Despite returning one of the state's top players, the Harvest Prep boys basketball team felt disrespected heading into this season.
According to senior guard Christopher Anthony, the defending Division III state champion Warriors played as if they had something to prove all winter.
"This group was ready to work and just do everything everybody said we couldn't do," Anthony said. "Everybody doubted us from day one, people not trusting what we knew we were capable of doing. We got to work to make this one of the best teams ever."
With a large and experienced senior class surrounding Anthony, Harvest Prep captured its first state championship a year ago after reaching a state semifinal in 2018.
This season, the Warriors were marching toward another state tournament appearance when the remainder of the postseason was indefinitely postponed March 12 and ultimately canceled March 26 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Top-seeded Harvest Prep edged second-seeded Worthington Christian 49-47 in a district final March 6 at Ohio Dominican for its third consecutive district title.
The Warriors followed with a 58-46 victory over Chillicothe Zane Trace in a regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio University and were set to play Proctorville Fairland in a regional final March 14 at OU when the postseason was halted.
Harvest Prep, which was one victory away from returning to state, finished 23-3 overall.
"I'm hurt for my players and school and my coaching staff," coach David Dennis Sr. said. "We were (ranked) No. 1 in the state (in the final state poll), one game from the state final four and beat some very good teams on the way. No one predicted this for us this year or gave us a chance. It says a lot about our program."
Harvest Prep beat Zanesville Rosecrans 72-59 on Feb. 14 to finish 12-0 in the MSL-Cardinal Division, earning its seventh consecutive league championship. The Warriors have won 47 consecutive league games.
Harvest Prep is losing three seniors, led by Anthony, who scored his 2,000th career point in a 63-51 victory over Rosecrans on Jan. 17 and finished with 2,395 overall to rank first all-time among Central District players.
According to the OHSAA, the only other player from the Central District to score more than 2,200 career points is Walnut Ridge senior VonCameron Davis, who was named Ohio Mr. Basketball.
Anthony, who was a Mr. Basketball finalist, averaged 28 points and was named Player of the Year in the MSL-Cardinal as well as in the district and state in Division III.
"C.J. is one of the greatest players I've ever coached," Dennis Sr. said. "To watch him grow up, put in all the work he has put in, his determination to be great and his leadership to lead is nothing but remarkable. I'm just humbled to have an opportunity to coach a player of his magnitude. He's one of those players that don't come around often.
"I will miss him, our program will miss him. This year allowed everyone to see how he can lead and bring his teammates to a high level of play."
Senior wing player Malachi Henry and senior guard Kenneth Sykes played key roles for the first time. Henry averaged nine points and was first-team all-league and third-team all-district and Sykes averaged eight points and was honorable mention all-league.
The top returnee next season should be junior guard Brian Beavers, who averaged 9.5 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Other key others expected to return are junior forward Jordan Walker (6.5 points per game), junior guard Mario Davis (5.0 ppg), freshman guard Nicolas Harris (5.5 ppg) and freshman forward Nyelle Shaheed (5.5 ppg).
Junior guard Darren Cunningham and freshman guard Zyaun Hutson also are eligible to return.
Dennis Sr. and Anthony were set to take part in the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star game Saturday, April 11, at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, before the event was canceled because of the coronavirus.
Anthony plans to make his college decision before the end of the month.
"We just had a really good all-around team," Anthony said. "We all did a good job. All the guys did what they needed to do."