An obvious changing of the guard was on tap for the Dublin Jerome boys basketball team this past offseason given that it was losing 12 players to graduation.
Nothing is different, though, regarding how competitive the Celtics expect to be after finishing 14-9 overall and placing second in the OCC-Cardinal Division at 11-3 last season.
Jerome, which opened Nov. 27 with a 47-46 win over Mifflin and defeated Newark 58-56 in double overtime Nov. 29 before playing London on Dec. 4, expects to be a factor in the league title race and in the Division I district tournament despite having a much younger cast.
"We've practiced and gotten better nearly every day," 6-foot-1 senior guard Dan Lee said. "The majority of our team is underclassmen, so it's definitely different than what I've been used to in the past. Our expectations are higher than ever. We have a lot of talent on this team and it's all beginning to come together. We're looking to win our conference and bring back Jerome a district title."
Last season, Lee was one of Jerome's few non-seniors to receive regular playing time and responded by averaging 11.5 points, five rebounds and four assists while by shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. He was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
The only other player to return after being a contributor last year is 6-3 senior forward Derek Sanders.
"It's going as well as it could be," said third-year coach Richie Beard, whose team begins OCC-Cardinal action Friday, Dec. 6, at Worthington Kilbourne. "We'll go as far as Dan Lee takes us. He was second-team all-conference last year in the OCC, has tons of colleges looking at him to play ball at the next level and is one of the best players in the conference. He led us in points, led us in assists (and) shot close to 90 percent from the free-throw line last year."
Ryan Nutter, a 6-3 freshman guard, also is expected to be a key player.
Another senior who should take on a key role is 6-3 guard Mikey Callahan, while 6-3 forward Jason Jewell rounds out the class.
Junior Andrew Butcher (6-1, guard), sophomores Matt Butler (6-4, forward) and Jayden Sun (6-4, guard) and freshman Luke Kuhlman (6-4, guard) are others who should fill key roles for the first time.
Also looking to contribute are sophomores David Adolph (6-4, guard), C.C. Ezirim (6-5, forward), Logan Mesaros (6-0, guard) and Jack Pinney (5-10, guard). Ezirim is a move-in from Hilliard Davidson.
Nutter and Butler scored 17 and 16 points, respectively, against Mifflin and Lee scored 20 against Newark.
"The nice thing about being at a place like Jerome is that there's no such thing as rebuilding," Beard said. "We're super skilled across the board, we've got guys that play hard and we've got kids that are going to defend."
Jerome was the 18th seed for the district tournament last season and lost to 10th-seeded Canal Winchester 60-59 in overtime in the first round as Lee had 18 points and 2019 graduate Matthew Montgomery scored 19.
Trey Ballangee (12.0 points, 7.0 rebounds), Montgomery (9.6 points, 6.5 rebounds), Joseph Gatien (7.2 points, 3.2 assists, 3.4 steals) and Joey Pickering (7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds) were the biggest losses to graduation. Ballangee was first-team all-league and third-team all-district, Montgomery was special mention all-league and Gatien was honorable mention all-league.
"(Defending OCC-Cardinal champion) Hilliard Bradley is still the favorite (to win the league) until they get beat," Beard said. "Thomas Worthington is much improved, Delaware Hayes returns two of their top players and Scioto will be tough. It'll be a pretty wide open league."
Below are the coming schedules for the Jerome boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 10 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
*Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Dec. 10 -- At Thomas
Dec. 9 -- At Coffman with Scioto, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Hilliard Davidson and Olentangy Orange
Dec. 5-8 -- TBA in Adam Allgeyer Memorial Tournament at Chiller Dublin
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 6 -- Olentangy Liberty diving invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 7 -- Davidson and Liberty at home
*Dec. 5 -- At Thomas
Dec. 7 -- Bad Apple Brawl at Mount Vernon