Rogers high school players from left: Devonte Pratt, Tony Kynard, Tribune Dailey and Keandre Gilmer and Clemmye Owens.
The Blade/Lori King
Rogers delivered on a promise to win the City League championship a year ago.
The Rams ripped through the league and eventually claimed their first league title since becoming part of the City League in 1960. Plenty of good memories came with the league trophy. Plenty of expectations met along the way to becoming the league's No. 1 team.
The Rams start the 2012-13 season on a mission to create even more history: back-to-back City League champions.
"We're going in thinking we're going to repeat," said Rogers coach Earl Morris. "I think we have a better team than last year, but that doesn't mean we're going to win it.
"But that's our goal."
The Rams, who finished 9-1 in league play a year ago, are the preseason favorites to win the City League in its newly formatted second season in which the league is made up entirely of Toledo Public Schools.
Many of the key Rams, including senior guards Clemmye Owens and Tony Kynard, are back on the court for Morris, who is in his sixth season guiding the team.
"This is probably one of the best teams I've had since I've been here," Morris said. "It's really up to us. They're working hard, but it doesn't always translate over into the games."
The Rams may be the preseason favorites, but Scott and Bowsher are expected to have plenty to say about who ends up winning the league. Both programs have talented enough rosters to be contenders for the top spot.
The Bulldogs, coached by Chris Dames, who is in his third season at Scott, have plenty of players returning from last season's team that made a strong run at the championship last season.
Senior forwards Bryson Collins and Marcus Gilmer were steady contributors a year ago. They will give the Bulldogs' lineup one of the top returning frontcourt tandems in the league.
"We are extremely excited about the direction of the program and the talent that we have now on the varsity level," Dames said.
Bowsher heads into the season relying on a talented group of juniors to step up and lead the way for a Rebels team also on a mission to try to win the league.
Start enters the league also looking to challenge as a contender while Waite and Woodward appear to be in rebuilding mode under new coaches.
Nevertheless, the reigning league champions anticipate having their hands full in their attempt to remain in the league's top spot.
"The league is going to be competitive and when you're the team to beat every body is going to play their best against us," Morris said.
"When you're at the top, they want to knock the top off. We have to be ready to play every night."
Such is the life of a reigning league champion.
Here is a look at each team in projected order of finish:
Coach: Earl Morris, sixth season
Last season: 16-5 overall, 9-1 City League
Top players: Seniors Clemmye Owens, 6-0, G; Tony Kynard, 5-10, G; DeVonte Pratt, 6-0, G-F; Tribune Dailey, 6-5, F. Junior Alejandro Williams, 6-5, C.
Outlook: The Rams are expecting to make it hard for teams attempting to unseat them from the top spot in the City League.
With high-scoring Owens (19.8 ppg, 5.0 apg) and savvy backcourt mate Kynard (11.0 ppg, 8.0 apg) directing the Rams, the likelihood for Rogers to repeat as league champions seem to be in good hands. Pratt (11.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Dailey 8.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) are also Rams with the kind of skills that make them versatile offensively and defensively. The four-year varsity players give the Rams plenty of experience and ability in their back court. They provide plenty of offensive creativity and scoring potential.
"We should be as good as we want to be," Morris said.
"It's the same thing as last year. If they want to play, they'll play. We have to rebound better and play defense," Morris said. "When we play defense we can beat anybody.
"We need to prevent our team from becoming overconfident and stay in the present, playing one game at a time," Morris said.
Should the defending league champions play up to their potential it would make it difficult for the rest of the league to keep the Rams from enjoying a second straight CL title.
Coach: Chris Dames, third season
Last season: 14-8, 7-3
Top players: Seniors Delaquan Norwood, 6-1, G; Ruben Pratt, 5-9, G; Bryson Collins, 6-1, F; Arvell Harris, 6-3, G; Marcus Gilmer, 6-3, F; Jermal Richardson, 6-2, G; Arvell Harris, 6-4, G. Junior Chris Harris, 6-0, G. Sophomore Chris Darrington, 5-11, G.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are expected to present the Rams with their toughest test for the league title.
Collins (8.0 ppg), Gilmer (7.0 rpg), and Richardson (6.0 ppg) account for the most experienced returners from a team that made it tough for CL opponents on most nights. However, this year's team is without 90 percent of its scoring because of the loss of several players to graduation, including Dontonio Kynard (17.0 ppg) and Shaquille Allen (16.0 ppg).
