With two returning starters from its Division I district championship team, plus three transfer players who started at other City League schools, the Scott Bulldogs were the consensus pick of the league's 12 head coaches as the favorite to win this year's CL boys basketball championship.
Coach Joe Suboticki's Bulldogs, who finished 19-5 last season with a loss to Solon in the regional semifinals, received six of the 12 first-place votes and 132 overall voting points in the poll.
St. Francis de Sales (16-6), which returns the City League's leading scorer in senior guard Darryl Roberts (23.7 average), received two first-place votes and 128 points.
Four-time defending CL playoff champion St. John's Jesuit graduated two All-Ohio players, with first-teamer B.J. Raymond now at Xavier University and second-teamer Zach Hillesland now at the University of Notre Dame. Both were freshman callups to the varsity and were part of all four league titles. With two starters back from last year's 19-4 team, the Titans still received three first-place votes, but were picked to finish third at 126 points.
Libbey, 16-7 last season, looked a lot like a potential state championship contender for this season when the 2004-05 season ended. But the Cowboys have been overhauled by transfers and departures. The Cowboys got just one first-place nod and 115 points for fourth in the poll.
Here is a look at all 12 teams listed in their predicted order of finish. Whitmer and Woodward tied for ninth in the poll.
Coach: Joe Suboticki, second year
Last season: 19-5, 8-3 CL
Top players: Seniors Kyle Lightner, 5-8 G; Stephen Woodley, 6-3 G-F; Grant Maxey, 6-6, F; Terry Sandridge, 6-1 G; Marcus Outlaw, 6-8 C; Lee Mark Swain, 5-6 G.
Outlook: Suboticki opens his second season at Scott after making great strides in 2004-05 with a 12-0 start and upsets of Libbey and St. John's in the district tournament.
With three starters graduated along with three top subs, his first challenge is blending returnees Lightner (7.4 points) and Woodley (6 points, 4 rebounds) in a starting lineup completed by three transfer players - Sandridge and Outlaw (from Libbey) and Maxey (from Start).
The Bulldogs are much taller and should have better rebounding ability and perimeter shooting this year. Although they lose some quickness overall, quickness is still a strength. Suboticki is most concerned with his personnel finding a cohesiveness and enough trust in each other to play the balanced basketball he prefers.
"If we blend together well and learn to trust each other on both ends of the floor, we should be pretty good," Suboticki said.
Coach: Nick Lowe, fifth year
Last season: 16-6, 9-2
Top players: Seniors Darryl Roberts, 5-11 G; L.B. McNeal, 6-4 P; Brian Martin, 5-10 W. Juniors Nick Meinert, 6-2 W; Marlon Price, 6-3 P; Chris Wyse, 6-4 G-W.
Outlook: In addition to having the CL's top scorer returning in Roberts (23.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists), the Knights have four other letter winners who contributed greatly last year: McNeal (4 points, 5 rebounds), Meinert (8 points), Price and Martin. Wyse started at Bowsher as a freshman, and played in Texas (18 points per game) last year. Seniors Jordan Knowles and Chris Petrie and junior Matt Meinert add depth.
The Knights have good size mixed with athleticism, and have the potential to score in many ways, according to Lowe, whose team lacks a dominant big man and needs to achieve a greater intensity at the defensive end to maximize its potential.
"Once again, the City League, from top to bottom, is very strong," Lowe said. "We hope to compete every night we take the floor."
Coach: Ed Heintschel, 27th year
Last season: 19-4, 11-0
Top players: Seniors Andrew Taylor, 6-7 F; Mike Floyd, 5-11 G; Jon Dunn, 6-3 G. Juniors Joe Jakubow-ski, 6-1 G; Brian Morrison, 6-5 F.
Outlook: City League foes should not count on a big decline from the Titans, even with the graduation of All-Ohioans B.J. Raymond and Zach Hillesland.
