Things have gone the way N'Keeley Elmore was expecting thus far this winter.
Now in his third season as a key player for the Northland High School boys basketball team and the only returning senior, Elmore isn't surprised that he's taken on the role of a go-to scorer.
Just as important, though, is the tone he tries to set when his team is on the other end of the court.
"We've been working on defense a lot because we believe defense goes into offense," said Elmore, a 5-foot-9 guard. "We run a lot, and there's a lot of team bonding."
Elmore averaged 11 points last season when Northland went 13-9 overall and placed second in the City League-North Division at 10-4, but he had increased that average to 20 points through nine games this season.
Northland was 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the City-North before playing Centennial on Jan. 15.
Beechcroft also was 5-1 in the league entering play Jan. 15, while Centennial and Linden-McKinley both were 4-2 and East was 3-3. Last season, the Cougars went 14-0 to win their first City-North championship since 1983.
"(Elmore is the) only guy with real experience," Vikings coach Sean Taylor said. "I'm real pleased with his leadership and his work. He's showing the guys how to play at this level. Like I told them, it's a process learning to win. They understand it's a long process and a long season and we're going in the right direction."
Sophomore guard Makhale Massey -- whose father, Kyrem, starred for Eastmoor until graduating in 1996 and went on to play for Kent State -- has blossomed into a No. 2 offensive option, averaging 15 points through nine games.
Massey missed last season with a knee injury but is "going to be a good one," according to Taylor.
Freshman guard Robert Dorsey and junior guard Devan White both were averaging eight points and sophomore forward Jason Foster was averaging seven for the Vikings, who beat Westerville North 55-54 on Jan. 5 in The Challenge at Africentric.
Elmore had 19 points against Westerville North, including the game-winning free throw with 6.3 seconds left, and Massey scored 14.
Northland lost to Beechcroft 67-62 on Dec. 21 as Cougars freshman J.J. Simmons made seven 3-pointers and finished with 25 points.
"We're just really young, so we've got to be patient," Elmore said. "We're molding together pretty well now and are starting to come together as a team. We weren't focused on defense (against Beechcroft). We should have come in more focused and attacked more on defense."
Kyrem Massey serves as an assistant coach at Columbus State, which is among the schools to show interest in Elmore.
"I've kind of been waiting for this moment," Elmore said. "I knew being the only (key) senior, I'd have to step up. I knew I'd have to do more scoring, but defense is the main priority. It's pretty great to have control and it's pretty much all up to me, so I'm trying to be a better leader and make everybody stay focused. We have a bigger goal of getting to the City (championship game) and having a good run in the (postseason)."
Girls action resumes for Cougars, Vikings
The Beechcroft and Northland girls basketball teams established themselves as the top teams in the City-North during the first half of league action.
Northland was 9-5 overall and 8-0 in the league before playing Centennial on Jan. 15, while Beechcroft was 8-3 and 7-1 before facing Mifflin on Jan. 15.
The Cougars opened with back-to-back non-league losses before winning their next five. They then fell to Northland 76-28 on Dec. 21.
Freshman guard LaLarra Bays, sophomore guard La'Briar Franklin-Paige, senior guard Aniah Brown and senior forward Grace Gales have been among the top players for Beechcroft, which plays Friday, Jan. 18, at Centennial and will be host to Whitehall on Saturday, Jan. 19.
The second-round league matchup between the Cougars and Vikings will be Jan. 29 at Beechcroft.
"I feel like we bounced back, and they've pulled together pretty well," Beechcroft coach Mike Moncrief said.
According to Northland coach Jaybee Bethea, the Vikings have been struggling from a shooting-percentage standpoint but have been compensating by causing more than 25 turnovers per game.
Through 13 games, senior guard Alexandria Hamilton was averaging 17.5 points and sophomore guard Azariah Binford was averaging 10, followed by senior guards Iyauna Bonner (8.5) and Jaylen Muldrow (8.0) and freshman forward Brianna Hamilton (7.5).
"With Azariah Binford defensively, she and Bonner have just been playing great," Bethea said. "Bonner checks everybody's best player. (Alexandria Hamilton) leads us in scoring. If she doesn't play well, we don't win."
Lakso named football coach for Red Devils
One of the premier football programs in the City League the last two decades will have a new coach next fall, but he should feel right at home.
David Lakso, a former assistant at Northland, Eastmoor, Brookhaven, Beech-croft and Central Crossing, has been named coach at Marion-Franklin, replacing Brian Haffele.
"I'm very excited," said Lakso, a teacher at Marion-Franklin who served as the Red Devils' baseball coach from 2003-10. "I'm a teacher in the building, and I've been waiting for an opportunity like this."
A Grove City resident, Lakso served as Central Crossing's offensive coordinator the past three seasons. Last fall, the Comets went 4-6, beating Marion-Franklin 22-20 in the season opener, and scored 30 points or more four times.
Lakso, who grew up in Sidney and attended Georgetown College and Ohio State, inherits a team that went 7-3 last fall and had just one losing season under Haffele, who compiled a 130-35 record with 11 playoff appearances in 14 seasons.
"I've been coaching for about 25 years, and I was at a point where I was pretty content being a coordinator in the OCC, but then this job was open," Lakso said. "I know all those kids, and all those kids were really excited for me to take it. I think a big key is building the numbers back up. The sophomore class right now is the biggest football class and the biggest class in the building."