By winning the City League championship and advancing to a Division II regional semifinal, the Beechcroft High School boys basketball team had the breakthrough season last winter that it had been seeking since Humphrey Simmons took over as coach for the 2012-13 season.
The Cougars, who won the league title for the first time since 1983 and were making their first appearance in the City championship game since 1994, lost to Bay Village Bay 67-59 in a regional semifinal to finish 25-2 overall.
The top five scorers from that team, including Simmons' son, Jelani Simmons, were lost to graduation, leaving a few of the team's bench performers and a cast of talented young players to try to build on that finish.
Beechcroft went 14-0 to win the City-North Division last season, ahead of Northland (10-4), East (9-5), Centennial, Linden-McKinley and Mifflin (all 7-7), Whetstone (2-12) and International (0-14).
"We've been just trying to get our chemistry together," coach Simmons said. "By us losing a lot of our guys, we've got seven seniors who have come in and are picking up where we left off. There's been growth.
"I have a real strong freshman class. Some will be on (junior varsity), and they'll be real good in the years to come."
The top returnees are seniors Na'elle Simmons (6-7, forward), Elijah Hairston (6-4, forward) and Jovaughn Hill (6-1, guard). Na'elle Simmons, who has been a key player since his freshman season and is a nephew of the coach, averaged 6.5 points last season while making honorable mention all-league. Hill and Hairston averaged two and three points, respectively.
Senior guard James Delaney (6-3) is a transfer from Cincinnati Withrow who figures to be a key player along with freshman J.J. Simmons, a 5-9 point guard who is another of coach Simmons' sons, and 5-11 junior guard Devon Wooden.
The other seniors are Joseph Boateng (6-7, center), Jordan Hall (6-2, guard) and Trevonne Reeder (5-10, guard).
Another who should contribute is Javo Jordan, a 5-10 freshman guard.
"This year will be about learning and growing as we go," coach Simmons said. "We don't have a lot of guys with a lot of varsity experience. I think we can compete for the North (title). It's going to be a dogfight. Northland lost a lot, but I know coach (Sean) Taylor will get them ready. Coach (Roosevelt) Osborne at Centennial is going to do a great job of getting ready and East and Linden have got good teams also."
Beechcroft opened Dec. 1 with a 77-48 loss to DeSales and played Marion-Franklin on Dec. 3. The Cougars begin league play Tuesday, Dec. 11, at Centennial and won't play Northland until Dec. 21 at home.
The Vikings had won 10 City-North titles in 11 seasons before settling for second in the league and going 13-9 overall last season.
Northland, which has lost to Upper Arlington in a district semifinal in each of the past three seasons, including last winter when it fell 61-44, opened Dec. 1 with a 82-78 loss to Harvest Prep in the All-Ohio Nike Hoops Showcase at Pickerington North.
Taylor is optimistic that his team again can be one of the top competitors in the City-North despite having limited experience.
The Vikings' top returnee is N'Keeley Elmore, a 5-8 senior guard who averaged 11 points and was second-team all-league last season.
Junior Devan White (5-11), sophomore Makhale Massey (6-3) and freshman Robert Dorsey (5-10) are others who should be key players in the backcourt.
Junior Isaiah Ingle is a 6-8 forward who missed much of last season with injury. Senior Israel Jackson (6-3, wing player), junior Kalil Branham (6-2, guard/wing player) and sophomore Jason Foster (6-5, forward) are others looking to contribute. Branham, a Michigan commit in football, did not play last winter.
"I'm really excited because we have a good group of guys and you see the energy and enthusiasm," Taylor said. "They work really, really hard and have had great attitudes so far, and we're relatively young. In varsity time, we're really young. I've been really pleased."
Scots look to step up under Jefferson
From the 2010-11 season through the 2015-16 season, the Walnut Ridge boys basketball team advanced to the City championship game five times, losing four times to Northland and once to Brookhaven.
The Scots hovered around .500 the past two seasons but could be poised to make a move back toward the top of the City-South this winter.
After going 12-9 overall and finishing fourth in the City-South at 9-5 behind Eastmoor Academy (13-1), South (11-3) and Africentric (10-4) and ahead of Independence (7-7), Briggs (4-10), West (1-13) and Marion-Franklin (1-13), Walnut Ridge has a trio of talented players to build around.
VonCameron Davis, a 6-5 junior forward who averaged 23 points and seven rebounds while earning first-team all-district honors last season, has scholarship offers from a list of schools that includes Bowling Green, James Madison, Kent State and Ohio University.
