Losing the Division II district Player of the Year in Jelani Simmons as well as the rest of its starting five to graduation hasn't spelled disaster for the Beechcroft High School boys basketball team this winter.
Two players who share the same last name as Simmons, including one who has emerged as the No. 1 offensive option as a senior, have kept the Cougars in the thick of the City League-North Division title race.
Beechcroft is coached by Humphrey Simmons, who is the father of both Jelani Simmons and J.J. Simmons, a freshman point guard who has made an immediate impact.
Senior forward Na'Elle Simmons -- a cousin to Jelani and J.J. -- has stepped into a leading role for the first time for a Cougars' team that was 12-3 overall and on a 10-game winning streak after beating Linden-McKinley 65-50 on Jan. 25.
"We've got a younger team, but it's been really good from where we started," Na'Elle said. "We've started playing more together and everything's falling right together. I'm just trying to be more of a leader and coach them up on the court."
Na'Elle, who grew 1 1/2 inches over the past several months and is now 6-foot-7, averaged 4.5 points as a sophomore and 6.5 last season when Beechcroft won a Division II district championship and the City championship on its way to a 25-2 finish.
While Jelani is now playing for Youngstown State, Na'Elle has stepped up offensively and was averaging 17 points before the Cougars played Northland on Jan. 29 with first place in the City-North on the line.
Entering play Jan. 29, Beechcroft was 9-1 in the City-North and Northland was 8-2. The Vikings would hold the tiebreaker in determining which team would compete in the City championship game Feb. 16 at Africentric if the teams end up tied.
J.J. Simmons, whose given first name is Jaylen, scored 25 points in a 67-62 victory over Northland on Dec. 21 and was averaging 13.5 through 15 games.
"(J.J. and I are) getting closer, and it's just like playing with Jelani," Na'Elle said.
Na'Elle, who is interested in a list of colleges that includes Youngstown State, used one word -- defense -- to describe what his team needs to continue improving on with some of the season's biggest games approaching.
In addition to J.J. and Na'Elle, the Cougars have been boosted by the addition of senior guard James Delaney, a transfer from Cincinnati Withrow who was averaging eight points through 15 games.
Junior guard Devon Wooden, senior forward Elijah Hairston and senior guards Jovaughn Hill and Jordan Hall also have progressed into key roles.
"There's been a lot of growth," coach Simmons said. "It's clicking for them now. The chemistry is coming together and they know their identity now and are all executing what we need for them to do.
"(Na'Elle has) been behind the upperclassmen. Now he's a senior, averaging a double-double and is being a leader off the court. You're seeing him just blossom. They all couldn't wait for J.J. to get here. They actually wanted me to skip J.J. up (one year) so that (Jelani and Na'Elle) could all play with him last year, but I didn't do it. J.J. is excited about being here. He's been ready."
City-South teams prep for postseason
The boys basketball district tournament drawings will be held Feb. 10, and both South in Division II and Walnut Ridge in Division I are likely to receive high seeds for their respective postseasons.
In addition, Eastmoor Academy in Division II and Africentric in Division III could be dangerous opponents in their respective district tournaments as their young teams continue to mature.
South and Walnut Ridge split their regular-season meetings.
The Bulldogs won 78-74 on Dec. 11 but the Scots won the rematch 56-46 on Jan. 18 and hold the tiebreaker to advance to the City championship game if both teams finish with the same league record because South has competed in the City title game more recently.
South was 14-1 overall and 9-1 in the league before facing West on Jan. 29 and closes league action Friday, Feb. 1, at home against Briggs, Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Africentric and Feb. 8 at Independence.
Walnut Ridge was 12-2 overall and 8-1 in the league before playing West on Jan. 28 and Independence on Jan. 29 and also plays Friday, Feb. 1, at Africentric, Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Eastmoor and Feb. 8 at home against Marion-Franklin.
Through 14 games for the Scots, VonCameron Davis was averaging 28.4 points to rank among central Ohio's top scorers, Kaveon Ross was averaging 12.1 points and Qian Magwood was averaging 10.3.
The Bulldogs have been led by Treohn Watkins, who was averaging 16.5 points through 15 games, as well as Taquan Simington and Marcus Johnson, who both were averaging 11.5.
Eastmoor was 7-8 overall and 7-3 in the City-South before playing Africentric on Jan. 29, and the Nubians were 8-7 overall and 6-4 in the league before playing the Warriors on Jan. 29.
Junior guard Calijha'won Davis was averaging a team-high 16 points for Africentric, with senior guard Anthony Bowman, sophomore guard Eli Burke and freshman guard Dan Wagner all averaging between eight and 10 points.
"We knew we were going to be young and talented," Nubians coach Michael Bates said. "We're trying to iron our way through the growing pains of having an inexperienced team. It's actually super fun coaching it because it's a lot of teaching. They're soaking it up and I'm loving it.
"Cali Davis is basically the only one back from last year. Eli Burke is a sophomore who played (junior varsity) last year. I'm excited."
Horston to play in McDonald's game
Africentric senior girls basketball player Jordan Horston was among four players from Ohio, and the only one from central Ohio, to be selected for the McDonald's All-American game, which will be held March 27 in Atlanta.
The other Ohio players selected for the game are Canton McKinley's Kierstan Bell, who has committed to Ohio State; Toledo Rogers' Zia Cooke, a South Carolina commit; and Mason's Sammie Puisis, who will play for Florida State.
The Nubians were 16-0 overall after beating Westerville South 63-47 on Jan. 26 in the Nubian Classic at home and were 10-0 in the City-South before playing Eastmoor on Jan. 29.
Through 15 games, Horston, a Tennessee signee, was averaging 17 points and seven rebounds for the state's No. 1-ranked team in Division III.
Eastmoor was 15-4 overall and 10-1 in the City-South before playing Africentric on Jan. 29.
The City championship game will be held Feb. 9 at South.
Wrestling, swimming tourneys to be held
The City swimming and diving championships will be held Saturday, Feb. 2, at Columbus Aquatics Center.
Beechcroft, Centennial, Eastmoor and Whetstone are expected to compete in the meet.
The Cougars, who have 10 competitors this season, then will compete in a Division II sectional Feb. 9 at Columbus Academy.
On Jan. 5, the Beechcroft girls placed eighth (110 points) in the 10-team Mount Gilead Invitational behind champion North Robinson Colonel Crawford (612) and the boys scored 11 points to place last of 10 teams behind champion Galion (477).
In wrestling, Mifflin will be host to the City dual championships Thursday, Jan. 31. The Punchers will face Walnut Ridge in one semifinal and Whetstone will meet West in the other, with the winners to battle for the title.
On Jan. 24, Northland beat Marion-Franklin 48-36 but lost to Whetstone 42-41. The Vikings had beaten the Braves 42-30 on Dec. 19.
The City individual tournament will be held Feb. 16 at Mifflin.
Beechcroft will compete in a Division II sectional Feb. 22 and 23 at Licking Valley while Northland will compete in a Division I sectional at one of four sites.
Before the Cougars competed Jan. 26, Alhaji Sidibe (220 pounds) was 14-10 and Ibrahim Kamara (160) was 10-10. Demetrius Haynes (152) and Aloysius Kamara (113) also have been key wrestlers for Beechcroft.