City League Roundup: Walnut Ridge boys basketball team enters season with new-look roster
One of the Walnut Ridge boys basketball team’s greatest seasons ended with a 59-32 loss to Hilliard Bradley in a Division I regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican.
It ended up being central Ohio’s final prep event of the 2019-20 school year, as the remainder of the postseason was postponed the next day and later canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The Scots, like everyone else involved in winter sports, are still dealing with the pandemic, albeit in new ways.
The City League has paused athletics until at least Friday, Dec. 18, with teams in boys basketball, girls basketball, wrestling, swimming and diving and bowling all hoping to get their seasons going later this month or early in 2021.
“We’ve been having scheduled Zoom meetings, trying to get some work in,” third-year Walnut Ridge coach Chuck Jefferson said. “Mostly we’ve just been trying to keep them uplifted.”
Whenever the Scots do hit the floor, they won’t look anything like the team that went 22-5 and beat Linden-McKinley 74-59 to capture its first City championship since 1971.
The biggest difference is that VonCameron Davis was lost to graduation after scoring 2,201 career points. He averaged 26.9 points during his final season to become the City’s all-time leading scorer and was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball.
The top returnee is Leon Douglas, a 6-foot-1 senior guard who scored 15 points in a 59-57 win over Reynoldsburg in a district semifinal and averaged 9.5 points while earning honorable mention all-league honors.
Also returning are 5-11 senior guard Daaron Brown, who averaged 2.5 points, and 6-3 junior guard Zion Blevins, who averaged 5.0 points.
Junior Aamir Carter (6-3) is a Beechcroft transfer who should fill a key role. Other players expected to contribute are juniors Tyree Morgan (6-5, forward) and Ricky Taylor (6-3, wing player) and freshman Na’Varion Adams (6-4).
Walnut Ridge shared the City-South Division title a year ago with South at 13-1 but won the tiebreaker because the Bulldogs had been to the City championship game in 2019.
Briggs (9-5), Africentric (8-6), Eastmoor Academy (7-7), Marion-Franklin (3-11), Independence (2-12) and West (1-13) rounded out the league standings.
In addition to Davis, who is playing at Kent State, other losses to graduation were forward Kaveon Ross and guard Qian Magwood. Senior wing player Myles Garrett averaged 6.0 points but is attending a prep school, according to Jefferson.
Ross is playing football for Wayne State and Magwood is playing football at Ball State.
“I know we lost Mr. Basketball and Kaveon Ross, but we may be a little deeper and athletic than we were last year,” Jefferson said. “I believe the City-South is always going to be very competitive. There are a lot of great coaches and great players, but I believe it’ll pretty much be wide open this year.”
South boys team
looks to rebuild
The South boys basketball team also will have a new group leading the way after losing four starters to graduation.
The top returnee is 6-0 senior guard Maurice Barnes, who averaged 5.5 points last season and was honorable mention all-league.
The Bulldogs were state semifinalists in Division II in 2019 and went 23-2 last winter, losing 65-62 to Westerville Central in a Division I district semifinal.
“This is definitely a rebuilding season for us,” said coach Ramon Spears, who is in his 11th season. “I’ve got three seniors back, but besides that, the rest of my team are freshmen.”
In addition to Barnes, the senior class also includes Shermar Lindsey (6-3, forward) and Marquis Hawthorne (6-4, center), both of whom averaged 4.5 points.
Junior Jamari Slaughter (6-2, guard) is a transfer from Centennial who is expected to play a key role, and sophomore Mekhi Foster (6-2, guard) and freshmen Maurice McCall (6-1, guard) and Lejames Washington (6-0, guard) also should be in the rotation.
South lost a 2020 senior class that included four all-league selections in Trevell Adams (first team), Ta’Quan Simington (first team), Marcus Johnson (second team) and Chaz Thomas (honorable mention).
“This program has been building for the last five to six years and we’ve had a nice run,” Spears said. “We’re actually hoping these young boys that were on our middle school team can grow up pretty fast.”
prep for season
The Beechcroft wrestling and swimming programs are hoping to restart their seasons soon.
“We have a solid group that can compete this year,” said wrestling coach Mac Conkling, who is in his fourth season. “Our wrestlers who played football were eager to get going once their season ended. We have a core group of seniors that will be key to the overall team success. Our group’s spirits are high despite that season suspension.
“The overall hope is to have a season, whatever it looks like, and give our seniors the opportunity to compete in the postseason. The ultimate goal is to have fun. If we have fun while competing, we’ll put ourselves in a good position for the end of the year.”
The top returnees are senior Muhammad Ali-Kobo (220 pounds) and junior Elijah Cottle (160). Ali-Kobo was sixth at 195 and Cottle was sixth at 152 in last year’s Division II sectional at Licking Valley.
Cottle finished 19-21 and Kobo went 16-16.
Seniors Kevin Damoah (heavyweight), Demetrius Haynes (170) and Ozzie Ramos (182/195) also were contributors last season. The other seniors are Amara Allen (132/138) and Devin French (145/152).
Junior Jayden Williams (195) and freshman Kevin Brogdon Jr. (120/126) are expected to be in the lineup as well.
The biggest loss to graduation was Alhaji Sidibe, who finished 34-12 and was a district qualifier at 220.
“Numbers will be low across the league, lower than they’ve been in years past,” Conkling said. “It’s hard to get kids to come out without seeing them in the school building. With that being said, this could be the year that the small teams can compete in the tournament. I believe we should be able to finish (in the) top five (in the City) this year.”
The girls swimming team again will be led by junior Nyrobi Whitfield, who is a two-time district qualifier in Division II. Juniors Daylen Allen and Lily Braaksma and freshman Macie Braaksma also are competing.
Whitfield was 17th in the 200-yard individual medley (personal-best 2 minutes, 29.4 seconds) and 23rd in the 100 freestyle (59.42) at district last winter.