Even losing one of the nation’s best players isn’t softening the Africentric girls basketball team’s expectations this season.

The Nubians, who are riding a 37-game winning streak and have won back-to-back Division III state championships, return a trio of seniors who have committed to major college programs in 6-foot guard Alexia Smith, 5-8 guard Nyam Thornton and 6-4 post player Sakima Walker.

Africentric is not taking it easy in terms of its schedule despite losing 2019 graduate and point guard Jordan Horston, last year’s state Player of the Year and Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year who is now playing for Tennessee after averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists a year ago.

The Nubians, who finished 28-0 overall last season, open Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Briggs and play host to Eastmoor Academy on Dec. 6 before facing Chattanooga (Tennessee) Hamilton Heights Christian Academy on Dec. 7 in Dixie, Kentucky.

Africentric is 16th in the MaxPreps preseason top 25 national rankings and will be playing three other ranked teams in No. 2 Hamilton Heights Christian, No. 1 Landover Hills (Maryland) New Hope Academy (Feb. 1 on the road) and No. 19 Detroit Edison (Dec. 28 at home).

In addition, the Nubians will face Solon (Dec. 21 at Garfield Heights), a Division I district champion last season; Newark (Jan. 25 at home), a Division I regional semifinalist last season; St. Bernard Roger Bacon (Dec. 27 at Cincinnati Winton Woods), a Division I district runner-up a year ago; and Chicago Kenwood (Jan. 4 at home), which won 20 games last season.

“Every year is a new year,” said 17th-year coach Will McKinney, who has guided the Nubians to seven state titles. “You can’t be sitting around loving last year. You want to win state again this year.”

Africentric went 12-0 in the City League-South Division last season, ahead of Eastmoor (11-2), South (10-4), Walnut Ridge (8-6), Independence (6-8), Briggs (2-11), Marion-Franklin (2-12) and West (1-9).

The Nubians, who beat Findlay Liberty-Benton 56-36 to win their 10th regional title and followed with wins over Berlin Hiland (61-48) and Waynesville (51-47) at state, lost only one other player to graduation in backup guard Tearra Cook.

Smith is a Minnesota signee who averaged 16 points, six rebounds and three assists last season, Walker has committed to Rutgers after averaging 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks and Thornton is a Texas Tech commit who averaged seven points, four rebounds and five assists.

Also returning to the starting lineup are juniors Maliyah Johnson (6-0 forward) and Arianna Smith (6-0 forward), both of whom averaged eight points.

Juniors Charjae Brock (5-8, guard), Anyiah Murphy (5-7, guard), Lyric Ransom (5-7, guard) and MyKala Wheat (5-3, guard) are other returnees.

Freshman Neveah Brownlee, a 5-7 guard, also should contribute.

“This group feels very seasoned,” McKinney said. “They get along really well and know each other. It’s a veteran team. I’ve just got to fine-tune what we’ve been doing.”

Eastmoor is coming off a season in which it went 20-6 and lost to Thornville Sheridan 59-44 in a Division II regional semifinal but has a new coach in Keith Dimmy after Charity Martin-King stepped down.

The Warriors, who were the No. 1 seed for the district tournament and beat second-seeded Granville 48-40 in a district final, are now competing in Division I.

Eastmoor, which has no seniors, will be led by junior post player Honesty Wilson (5-9) and sophomore point guard Music Thornton (5-5).

“Most of my returning players are very young,” said Dimmy, who had been an assistant under Martin-King. “With us being senior-heavy last year, they didn’t get a chance to play full games, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop.”

Juniors Tia Wilson (5-8, wing player), Luxury Floyd (5-8, guard) and Tia Elder (5-5, guard) and sophomores T’Mia Carter (5-5, guard), Samya Hill (5-11, forward) and Kal’vonna Leeper (5-6, guard) should be other key players.

Eastmoor opens Tuesday, Dec. 3, at home against Marion-Franklin.

Northland girls have new look

The Northland girls basketball team is hoping to contend for another City-North title after going 17-7 overall and winning its fourth league title in a row and ninth in 11 seasons last winter.

The addition of 6-1 senior forward Saige Glover, who has committed to Niagara, should help in that pursuit.

Glover, an offseason move-in, was named first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division and third-team all-district in Division I last season when she averaged 13.3 points and 8.5 rebounds at Pickerington North. She is expected to be eligible the entire season.

She’ll join a cast that should be led by junior point guard Azariah Binford, a first-team all-league honoree last season.

Another addition is senior Natalia Bodie, a 5-8 wing player who was honorable mention all-league last year for Mifflin.

“It’s more of a new team this year,” third-year coach Jaybee Bethea said. “This is the first year I’m going into the season not knowing what type of team we’re going to be because of all the newcomers. We’ll still press, but we’ll do it differently than we have.”

The Vikings went 14-0 in the City-North last season to finish ahead of Beechcroft (12-2), Linden-McKinley (10-4), Centennial (7-7), East (6-7), Mifflin and Whetstone (both 3-11) and International (0-13).

After losing to Africentric 64-36 in the City title game last season, 12th-seeded Northland beat 31st-seeded Watkins Memorial 52-44 in a second-round Division I tournament game before falling 62-47 to seventh-seeded Upper Arlington in a district semifinal. It marked the second year in a row that the Vikings’ season ended with a district semifinal loss to the Golden Bears.

Others looking to contribute include senior Samiya Kirk (5-8, post player), sophomores Nahdia Alcorn (5-7, guard), Tierra Vance (5-9, forward) and Jana Browning (6-0, forward) and freshman Ayah Duffy (5-6, guard).

Sophomore Brianna Hamilton, a 5-9 forward, is out for the season with an injury.

Iyauna Bonner, Alexia Hamilton, Jaylen Muldrow, Sarai Swann all were lost to graduation. Alexia Hamilton averaged 18.5 points and was named second-team all-district last season.

Cougars to lean on guard play

On its way to earning the No. 6 seed for the Division II district tournament last season, the Beechcroft girls basketball team featured just two players who were 5-8 or taller.

The Cougars likely will be even smaller this season, as all of their key players are listed at 5-5 or 5-6, but they’ll have an experienced cast after going 14-6 overall.

Sophomore forward La’Larra Bays, senior forward Syrai Armistead and junior guard LaBriar Franklin-Page are the top returnees.

Bays averaged 10.5 points, four rebounds and three steals and was first-team all-league along with 2019 graduate Aniah Brown (13 ppg). Franklin-Page was second-team all-league and Armistead made honorable mention all-league along with 2019 graduate Grace Gales.

Senior guards Brittany Fortner and Tiara Hale and junior guard Tessa Miller are other key returnees for Beechcroft, which lost to 14th-seeded and eventual district champion Bloom-Carroll 53-39 in a second-round game last season.

The Cougars opened Nov. 26 at Johnstown and play their City-North opener Tuesday, Dec. 3, at home against Linden.

“We’re just trying to plug away,” seventh-year coach Mike Moncrief said. “Our problem is that we’re small. We’ve got a team full of guards, so we’ve got to somehow overcome our lack of height, but we’ll find a way. Most of these girls have been in the system and know what’s required of them.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek