Gahanna Lincoln Roundup: Talented boys basketball team tuning up for season

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Junior guard Sean Jones returns to help lead Gahanna Lincoln after he was named first-team all-state and all-district last season. The Lions, who went 24-2 a year ago, believe they can contend for the Division I state championship.

With a deep roster that featured one of the state’s top guards, the Gahanna Lincoln boys basketball team was a Division I district runner-up and earned its first outright league championship in 10 years last winter.

The Lions are now focusing on fine-tuning areas such as controlling the tempo and playing good defense as they look to build on a season in which they improved by nine wins to go 24-2 under coach Tony Staib.

Staib, who earned his 300th career victory last Dec. 31 and led Gahanna to the No. 1 seed in the district tournament, was named the state’s Coach of the Year.

“Things for our team are coming along great,” senior Jarius Jones said. “We get up and down the court with great pace. We’re all becoming competitors on the court and we also have each other’s backs no matter what. 

“Two things I think will be key: One is making shots in the fourth quarter when needed, and (the other is) playing strong defense all four quarters. If we perfect that, we’ll be in great shape.”

According to Jones, a 6-foot-4 wing player who averaged 9.5 points a year ago and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, one of the main goals for the Lions is to be in the hunt for a state title.

The return of 5-11 junior guard Sean Jones, who was named first-team all-state and all-district after averaging 18.2 points, bolsters that hope.

Senior forward Maceo Williams (6-6) averaged 11.5 points and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, while junior forward Javan Simmons (6-7) averaged 5.5 points in his first season with the program after competing for Hartley as a freshman.

Juniors Eljae Deas (6-0, guard), Cam Johnson (6-2, guard) and Brendan Raymond (5-11, guard) are other returnees.

Sophomore Brandon Ivery, who grew up in Gahanna, has joined the program after averaging eight points last winter for Wellington as the Jaguars reached a Division IV regional final.

Gahanna is scheduled to open Dec. 18 at Westerville Central in a realigned OCC-Ohio Division that also includes Pickerington North, Grove City, Westland and New Albany.

“With the practices and scrimmages that we’ve had, this year’s group has really come together very well,” said Staib, who is in his 19th season. “It’s a talented group, but what I’ve liked so far is their commitment to the defensive end. They’ve really bought into the idea, like last year’s team, that you’ve got to be able to defend in the halfcourt. 

“Offensively we have multiple guys who can put the ball in the basket and who have done a good job of sharing the basketball.”

Others looking to contribute include senior Caleb McCleskey (6-5, forward), juniors Jessee Battle (6-0, guard), Jordan Green (6-3, wing player) and Nolan Ward (6-1, guard) and sophomore Will Scott (6-1, guard).

The biggest losses to graduation were Nate Staib, who is coach Staib’s son and averaged 6.0 points, Zane Leitwein (6.0 points) and Phillip Pontious (3.0 points).

“It’s sort of a weird combination that we have a young roster but we’re also experienced,” coach Staib said. “A lot of times when you’re young, you’re inexperienced, but we sort of have both. We have Sean and he was first-team all-state as a sophomore, which is an incredible accomplishment. 

“We have three seniors, but two seniors who have a lot of experience with Maceo and Jarius. As a whole we have a lot of experience from last year’s team and the good part of that is that only two of them are seniors, so we have a lot of youth on this year’s roster.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

BOYS BASKETBALL

Coach: Tony Staib, 19th season

Top players: Eljae Deas, Cam Johnson, Jarius Jones, Sean Jones, Brendan Raymond, Javan Simmons and Maceo Williams

Key losses: Zane Leitwein, Phillip Pontious, Nate Staib and Travis Whittaker

Last season: 24-2 overall

2019-20 OCC-Ohio standings: Gahanna (9-1), Pickerington North (8-2), Pickerington Central (7-3), Reynoldsburg (3-7), Grove City (2-8), Lancaster (1-9)

2020 postseason: Defeated Olentangy Berlin 58-30; def. Independence 79-35; def. Whitehall 68-45; lost to Walnut Ridge 52-47 in Division I district final