When Ammaar Salaam moved to central Ohio from Alabama during his sophomore year in 2017, his focus was on "bettering" himself.

At first, his primary intention was to get a job while being a student at Columbus East.

Then his brother, Hudhayfah Abdul-Salaam, who was a junior at the time, suggested wrestling.

It wasn't long before things changed for Salaam as he learned a new sport.

"His brother, Hudhayfah, came out first and suggested that I talk to Ammaar about wrestling," East coach Rocky Carreker said. "After winning his first match, (Ammaar) was hooked."

That winning continued the last three seasons, including March 7 when he captured the Division II district championship at 106 pounds at Wilmington to become the Tigers' first state qualifier since James Williams in 2004.

East's only other state qualifier was Ralph Cox, who won the state championship at 112 in 1967.

The City League's only other state champion since Cox was Beechcroft's Robert Sessley at 112 in 1996, but Salaam had aspirations of adding to that total.

Unfortunately for Salaam, the state tournament, which was scheduled for March 13-15 at Ohio State, was indefinitely postponed March 12 by the OHSAA because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and ultimately was canceled March 26.

"It means a lot to me (to qualify for state)," Salaam said. "At the beginning of the season, me and my coach came up with a three-step plan. All I had to do was trust the process. I didn't get to compete at state, so it was heart-breaking because everything I've worked for unfolded right in front of my eyes."

Salaam won City League championships in each of his three seasons with East and followed an 0-2 finish at district as a sophomore by going 1-2 at district last winter and winning a district title this season.

At district this year, Salaam pinned his first two opponents and beat Hamilton Ross' Jaiden Earls 17-5 in a semifinal before defeating Jonathan Alder's Reece Chapman 10-6 for the title. His performance helped the Tigers score 27 points to place 26th behind champion St. Paris Graham (242) as 49 teams scored.

"I was able to qualify this season because I put the work in over last summer to get my skill level up," Salaam said. "I also put in the extra work after practice. I kept telling myself nobody wants it like me, no one's working harder than me."

Salaam was 50-3 entering the state tournament, making him one of just five Division II state qualifiers with 50 or more wins. He had 115 career victories.

According to Carreker, Salaam had a "legit" chance to win the state title.

"Yes, we are all still bummed and in our feelings about the cancellation of the state tournament," coach Rocky Carreker said. "Ammaar qualifying for states means everything to our program. He's my first state qualifier since I took over the program five seasons ago. The school was behind him and the kids look up to him. He brings the best out of everybody."

Salaam intends to compete collegiately but is "looking for the right fit."

"Ammaar is definitely going to compete at the next level," Carreker said. "Doesn't matter if it's Division I, II or III. We just want a place that has his best interests in mind and somewhere that will keep him focused not only on wrestling, but on his education."

Cougars boys team had strong season

With a 39-36 victory over 11th-seeded Eastmoor Academy in a Division II district final March 7, the sixth-seeded Beechcroft boys basketball team advanced to its second regional tournament in three seasons.

That followed a regular season in which the Cougars placed second in the City League-North Division at 11-3, behind Linden-McKinley (12-2). However, they avenged a pair of losses to the fifth-seeded Panthers with a 56-51 victory in a district semifinal March 4.

Beechcroft, which finished 18-6 overall, was set to face Kettering Alter in a regional semifinal March 12 at the University of Dayton, but the postseason was indefinitely postponed earlier that day by the OHSAA because of the coronavirus. The OHSAA canceled the remainder of the postseason March 26.

Leading the Cougars' tournament run were two sophomores in wing player Amani Lyles and guard J.J. Simmons. Both were named first-team all-league.

"We're very young," coach Humphrey Simmons said. "We're a little ahead of schedule. They did a lot of growing up this year. I threw them in the fire and they showed a lot of growth."

Senior guards Davon Wooden and DeShannon Butler, who were second-team and honorable mention all-league, respectively, also were among the key players. Forward Travaughn McConnell rounded out the senior class.

Junior guard Jaylen Hudson, sophomore forward Antwoin Reed and sophomore guard Javo Jordan are other key players eligible to return. Reed was honorable mention all-league.

Nubians girls have another banner year

The Africentric girls basketball team was in position to win its third consecutive Division III state championship.

The Nubians defeated Ottawa-Glandorf 38-34 in a regional final March 7 and were scheduled to play Anna in a state semifinal March 13 at St. John Arena before the OHSAA indefinitely postponed the tournament March 12 because of the coronavirus. The OHSAA ultimately canceled the tournament March 26.

The semifinal winner would have faced Berlin Hiland or Elyria Catholic in the final March 14.

Africentric is losing three seniors in post player Sakima Walker and guards Alexia Smith and Nyam Thornton, each of whom was a key player on the Nubians' state championship teams the past two seasons.

This winter, Africentric finished 23-4 overall and won its fifth consecutive City championship and 12th overall, beating Northland 63-22 in the final Feb. 8 at South.

The top seed in the district, the Nubians rolled past eighth-seeded North Union 71-25 on Feb. 28 to win their fifth district title in a row.

Walker, who joined the program as a sophomore, averaged 14 points and was named first-team all-league, district Player of the Year and first-team all-state, while Smith averaged 13 points and was first-team all-league and all-district and second-team all-state and Thornton was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

Walker has committed to Rutgers, Smith is a Minnesota commit and Thornton is a Texas Tech recruit.

Junior forward Maliyah Johnson, a Pittsburgh recruit who was first-team all-league and third-team all-district, has been a key player since her freshman season when the Nubians beat Versailles 53-47 for the state title.

Junior guard Arianna Smith, who was first-team all-league, second-team all-district and honorable mention all-state, also was among the key players last season when Africentric defeated Waynesville 51-47 for the state championship.

Junior guards Charjae' Brock and Anyiah Murphy were honorable mention all-league.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

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