Boys Basketball: Groveport Madison hopes extra practice time pays off
The Groveport Madison boys basketball team finds itself itching to play a game and having to wait longer than almost any other team in the area to do so.
But after the school district paused all games through December amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and Franklin County’s 28-day stay-at-home advisory, first-year coach Lamont Hampton thinks an extra few weeks of practice and bonding might be exactly what the Cruisers need after a turbulent November.
The team had one practice before having to enter a 14-day quarantine, and then after its second practice, the district pause took effect. No Groveport teams practiced from Nov. 18-29 before resuming Nov. 30.
“Everything that’s happened is out of our control, but (the delay) could be a blessing in defense,” said Hampton, the Cruisers’ junior varsity coach the past two years who succeeded Ryan Grashel in July. “We lost a lot of practice but now we get pretty much the whole month to work on ourselves and get better. We’re getting a second chance and it’s up to us to make the most out of it.”
Senior guard Scotty Lomax (6-foot-3) will look to build on a junior season in which he averaged a team-leading 13.6 points as well as 1.8 assists. Senior guard Elyjah Aekins (6-1) averaged 6.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 1.9 assists, and junior guards Abubakar Diallo (6-0) and Marlon Elliott Jr. (6-1) averaged 7.1 and 4.9 points, respectively.
The Cruisers finished 10-13 overall and 4-6 in the OCC-Capital Division, and Grashel resigned in May after eight seasons to become coach at New Albany.
“We have a really athletic group with a lot of guards. We’ll play a fun style, pressing and pushing the basketball,” Hampton said. “Right now especially, it’s a good thing that we’re not starting from scratch. I know the guys and their strengths and weaknesses.”
Rounding out the roster are seniors Corey Evans (6-3, forward), Jamier Friedman (6-1, guard), Brandon St. Victor (6-0, guard) and Papa Sy (6-2, guard) and juniors Duane Davis (5-10, guard), Jabari Harris (6-1, guard), Markell Holmes (6-0, guard), Jamal Sanfo (6-6, center/forward) and Kenyatta Whiteside (6-3, guard/forward).
Harris is a move-in from Cincinnati Woodward.
The Cruisers are scheduled to open Jan. 2 at Harvest Prep. Their OCC-Buckeye opener is Jan. 8 at Newark.
“We’re definitely not happy but we have to do what we have to do. It could be worse,” Lomax said. “On the other hand, we have a few new guys on the roster, guys who came up from (junior varsity) and some others who haven’t played in the program yet. Another month of practice is going to help them.”
Indians debut with
new coach, roster
Underscoring the competition to fill several starting spots, first-year Canal Winchester coach Zach Olson said he mentally changed his starting five at least three times during a recent practice.
On a similar note, Olson felt that the Indians’ fortunes will be determined by several contributors and not led by a particular standout.
“We expect to win as a collective group. We don’t necessarily have one, two or three guys who will be elite,” he said. “We will get things done as a group. Everybody on this roster has a job and will pitch in where they can. We try to do things as a unit rather than relying on individuals to do everything.”
Seniors Andre’ Heglar (6-3, forward), Anthony Milner (6-2, guard) and Graham Snider (5-9, guard) and junior Stephan Byrd (6-0, forward), a Cincinnati football commit, are among the players around whom Olson will build after spending six seasons as an assistant at Newark.
They are the only four returning varsity players from a team that went 16-8 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Capital and graduated virtually all of its top contributors, including league Player of the Year and 1,032-point scorer Bilal Sow and honorable mention all-district selection Cole Metzler. The two forwards combined to average 30.2 points and 16.5 rebounds.
The Indians are scheduled to open Dec. 18 with a home league game against Dublin Scioto.
“(Olson) is bringing a lot of competition, a lot of competitiveness out of each and every one of us (and) bringing the toughness. We’ll be one of the toughest teams out there,” Heglar said. “We’re doing way more defensive drills, a lot of them. Definitely diving for balls, taking charges, stuff like that.”
Olson was hired in May to succeed Lyndell Snyder, who went 81-62 in six seasons and before that had served as an assistant since 1999.
After seeing limited time last year, Milner likely will be the team’s primary point guard.
“I worked on my strength and a lot of mental things because it’s a different game with varsity,” Milner said. “I have to be able to focus, think about everybody else on the team and get them involved.
“It’s a lot of noticing other things on the court, like making sure I can listen to what (Olson) is telling me to do and making sure everybody else knows what they are doing.”
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kevian Poindexter (5-10, guard), Luke Twiss (6-2, forward) and Kazi Welch (6-4, forward) and juniors Andrew Miles (6-7, forward) and Tyshiem Robinson (5-11, forward).
•Coach: Zach Olson, first season
•Top players: Bryce Barnes, Stephan Byrd, Andre’ Heglar and Graham Snider
•Key losses: Cole Metzler, Avery Musick, Tre’Von Robinson and Bilal Sow
•Last season: 16-8 overall
•2019-20 OCC-Capital standings: Newark (9-1), New Albany (7-3), Big Walnut and Canal Winchester (5-5), Groveport (4-6), Franklin Heights (0-10)
•2020 postseason: Defeated Upper Arlington 60-55; lost to Whitehall 65-51 in second round of Division I district tournament
•Coach: Lamont Hampton, first season
•Top players: Elyjah Aekins, Abubukar Diallo, Marlon Elliott Jr. and Scotty Lomax
•Key losses: Elijah Monroe and Devin Singleton
•Last season: 10-13 overall
•2020 postseason: Lost to Westerville South 73-50 in first round of Division I district tournament