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In the past 10-plus seasons, Ottawa Hills has evolved into one of the top small-school boys basketball programs in northwest Ohio under 19th-year coach John Lindsay.
The Green Bears are 188-51 since the start of the 2003-04 season, have five Toledo Area Athletic Conference titles in that span, four seasons of 20-plus wins, plus two others with 19 victories.
The high point came in 2009-10, when the Green Bears finished 23-2 with a loss to top-ranked Newark Catholic in the Division IV state semifinals. Last year’s 22-5 squad closed with a 63-54 loss in the regional final to Leipsic.
In 2009, a 20-3 Green Bears team was nipped 31-30 in a Division III district final by eventual state runner-up Tinora.
These fine seasons have kept the Green Bears and Lindsay (276-136 record, eight TAAC titles) hungry for more.
Perhaps in no season has that hunger been greater, or the expectations higher, than in this one.
“The experience of getting to the regional finals and being so close has been a great motivator for us,” Lindsay said. “Having gone through that atmosphere, the level of the games, and the importance of each possession in games has been very valuable.
“We improved a great deal during the last season. We became better competitors. That’s been a big part of our improvement this year too. We’ve continued to become better competitors all the way through the lineup.”
Ottawa Hills (9-1, 6-0 TAAC), ranked No. 6 in the Division IV state poll, returned three starters.
That trio, all senior captains, includes two Division I college recruits — 6-foot-9 center R.J. Coil and 6-7 wing Geoff Beans — and 5-11 point guard Ben Silverman, who will play golf at Duke.
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Added to the starting lineup were talented 6-0 freshman guard Hunter Sieben and versatile 6-3 junior wing Nick Hauck. And the Green Bears bring a true X-factor off the bench in 6-7 senior forward Ellis Cummings.
Cummings, the nephew of former college and NBA star Terry Cummings, had never played organized basketball before this season. He brings some impressive potential. In last Friday’s 49-41 win over Cardinal Stritch, Cummings was a force on the offensive boards, contributing 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The consistent court leaders are Beans and Coil.
Beans, who will play at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., leads Ottawa Hills in scoring at 16.0 points per game and adds 4.9 rebounds.
“It killed us when we lost in the regional final to Leipsic,” Beans said. “We were one game from state, and we were itching to get there.
“That was motivation the whole summer, to actually reach the Schottenstein Center [in Columbus] and hopefully win state this year.”
Coil, who will play at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., contributes 14.9 points and team-best 8.4 rebounds, along with 2.7 blocked shots per game.
“We knew the feeling of losing in a regional final, and we knew that we were so close to states,” Coil said. “We want to get to states this year to erase that feeling from our minds.
“Sometimes we get together and remind each other of what we’re all in this for, and what our goals are. I think we’re where we should be right now, and I just hope we can keep doing what we’re doing.”
Silverman averages 7.3 points, 3.9 assists, and has hit 20 of 21 free throws.
“That was a motivator for our guys,” Silverman said of losing in the regional, “especially for the guys who have basketball as their main focus, like Geoff Beans and R.J. Coil and Hunter Sieben.
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“They definitely put in a lot of time into their game during the offseason. Our role players have also put in some work when they were done with their other sports. We’ve gotten off to a pretty good start this season, and we’re trying to stay hungry and keep this going.”
Sieben (8.3 points, 2.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds) and Hauck (3.8 points, 2.2 assist) are considered as the team’s top defenders.
“Hunter Sieben is probably the most athletic freshman I’ve ever had, and he’s going to have an outstanding career here at Ottawa Hills,” Lindsay said. “Nick Hauck is another very athletic young man with great anticipation skills. He can help us on the perimeter with his shooting.”
Cummings averages 5.4 points and 5.4 rebounds, and the other top sub is 6-1 senior forward Jack Hylant.
“Ellis has a tremendous amount of raw talent, and his ability to learn every day on the court is incredible,” Silverman said. “He has to take in so much new information every day, but he continues to grow as a player. He is a great addition to our team. He could be a game-changer.”
The Green Bears opened the season with a 56-51 overtime win at Liberty-Benton and suffered their only loss in overtime, 58-55, at Southview, a Division I team.
They have already beaten expected TAAC contenders Gibsonburg, Toledo Christian, Cardinal Stritch, and Maumee Valley.
Ottawa Hills has outscored opponents by an average 58-41 per game, shoots 57 percent on 2-point tries, 35 percent on 3-pointers, and 72 percent at the free-throw line.
“It’s definitely a mission for us,” Beans said. We’re constantly pushing each other in practice to get better, and we’re trying to never get complacent. We’ve made great progress. We play well as a team together, we’re getting better on defense, and we’ve been executing our offense better down the stretch in games.
“We just need to play a consistent four quarters of our best ball, and not let the other teams go on any big runs. Teams are going to be coming for us and giving us their best shot. So, we’ve got to be ready for them to bring their A-game every time.”