St. John's will build around returning starters Taylor and Floyd, each third-year varsity players. Jakubow-ski and Dunn also bring plenty of court experience. Senior DeAndre Ware adds quickness, and junior Brian Morrison (6-5) and sophomores Kyle Jazwiecki (6-6) and Bob Utrup (6-9) add size. Sean Patterson should bring more depth when he returns from ankle surgery.
The Titans will be a more balanced squad, and Heintschel (460-136) likes his team's potential on the perimeter. His biggest concerns are rebounding and replacing the scoring and competitive attitude supplied by Raymond and Hillesland.
"We should improve as the year goes on as the experienced players assume and grow into expanded roles," Heintschel said, "and as the younger players gain experience. I hope by the end of the year that we will be highly competitive."
Coach: Leroy Bates, 13th year
Last season: 16-7, 8-3
Top players: Senior Ryan Rayford, 5-9 G. Juniors Chris McCoy, 6-3 F; James Arnold, 5-9 G. Sophomores William Buford, 6-4 G-F; Brad Sandridge, 6-2 G; Julius Wells, 6-5 F.
Outlook: When the 2004-05 season ended, Libbey had the personnel in place to make a serious run at this year's Division I state championship. But much has happened since then. Junior Nate Miles, now at Waite, is ineligible and may not be allowed to play at all this season. Senior Chris Poellnitz (12.5 points) transferred to a prep school in North Carolina. Seniors Terry Sandridge and Marcus Outlaw transferred to Scott. And junior Phillip Pearson (10 points, 10.6 rebounds) is academically ineligible.
Still, Bates is confident the Cowboys will be very competitive. Buford (13 points, 7 rebounds) is one of the top sophomore talents in Ohio. Sandridge, Rayford and Arnold saw varsity action, and Wells and McCoy excelled at the JV level.
Although it is clearly an inexperienced group, Bates likes his team's depth at all positions, their chemistry, shooting ability, defensive skill and their hunger to prove themselves.
"This team will have to mature really quickly considering the strength of our schedule," Bates said. "We play [recent state powers] Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Columbus Africentric, Dayton Dunbar and Canton McKinley, all in the month of December. This team will be more focused as a group on winning than on individual achievements."
Coach: Joe Guerrero, 12th year
Last season: 15-6, 6-5
Top players: Seniors Wes Taylor, 6-6 P; Brent Graham, 6-0 G; Derek Spencer, 6-1 G. Junior A.J. Achter, 6-5 F.
Outlook: The Eagles return two starters (Taylor and Graham) plus three other letter winners from a 15-6 team that did not lose outside of the CL last year.
Taylor (13.4 points, 8.4 rebounds) is a proven post talent, and third-year starter Graham, a second-team All-CL football quarterback, is also a QB on the basketball court.
Spencer (6 points) has seen plenty of action off the bench for two seasons, and Achter should emerge as a top talent.
Guerrero likes his team's overall size and experience, but sees depth as a possible trouble area. He must also replace the leadership void left by the graduation of Brett McDougle (15.1 points, 7.8 rebounds).
"We have experience and height returning," Guerrero said, "however, we must develop some depth."
Coach: Paul Patterson, third year
Last season: 13-8, 5-6
Top players: Seniors Rashad Burton, 6-4 F; Kevin Jansen, 5-10 G; Kevin Boyle, 6-0 G. Junior Sam Bastian, 6-5 F.
Outlook: The first thing Patterson needs is more time to prepare. Several members of his team, including two of his four returning letter winners, are still playing football, having advanced to tonight's Division II state championship game.
But the coach likes his team's intensity, energy and improved athleticism, and was pleased with the work done in the offseason. Overall varsity inexperience, combined with the football delay, may make the first half of the season a challenging building process.
"If we can play as a team offensively and defensively, and take care of the little things, we should be very competitive in the City League this year," Patterson said.