Finding consistent scoring out of a group of returners, who weren't primary scorers a year ago, or from newcomers represents one of the Bulldogs' major unknowns heading into the season. Playing the game from end line to end line and pushing the ball up court is certainly a known that will continue this season for the Bulldogs.
"It's going to take some time for the new guys to fill those roles," Dames said. "With our youth and inexperience I expect the early part of the season to be a little bumpy."
Nonetheless, the Bulldogs appear to have enough returning letter winners to make them one of the teams expected to contend for the league title.
Coach: Joe Guerrero, fourth season
Last season: 14-7, 7-3
Top players: Juniors Nate Allen, 6-4, G-W; Cam White, 6-0, G; Jason Sandridge, 6-2, F; Andre Kizer, 6-1, G-F; Dajuan King, 6-0, G.
Outlook: The Rebels are also among the most talented teams in the City League.
However, the concern for Bowsher is perhaps not having enough experience to push them over the top. The Rebels will open the season with a starting lineup of juniors, including Allen (12.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg), who is the only returning starter. White, who was a starter in the backcourt at St. Francis de Sales last season, is expected to make his presence felt in his first season at Bowsher.
The Rebels, who averaged a state-leading 82 points per game last season, lost five key players to graduation. Yet, Bowsher will continue to employ an up-tempo style of basketball under Guerroro and, putting points on the scoreboard doesn't figure to be a problem for the Rebels.
The Rebels create plenty of baskets with their ful-lcourt defensive pressure.
"We are very quick, not a lot of varsity experience," Guerrero said. "But we will cause teams trouble with our quickness."
Just how much trouble they cause their opponents will decide where Bowsher will finish in the CL standings.
Coach: Gil Guerrero, third season
Last season: 13-8, 5-5
Top players: Seniors Scott Hicks, 6-3, G-F; Dion Ivery, 5-8, G; Dexter Johnson, 5-10, G. Juniors Mike Mitchell, 6-4, F; Chris Adams, 6-2, F; Richie Lynn, 6-3, F.
Outlook: The Spartans have only two players — Hicks and Ivery — with any real varsity experience to work with.
Guerrero is facing a rebuilding situation during his third season in charge of the Spartans.
"Othern than Scottie and Dion, all are about the same with no experience," Guerrero said.
How the Spartans handle the early stages of the season could shed light on what to expect out of a team lacking experience in comparison to the league's preseason favorites.
"We should be competitive if we can keep opponents' big men off the boards," Guerrero said. "We can sub four to five guys who are all about the same. We have to be able to defend.
"Teamwork and conditioning are keys to our season."
Coach: Adam Rodriguez, first season
Last season: 2-17, 1-9
Top players: Seniors Alfred Sanchez, 6-2, F; Lavarr Robinson, 5-11, G; Chandler Hill, 5-10, G; Aaron Riley, 6-5, C. Junior Taywyn Mason, 6-3, F.
Outlook: Rodriguez is banking on seeing steady progress by the Indians during his first season as coach.
Coming off a season in which they won only two games, the Indians have room for improvement.
"I expect our kids to compete every game," Rodriguez said. "We don't have much experience at the varsity level but the kids really work hard and seem to be very dedicated.
"If we play together and work hard on the defensive end we could be very competitive."
Riley, Sanchez, and Robinson make up the returning players with the most experienced who are being asked to provide leadership early in the season.
The goal for the Indians and their new coach is to develop into a more competitive team than they were a season ag.
Coach: Mark Knabbs, first season
Last season: 3-15, 1-9
Top players: Seniors DaMarkus Darrington, 5-10, G; Terrell Robinson, 6-1, G. Juniors Tehron Watson, 6-4, F; Ramoan Fane, 6-5, F. Sophomore Craig Kirkwood, 5-7, G.
Outlook: The Polar Bears are also looking to turn the program around with a new coach.
Knabbs is stressing teamwork and team unity as priorities to better compete in the City League.
"The team has a lot of confidence in each other," Knabbs said. "If the team plays defense and buys into the system we'll be able to compete with any team."
Darrington and Robinson will be counted on early to show the way as key players in the Polar Bears back court. Watson and Fane provide good size in the front court for a team lacking the experience and depth found on the teams considered favorites in the City League.