Hartley Roundup: Boys basketball squad eager to tip off season
The Hartley boys basketball team has been doing its best to take advantage of the pause in competition for CCL programs until its rescheduled opener Dec. 18 at home against St. Charles.
Considering how difficult coach Randy Kortokrax expects the league to be this winter, not wasting any available court time could be paramount.
“Kids are kids and all of a sudden we did three scrimmages and then we’ve got another month (before we can play our first game),” said Kortokrax, who is in his 21st season. “Usually the last week (before the season starts) we need to be playing somebody else. What’s tough is how to keep them motivated every day.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back and I do like the guys we have back, but who would sign up for two months of practice before you play your first game? The question is how much can we get done (between now and our opener).”
Hartley won a Division II district championship in 2019 but entered last season with a roster filled with players with limited varsity experience and finished 8-14 overall and 0-8 in the CCL.
The Hawks, however, beat eventual Division IV district champion Wellington and earned victories over a pair of teams that won at least a share of a league title in Linden-McKinley (City League-North Division) and Upper Arlington (OCC-Central).
Kortokrax picked up his 300th career win against the Golden Bears.
The top three scorers from last season — seniors Dejon Donnell (6-foot, guard) and Will Miller (6-4, forward) and junior Amari Gaston (6-3, forward) — have returned.
Gaston averaged 11 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, while Miller averaged 9.5 points and Donnell added 6.5 points per game.
Seniors Braden Blanchard (6-1, guard) and Nico Thomas (6-4, forward/center) and junior Alex Blain (6-1, guard) also are key returnees. Blanchard and Blain both averaged 5.0 points and Thomas averaged 4.0.
The other seniors are Jay Henson (6-0, forward) and Jack Tomlinson (6-4, guard). Tomlinson missed most of last season with an injury.
Sophomore Jacob Thomas (6-0, guard) is another returnee, and the roster also includes junior Daniel Mattox (6-5, center) and sophomore Anthony Murphy (6-2, forward/center).
“Things have been going very well this year,” Miller said. “We’ve returned almost our whole team from last year, so practices have been very competitive. We’re putting in a new offense, so that’s taken some time, but we take a lot of pride on the defensive end and feel we can shut down our opponents’ offense.
“Our No. 1 hope is to play all of our CCL games and compete for a league title. We know that our conference is so tough that if we’re in contention for the title, we’ll be right there for the district tournament, too. Our keys to success are going to be our rebounding and toughness. If we can control the boards, we feel very confident. Any game we get to play will be a blessing this season.”
The Hawks had three seniors last season, and the biggest contributor in that class was Kylan Kortokrax, the coach’s son, who averaged 7.5 points and is playing baseball for Otterbein.
“I’d like to have four double-digit scorers (per game),” coach Kortokrax said. “Amari might be our most rounded guy to be able to score consistently, but we have quite a few kids that could have big nights. Last year, our 3-point shooting was so erratic. We had a couple kids that I thought could shoot it well but they just (struggled). We’re going to shoot more 3s. I’ve had parents ask what their kid can do and I’ve said, ‘Shoot.’ It’s can we do it in games?”
•Coach: Randy Kortokrax, 21st season
•Top players: Alex Blain, Braden Blanchard, Dejon Donnell, Amari Gaston, Jay Henson, Will Miller, Jacob Thomas, Nico Thomas and Jack Tomlinson
•Key losses: Kylan Kortokrax, Micah Slater and Andrew Trainer
•Last season: 8-14 overall
•2019-20 CCL standings: St. Charles (7-1), DeSales (6-2), Ready (5-3), Watterson (2-6), Hartley (0-8)
•2020 postseason: Lost to Beechcroft 37-26 in second round of Division II district tournament