," Thurston said. "Ever since (seventh grade) we just stuck it through and we knew we'd do big things. We brought it as far as we could. Our freshman year, the seniors did a great job showing us how to work hard. The jump from junior high to high school was so different, and that first offseason we all just decided we needed to work as hard as we can and we all did what we could do."
Reynoldsburg's season ended March 14 with a 56-44 loss to Hilliard Bradley in a regional semifinal at Ohio Dominican.
It marked the third regional appearance for the Raiders, who previously won district titles in 2006 and 2012.
Thurston had one of his best games of the season, making four 3-pointers and scoring 16 points. Senior forward Tre Williams had eight points and seniors Cole Crosby (forward), Jamiel Goliday (guard) and Malcolm Murphy (forward) also saw key minutes.
The Raiders fell behind 10-9 when Bradley's Braden Norris made a halfcourt 3-point shot to end the first quarter.
In the second, Norris and Matt Allocco each made two 3s and Chris Mayfield hit one as the Jaguars stretched their lead to 29-17.
Reynoldsburg got as close as 33-25 with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left in the third and trailed 38-28 with 1:21 to go in the third after a 3 by Thurston, but Bradley led by as many as 18 points in the fourth.
"I thought we got some good looks," coach Scott Davis said. "Coming into the game, on the year we made more 3s than they have. We shoot the ball normally really well. This is the best field-goal percentage team I've ever coached. We shoot over 51 percent from the floor as a team. We shoot 37 percent as a team from 3, so shooting the ball was something we feel like we can do, and we didn't make shots (against Bradley). They made seven (3s) in the first half.
"We did get behind and we knew we were not in a good spot, but we were able to force a lot of turnovers in the second half. The trap was working."
The Raiders will build their next team around the only non-senior in their starting lineup, junior guard Ben Fort, who had 13 points against Bradley.
Both Fort and Williams averaged 14 points during the postseason for Reynoldsburg, which was seeded 10th for the district tournament and beat 40th-seeded Thomas Worthington 55-40 on Feb. 24 and 37th-seeded Watkins Memorial 63-54 on March 2 in home games before beating 11th-seeded Westerville Central 69-48 on March 7 in a district semifinal at Worthington Christian Middle School.
Then on March 10 at Ohio Dominican, the Raiders defeated 16th-seeded Mount Vernon 51-36 to capture a district title.
That followed a regular season in which Reynoldsburg tied Gahanna for third (5-5) in the OCC-Ohio Division behind Pickerington North (9-1) and Pickerington Central (8-2) and ahead of Grove City (3-7) and Lancaster (0-10).
It marked the winningest season under Davis since his first in 2012-13 when the Raiders finished 19-6. He is 92-56 in six seasons at Reynoldsburg.
"When I got the job six years ago, (the members of the senior class) were seventh-graders and they were a class I've kind of been excited about," Davis said. "They've stuck together to win a district title, which is something to be proud of. We had a chance to move forward but we didn't so we're going to be hurting for a while, but there are a lot of positive things to reflect on."
Williams averaged 17.5 points and was first-team all-district and all-league. Goliday averaged 11 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and Thurston averaged 8.5 points and was honorable mention all-league.
Murphy averaged 3.5 points and Crosby averaged three points.
Fort averaged 11 points while making second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Sophomore guard Nick Wallace also was in the rotation in the regional semifinal.
Others eligible to return include juniors Xavier Prince (guard) and Sahmi Willoughby (forward).
"We pride ourselves on trying to develop our players as opposed to going out and trying to find better ones other places or banking on others coming in," Davis said. "(Fort) had a good year. Nick Wallace is someone we're counting on in the future. One thing we've had over the years is we've had good varsity teams, but our (junior varsity teams) year in and year out have been exceptional. We try to develop guys that come in the next year and play. We love our guys and we're just trying to bring them up through the system. We've got some kids. We'll be a little bit of a different team next year."
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
*Record: 19-8 overall, 5-5 (tied for third) in OCC-Ohio
*Seniors lost: Nesion Anderson, Cole Crosby, Jamiel Goliday, Danyel Harris, Malcolm Murphy, Elijah Thurston, Myonne Turner and Tre Williams
*Key returnees: Ben Fort and Nick Wallace