Boys Basketball: Thomas Worthington taking patient approach to season

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Senior point guard Jalen Sullinger and the Thomas boys basketball team ended last season by capturing the program's first district title since 2001. The Cardinals didn't get a chance to play in the regional tournament because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The Thomas Worthington boys basketball team is coming off one of its best seasons in recent memory, having defeated Pickerington North 52-48 in last year’s Division I district final to capture its first district title since 2001. 

But the Cardinals, who finished 21-5 overall and placed second (10-4) in the OCC-Cardinal Division behind Hilliard Bradley (14-0), didn’t have an opportunity to make a deeper run after the remainder of the postseason was postponed and later canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

The Cardinals hope to make a similar run this season with many of last year’s key players back in the lineup. However, seventh-year coach Sean Luzader said current circumstances mean Thomas has to take things day by day. 

“The goal is to just worry about our first game,” Luzader said. “We’ll take one at a time. But in the big picture, our expectation is at least what we did last year, if not obviously further. We would hope to be able to do that, but we know the Central District is just as tough as ever.

“But we hope, just like every team, to fight for a district title, and anything beyond that is a bonus.”

Thomas is scheduled to open Sunday, Dec. 13, at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and begin league play in the realigned OCC-Cardinal on Dec. 18 at Marysville.

Returning to lead the Cardinals is 5-foot-11 senior point guard Jalen Sullinger, a Kent State commit who made first-team all-district and all-league and third-team all-state last season. He averaged a team-high 17.3 points. 

Thomas also returns seniors Omari Effiong (6-2, guard) and Tyrese Hughey (6-7, forward), both of whom were second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, in addition to seniors Isaac Settles (6-5, guard) and Maurice Collins (6-5, guard). 

Luzader said seniors Nick Moore (5-10, guard) and Kerwin Williams (6-2, forward) and sophomores Joey Zalewski (6-3, forward) and Caleb Miller (6-2, guard) also could see significant minutes. 

“This year is unlike any other that we’ve ever faced,” Luzader said. “I think every team is going to see starting lineups fluctuate just based on the situations with injuries, with COVID, with quarantines, with close contacts and everything else. I would say we could have a bunch of different starting lineups.” 

Rounding out the roster are senior Abass Kamara (6-1, forward) and juniors Cam Beatty (6-0, guard) and Mike Sekyere (5-11, guard). 

“I think the sky’s the limit for our group," Sullinger said. "We want to accomplish everything we did last year, and more.”

Luzader said the Cardinals’ improvement on defense down the stretch was a key factor in their postseason run, and it will be crucial again this season.

“We were improving and I hope we continue that this year and we continue to preach that," he said. "I think if we buy in defensively, I think we have a lot of weapons offensively to score. I think it makes us tough to beat if we can do it on the defensive end.” 

Junior Ayden Parsons is among the top players for Kilbourne, which is expecting a strong season. “I think we have a chance to be really, really special," coach Tom Souder said.

Wolves coach

feeling confident

Kilbourne coach Tom Souder likes the athleticism of his players and is excited about their level of commitment and the experience on his roster.

Souder said these attributes and the Wolves’ willingness to get better on defense will prove key in improving on last season's records of 11-12 overall and 6-8 in the OCC-Cardinal. 

“I think we have a chance to be really, really special,” Souder said. “I think that’ll depend on our commitment on the defensive end. I think we have really shared the ball really well offensively, but I’d like to see our commitment to the defensive end get a little better. I think these kids legitimately want to see each other succeed.” 

The Wolves’ top players include seniors Cayden Dougherty (5-11, guard), Travis Mecklenburg (6-5, wing player), Ian Schupp (6-5, wing player) and Mitchell Tomasek (6-5, wing player/post player) and juniors Ayden Parsons (6-1, guard) and Luke Wolford (6-0, guard). 

“We haven’t had three 6-5 guys in probably 12 years,” said Souder, who is in his 21st season. “We can go big, we can go little, we can go quick, and that’s a nice thing for me to be able to rotate with those six guys.” 

Schupp was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season, while Tomasek was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Schupp averaged a team-high 15 points, followed by Tomasek at 11.3. 

Rounding out the roster are seniors Brian Wilson (6-1, post player), Mitchell Abahazie (6-2, wing player) and Kenny Nally (6-0, post player) and juniors Bryce Taylor (6-2, post player), Nick Hirschy (6-1, guard), Jackson Judy (6-1, guard) and Cole Archual (6-2, wing player/post player). 

Souder said a goal for the team is winning a league title. The Wolves are scheduled to open league play in the realigned OCC-Capital on Dec. 18 against visiting Delaware.

“We’ve never won an OCC championship in basketball,” he said. “That’s something that the kids look at every year. It’s like ‘hey, we’ve got to make this year our year.’ And one of the things they’ve kind of taken on is ‘it’s not who we play, it’s how we play.’ We’ve got to be better the next day than we were the day before. 

“I’ve been really proud of them and really pleased with them. They’ve taken an approach of ‘hey, it’s time to go to work.’ ” 

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve

KILBOURNE 

•Coach: Tom Souder, 21st season 

•Top players: Cayden Dougherty, Travis Mecklenburg, Ayden Parsons, Ian Schupp, Mitchell Tomasek and Luke Wolford 

•Key losses: Will Alban, Braydon Biehn and Blake Gardner

•Last season: 11-12 overall

•2019-20 OCC-Cardinal standings: Hilliard Bradley (14-0), Thomas (10-4), Delaware and Dublin Scioto (8-6), Kilbourne (6-8), Hilliard Darby and Dublin Jerome (5-9), Olentangy Berlin (0-14)

•Postseason: Lost to Newark 65-45 in second round of Division I district tournament

THOMAS

•Coach: Sean Luzader, seventh season 

•Top players: Maurice Collins, Omari Effiong, Tyrese Hughey, Isaac Settles and Jalen Sullinger

•Key losses: Michael Amoah, Jeff Beck, Zach Mansaray, Korey Robinson, Jacob Suncire and Landon Ward

•Last season: 21-5 overall 

•Postseason: Defeated Marion Harding 59-22; def. Olentangy 49-47; def. Olentangy Liberty 70-50; def. Pickerington North 52-48 in Division I district final