Junior point guard Qian Magwood (6-1), who has been receiving interest from college football and basketball programs, also returns after averaging 13 points and making second-team all-league.
New to the team is junior Kaveon Ross, a 6-5 forward who averaged 14 points for Hamilton Township last season.
Seniors Jordan Jones (6-0, guard) and Demetrius Coble (6-0, guard) and sophomore Daaron Brown (5-11, guard) are other key returnees.
Chuck Jefferson, who was an assistant under former coach Jason Bates when the Scots reached the 2014 City title game and had assisted Bates the past four seasons at Pickerington North, took over as Walnut Ridge's coach in the offseason after Brian Shininger stepped down.
Jefferson is a 2003 Walnut Ridge graduate who went on to play for Urbana.
Walnut Ridge opened Dec. 1 with a 66-53 win over Alexandria (Kentucky) Campbell County as Davis scored 46 points.
"We definitely want to compete for the City-South Division title and hopefully bring home the first-ever City championship," Jefferson said. "I think we have the talent to make some noise and really win some games. To be 33 (years old), it's definitely a dream come true to coach at my alma mater. I'm very grateful to be in this position. In the City-South, every night is going to be a battle."
Expectations high for South boys team
After winning its first City championship since 1980 when it beat Northland 65-51 in the 2017 City final, the South boys basketball team finished as City-South runner-up last winter and should be in the mix to win the league again this season.
Senior Treohn Watkins (5-11, guard) and junior Marcus Johnson (6-3, forward) are the top returnees for the Bulldogs, who lost to Trotwood-Madison 79-60 in a Division II regional semifinal to finish 22-5 overall last season.
Last season, Watkins averaged 13 points and was first-team all-league and Johnson averaged 10 points and six rebounds and was second-team all-league.
Junior Taquan Simington (6-0, guard) is another key returnee.
Senior Alvin Byrd Jr. (6-1, guard) and juniors Trevell Adams (5-9, guard), Sam Barton (6-3, forward) and Chaz Thompson (6-0, guard) are other top players.
South opened Dec. 1 with a 65-50 win over Hartley in the All-Ohio Nike Hoops Showcase at Gahanna and begins league action Tuesday, Dec. 11, at home against Walnut Ridge.
Against Hartley, Watkins had 22 points, Johnson scored 14 and Barton scored 13.
Another key non-league game, according to coach Ramon Spears, will take place Dec. 22 when the Bulldogs play Jonathan Alder in the Capital Coaches Classic. The Pioneers went 18-5 last season.
"What I think is going to win this league is depth and experience, and that's what I think we have a lot of," Spears said. "Everybody has three good players, but then what do you have after that? That's what's going to separate the City.
"Our success is going to be predicated on how big Sam Barton can play, and guys like Byrd and Trevell Adams."
Nubians boys look to build on state run
During last year's Division III state championship game, the Africentric Early College boys basketball team was leading Deer Park by nine points at halftime but ended up losing 67-57 to finish 22-7 overall.
There are only two key returnees from that team, but that doesn't mean there won't be enjoyable moments this season for coach Michael Bates and his staff.
"I'm excited," Bates said. "I can't lie, it's going to be a frustrating year for me because we're going to lose some games we probably should win and win some games we should probably lose. We're young. I threw some young guys out there in the summer and they didn't do well, but they competed. They put forth a lot of effort, which renewed my love for this team."
Senior guard Anthony Bowman (6-1) and junior guard Calijha'won Davis (6-1), who averaged five and eight points, respectively, last season, are the top returnees. Davis was honorable mention all-league.
Senior Lyheem Hilliard (6-4, forward) is another returnee.
Others looking to contribute include junior Hervon Jacobs (6-4, forward), sophomores Eli Burke (5-11, guard) and Alvin Glover (6-3, wing player) and freshmen Lamar Douglas (forward), Josiah Smith (guard), Alonzo Thorpe (forward) and Dan Wagner (guard).
Africentric lost a 2018 senior class that featured the district Player of the Year in Tre' Baumgardner as well as second-team all-district honoree Jah Bennett. Both players made first-team all-league a year ago, while senior Dorian Holloway, who transferred to Marion-Franklin, was second-team all-league and 2018 graduate James Hodge was honorable mention all-league.
Africentric opened Dec. 1 with a 65-49 loss to Grandview in the All-Ohio Nike Hoops Showcase at Pickerington North. Davis led the Nubians with 16 points.
"I'm so excited about this team because all the pieces just match," Bates said. "The only problem is it's still not experienced enough."