Becoming what the Walnut Ridge High School boys basketball team strives to be has been more complicated than simply having one of central Ohio's top talents at its disposal and building around him.
First-year coach Chuck Jefferson has been working to build "a program" that's as good as any in central Ohio.
VonCameron Davis, a 6-foot-5 junior forward who has scholarship offers from a list of schools that includes Ohio University, Bowling Green and other mid-major programs, is only a part of that puzzle.
"It's just about those two to three plays," Jefferson said. "It's a very talented team that we have. To win (close games), it's all about execution, mental toughness and just playing together throughout the whole game."
The 12th-seeded Scots opened the Division I district tournament Feb. 23 at home by beating 33rd-seeded Marysville 77-58 to advance to a second-round game Friday, March 1, at home against 14th-seeded Chillicothe.
The winner of that matchup will play ninth-seeded Newark or 31st-seeded Whitehall in a district semifinal Wednesday, March 6, at a site to be announced. The district final is March 9 at Greater Columbus Convention Center.
The last time Walnut Ridge made it past a district semifinal was the 2014-15 season when it competed in Division II and advanced to a state semifinal.
The Scots' hopes of advancing to the City League championship game were alive until the final week of league play when they lost to Africentric 65-62 on Feb. 4 and Eastmoor Academy 55-53 on Feb. 5.
Walnut Ridge beat Marion-Franklin 79-51 on Feb. 8 to finish second in the City-South Division at 11-3, behind South (13-1), and followed with wins over DeSales (73-60 on Feb. 9) and Hilliard Davidson (62-56 on Feb. 12).
The Scots improved to 18-4 with the win over Marysville.
Davis, who has more than 1,400 career points, is averaging 28 points this season. He closed the regular season with three consecutive 27-point performances and then scored 28 against Marysville.
"We just want to make sure we're doing all the little stuff, like talking on defense," Jefferson said. "Little things equal big wins. We've still got to know how to grind out games and continue to get better. Hopefully, we're playing our best ball in March."
South won its next nine games after losing to the Scots 56-46 on Jan. 18 and was 21-1 before playing host to 23rd-seeded Olentangy Berlin on Feb. 25 in the first round of the Division II district tournament.
The top-seeded Bulldogs would play host to 20th-seeded Marion-Franklin in the second round Saturday, March 2, if they beat the first-year Bears. The second-round winner faces ninth-seeded Bexley, 11th-seeded Centennial or 12th-seeded Linden-McKinley in a district semifinal Tuesday, March 5, at a site to be announced. The district final is March 9 at Ohio Dominican.
According to South coach Ramon Spears, an intense offseason program has helped a roster led by senior guard Treohn Watkins, junior forward Marcus Johnson and junior Ta'Quan Simington outlast opponents.
"We run cross country in the preseason and it keeps us in shape," Spears said. "The third quarter when most teams are exhausted is when we all do what we need to do."
Also opening the Division II district tournament Feb. 25 was sixth-seeded Beechcroft, which faced 19th-seeded Bloom-Carroll in a first-round game. The winner plays 17th-seeded East in the second round Saturday, March 2, at the home of the higher seed, with that winner facing seventh-seeded Watterson or 24th-seeded Lakewood in a district semifinal Tuesday, March 5. The district final is March 9 at Ohio Dominican.
Northland, which was the City League runner-up, is the 19th seed in Division I and opens the postseason March 1 at 16th-seeded Olentangy in the second round. The winner plays sixth-seeded Hilliard Davidson or 29th-seeded Teays Valley in a district semifinal March at a site to be announced. The district final is March 9 at Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Tourney heats up for girls basketball teams
Africentric is among a group of City girls basketball teams that moved on to the district semifinal round of the postseason.
After beating 24th-seeded Fredericktown 86-7 on Feb. 23, the top-seeded Nubians faced 14th-seeded Liberty Union on Feb. 26 in a Division III district semifinal.
The Nubians have won 13 district championships and would play sixth-seeded Utica or 13th-seeded Johnstown for another Friday, March 1, at Ohio Dominican if they beat Liberty Union. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal Wednesday, March 6, at Lexington.
Africentric opened the tournament Feb. 19 by beating 22nd-seeded Fairbanks 77-17.
In Division II, top-seeded Eastmoor beat 19th-seeded Linden 54-47 in a second-round game Feb. 22 to advance to face seventh-seeded Licking Valley in a district semifinal Feb. 26. The winner of that game faces second-seeded Granville or 13th-seeded Bexley in a district final March 1 at Westerville Central, with the district champion advancing to a regional semifinal Tuesday, March 5, at Zanesville.
Also in Division II, sixth-seeded Beechcroft lost to 14th-seeded Bloom-Carroll 53-34 on Feb. 22 in a second-round game.
Northland was seeded 12th for the Division I tournament and opened Feb. 22 by beating 31st-seeded Watkins Memorial 52-44 in a second-round game to advance to a district semifinal Feb. 27 against seventh-seeded Upper Arlington. The winner faces fifth-seeded Reynoldsburg or 11th-seeded Teays Valley in a district final Saturday, March 2, at Ohio Dominican, with the district champion advancing to a regional semifinal March 5 at Otterbein.
Bowlers compete in postseason play
City boys and girls bowling teams opened the Division I postseason with the sectional at HP Lanes.
In the girls sectional Feb. 22, Briggs' Dakota Fink finished eighth (562 three-game series) to advance to the district tournament Saturday, March 2, at HP Lanes.
At the boys sectional Feb. 23, five individuals advanced to the district tournament March 2 at HP Lanes.
Moving on were Eastmoor senior Andrew Ladd (fourth, 668), Briggs junior James Pappas (10th, 637), Northland junior Aaron Holley (tied for 21st, 615), Whetstone freshman Josh Jones (tied for 44th, 568) and Whetstone senior Nathan Vokac (tied for 49th, 564).
At district, the top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to the state tournament March 8 (girls) and March 9 (boys) at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
In the Division II girls district tournament Feb. 21 at HP Lanes, Linden senior Chyene Howell finished 60th (330) and did not earn one of the three state-qualifying spots for individuals not on qualifying teams.