Following a four-year run in which it made two state tournament appearances and last year was the City League-South Division champion, the Eastmoor Academy boys basketball team entered this season with no key returnees.
A trio of seniors who saw limited action last season, guards GiCobi Massey and Julian Binford and post player Isaiah Kelley, are taking on leading roles for the first time.
"It's my (junior varsity) team from last year," coach Jim Miranda said. "It's a process. I've got to be super patient with this group. They're all learning. Only a couple of them dressed varsity last year, but they didn't really play. But I think they're getting better."
The Warriors' reloading process took a step forward Jan. 5 in a 56-54 loss to Upper Arlington at The Challenge at Africentric. UA was a Division I district runner-up last season.
Binford and Kelley, both of whom were averaging 13 points through eight games, each scored 12 against the Golden Bears.
Massey was averaging a team-high 16 points for Eastmoor, which was 3-5 overall and 3-1 in the City-South before facing Marion-Franklin on Jan. 8.
The Warriors play Friday, Jan. 11, at Walnut Ridge and play host to Pickerington Central on Saturday, Jan. 12. Central, a Division I state semifinalist the last two seasons, was 9-0 before playing Westerville South on Jan. 8.
Other key players for Eastmoor include junior post player Da'Lan Keaton, sophomore post player Gabe Oduro and senior wing players Ja'Mal Butrum, George Davis and Duane Gordon. Keaton is the team's tallest player at 6-foot-6.
The Warriors' top player from last season, 2018 graduate Taevion Kinsey, has been an impact freshman for Marshall University, averaging more than six points.
"We're trying to get (Binford) established as a true point guard," Miranda said. "At the same time, he's got some skills and we're trying to develop him into that leader of the team. Da'Lan Keaton is a new kid for us. He was at our school, but it's his first time out. There's a good mix of talent, and the seniors I do have are committed.
"We're just trying to get better. We're working."
South boys hold early lead in City-South
Before City teams returned to league action Jan. 8, the South boys basketball team was leading the City-South at 4-0, followed by Eastmoor, Walnut Ridge and Africentric at 3-1.
Bulldogs coach Ramon Spears jokingly referred to his team going on a "revenge tour" Jan. 3-5 in its return to the Westminster Christian School Holiday Tournament in Palmetto Bay, Florida, after losing in the championship game of that event last season.
In this year's event, South avenged a loss to the host school in the tournament final by winning 74-58 in the championship game Jan. 5.
Treohn Watkins had 17 points as the Bulldogs had five players in double figures against Westminster Christian.
South was 9-0 overall before playing Briggs on Jan. 8.
"We played good team defense," Spears said. "Our guards played really well, but our bench outplayed their opponents. We're only allowing teams to score around 50 points."
Walnut Ridge and Africentric were 7-2 and 5-3 overall, respectively, before the Scots played host to the Nubians on Jan. 8.
In the City-North, Beech-croft, Centennial, East and Northland all were 3-1 entering play Jan. 8.
Also at The Challenge, Northland beat Westerville North 55-54, Walnut Ridge lost to Hilliard Bradley 54-44, Africentric fell to Thomas Worthington 72-57 and Centennial lost to Pickerington North 85-56.
The Challenge was held at Africentric for its first year in 2017 and at Pickerington North last season before returning to Africentric. The Nubians are coached by Michael Bates, while his brother, Jason Bates, is Pickerington North's coach.
Nubians girls still perfect at midseason
Before playing Walnut Ridge on Jan. 8, the defending Division III state champion Africentric girls basketball team was 10-0 overall and 5-0 in the City-South.
Along the way, the Nubians beat Division I powers such as Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame (60-55 on Nov. 24) and Dublin Coffman (81-38 on Dec. 28) as well as out-of-state opponents Detroit Edison (65-60 on Dec. 15), Danville (Illinois) Schlarman Academy (45-35 on Dec. 29) and Chicago Kenwood (64-49 on Jan. 4).
With senior guard Jordan Horston unavailable against Kenwood, junior guard Alexia Smith had 19 points and junior guard Nyam Thornton scored 14 as the Nubians won their 21st consecutive game.
Africentric was ranked fourth in last week's USA Today national rankings.