Coach: Dave Pitsenbarger, fifth year
Last season: 2-18, 1-10
Top players: Seniors Mark Wortham, 6-0 F; Troy Murphy, 5-11 G; Bryan Burrell, 5-10 G. Sophomores Khari Riley, 6-1 G; Brent Meredith, 6-3 C; Ray Parker, 6-0 F.
Outlook: In his first year back last year after a three-year absence, Pitsenbarger decided to go with a youth movement, starting three freshmen. He hopes that move will pay off this season, as five starters and two other letter winners return.
Wortham (12.5 points) and Riley (10.2 points) lead the way, and the Tribe hopes to get contributions from senior transfer Darren White-Owens (from Woodward).
Quickness, depth and perimeter shooting should be pluses, while Pitsenbarger points to a lack of height, and overall offensive and defensive discipline as possible trouble areas.
"If everyone stays healthy, we should be very competitive," Pitsenbarger said. "It's a good group of kids in general. If they bring dedication and desire, this should be a positive year. We hope to surprise some teams."
Coach: Jason Moss, first year
Last season: 6-14, 2-9
Top players: Seniors London Cunningham, 5-11 G; Deron Williams, 6-0 F; Chris Murray, 6-2 F.
Outlook: A new coach and no returning starters may be the recipe for a poor season, but Moss is confident his team can put out a quality product. Four letter winners return and the Rams should be quick and athletic. Inexperience and a lack of height could be the major negatives working against this building process.
"We look to be competitive and to create team unity and build for the future," Moss said.
Coach: Bruce Smith, 15th year
Last season: 8-13, 3-8
Top players: Sophomores Kevin Koger, 6-4 C; Ryne Smith, 6-2 G.
Outlook: Inexperience will be an issue with no returning starters and just two letter winners back. Koger (6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds) and Smith (2.7 points) are the leaders coming in as sophomores. Jason Steele and Bryson Krueger should contribute to the rebuilding process, which is greater now with the loss to football injuries of top returnee Nick Specht and other probable starters DeWayne Frazier and Brett Keller.
Coach Smith likes his team's chemistry and unselfish nature, but knows the newcomers must acclimate to the varsity level.
"We must find a point guard and develop some depth to replace the losses from our roster," Smith said.
Coach: Corey Tucker, first year
Last season: 4-15, 2-9
Top players: Seniors Remont Barnett, 6-2 G; Thomas Fench, 6-2 F. Juniors Toney Gillard, 5-9 G; Shannon Grice, 6-1 G. Sophomore Marty Overton, 6-3 F.
Outlook: The Polar Bears return two starters plus two other letter winners, led by Barnett (6 points, 3 rebounds) and Fench (7 points, 6 boards). Tucker sees depth and athleticism as positives, and feels confident his team will play hard.
His major concerns are the lack of overall size and experience.
"We're a very young team that has to gain experience fast if we expect to compete for the [CL playoffs]," Tucker said.
Coach: Gil Guerrero, seventh year
Last season: 11-8, 6-5
Top players: Seniors Terrell West, 5-11 G; Adam Reny, 6-3 F.
Outlook: The Spartans' top player, Grant Maxey, transferred to Scott, leaving Guerrero with just one starter and one other letter winner back. So the strides made last year in nearly qualifying for the CL playoffs have been lost.
West (8.7 points) and Reny are the only players with significant experience on a varsity that has some depth. Guerrero is concerned his team may suffer from the lack of any proven point guards, perimeter shooters or rebounders, and his outlook on the season is guarded at best.
Coach: Keith Lowe, second year
Last season: 11-8, 5-6
Top players: Seniors Adam Crisp, 6-4 F; Jon Dixon, 5-8 G; Andy Williams, 6-5 C. Juniors Ken Hairston, 6-2 G; Dontay Smith, 5-11 G; Sean Woods, 6-3 F.
Outlook: The Rebels made good strides in the CL last year, and return three starters. Lowe sees good quickness and work ethic, but is concerned about his team's lack of size and depth.
"If we play as a team, shoot well, and have no distractions, we can be competitive," Lowe said.