The big mystery on the City League boys basketball scene entering the 2005-06 season is not so much a "Who done it?" as it is a "Where are they now?"
And, if you're looking for a clue as to what happened - or why, how and when it happened - CL followers can point to a four-day stretch last March 3-6 at Savage Hall.
That's when and where the balance of power in the City League most likely made a drastic shift.
On March 3, Scott avenged an earlier 76-64 loss to rival Libbey by beating the Cowboys 75-64 in the Division I district semifinals. Then, on March 6, the Bulldogs, who had been thrashed by St. John's Jesuit in two prior meetings (74-50 and 70-51), rose up to stun the defending state runner-up Titans 64-62 for the district championship.
In a league that had already been rife with player transfers for several years, Scott's big wins under first-year coach Joe Suboticki helped restore its City League reputation.
Under longtime coach Ben Williams and his predecessor, Bunk Adams, Scott was the marquee power in the CL for more than two decades beginning in 1970. Much of Toledo's basketball talent resided in the Scott district and usually stayed there.
Some arrived there. The Bulldogs won 14 league titles in a span of 23 years and made six trips to the state final four, including a state championship under Williams in 1990.
In the early 1990s, veteran coach Ed Heintschel's St. John's Titans emerged as the league's team to beat, advancing to thestate final-four four times between 1993 and 2004, and winning 10 CL playoff titles in 13 seasons through 2004-05.
Also, in the late 1990s, coach Leroy Bates established Libbey as the league's top public-school program, a rise highlighted by the Cowboys' 25-1 state-semifinal run in 1999-2000.
Although Scott and Central Catholic and St. Francis de Sales occasionally knocked on the door near the top level, between 2000 and February of last year, the City League turned into a two-team race between St. John's and Libbey.
That race comes with more parity this season.
St. John's graduated three starters, including the league's two marquee players last year. B.J. Raymond and Zach Hillesland, who had been a part of the Titans' four straight CL titles (2002-05), are now at Xavier and Notre Dame, respectively.
Equally important, Libbey's star-studded underclassman roster of 2004-05, one that appeared destined to contend for the 2006 state title, has all but dispersed.
How did the Libbey potential unravel?
Junior star Nate Miles transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia in June, back to Libbey in August, became academically ineligible, and is now at Waite. Senior standout Chris Poellnitz, who has changed schools six times in high school, including to and from Scott twice, is now at Paterson Prep in North Carolina.
Seniors Terry Sandridge and Marcus Outlaw transferred to Scott, where they are expected to start. And, junior Phillip Pearson is still at Libbey but is academically ineligible.
That leaves Bates with just one of his top six players from last year's 16-7 CL runner-up, returning starter William Buford, one of Ohio's top sophomore talents.
Other notable transfers within the CL include Start senior Grant Maxey to Scott, former Bowsher player Chris Wyse to St. Francis, and Woodward senior Darren White-Owens to Waite. Wyse started for the Bowsher varsity as a freshman in 2003-04 and attended the Texas Marine Military Academy last year.
After the changes, how will things shake down?
First of all, Scott - which lost three talented starters plus three key subs to graduation and appeared ready for a little rebuilding - suddenly has three new transfer starters who hope to blend well with returning starters Kyle Lightner and Stephen Woodley. The Bulldogs were the preseason choice of CL coaches to win the league.
"Not to be cliche, but it's where you end up that counts," Suboticki said. "It's nice to be picked first, but it puts a bull's-eye on your chest. Everybody's going to be shooting for you. Our players are going to be getting everybody's A-game, and that leaves little margin for error."
Suboticki - who was not the first or second choice as a replacement for former Bulldog coach Earl Morris - acknowledges that his arrival was met with some opposition among longtime Scott basketball supporters, despite the fact that he had coached three prior teams in Ohio to state championships.
But Scott's fast start, and even more impressive finish, chipped away some of those barriers.
"It was very important to get off to that 12-0 start," Suboticki said. "That gave me some credibility, both with my detractors and with my players, as far as their buying into the system. I think they bought in early, but that start reinforced it and they took it to the next level."
"Winning the district was huge because that gave us some credibility [within the CL]. The kids [within the Scott district and around Toledo] are seeing the program winning again, and now they want to come here."
St. Francis returns the league's scoring champion from last year in Darryl Roberts (23.7 average), plus mixes Wyse in with four other letter winners. This pocket of talent rated high enough to be picked for second in the CL.
That leaves St. John's in an unfamiliar position entering 20005-06 - the non-favorite - after being voted No. 1 and winning the CL playoffs the past four years. The Titans are tabbed for third, but opposing coaches should hesitate in writing off Heintschel's team.
"The expectations are high for us no matter where we're picked," Heintschel said. "It's going to be an interesting year with these guys. A lot of them are going to have to play major roles they hadn't had to play before.
"When you have great players on your team, like we had the last few years, there's a bigger margin for error. This year we have good players, but not great, so the margin for error is less. The challenge is greater this year, but that's what makes it fun."
"People who really know us will not count us out. We won't be the favorite, but we won't be bad either. I think it's going to be an excellent year in the City League."
Libbey, even after the extreme makeover caused by the talent purge, still carries enough respect from CL coaches to be picked fourth in the poll.
Bates declined to comment about his team's personnel defections.
"What I'm doing is concentrating on those kids who are attending Libbey High School and making them the primary focus of our efforts. We want to continue to play at a high level, and that's our goal, pure and simple.
"This group has great team chemistry, a tremendous amount of potential and they have a great outlook on the season. There's no reason we can't do as well as we did last year. It'll just be a matter of how quickly they come together on the court. I have no doubts that the effort will be there every night."
Libbey's schedule may be the most challenging of all CL teams. The Cowboys open with Sandusky, and battle recent state powers Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Columbus Africentric, Dayton Dunbar and Canton McKinley.
"That's the only way you're going to get kids to play better basketball," Bates said of the daunting December.
Clay, Central, and an improved Waite team also figure to be lodged in the battle for the City League's fourth playoff spot.
Contact Steve Junga at: