Veteran basketball coach Joe Suboticki isn t sure his Scott Bulldogs have arrived just yet, but he s certain they ve come a long way since the start of the season.
If they get to the place he s pointing them to, they may live up to their preseason hype as the City League s top dogs.
With Tuesday s 73-47 win over visiting Lima Senior, Scott has climbed to 15-1 overall, a perfect 9-0 in the CL, and a No. 6 ranking in the Ohio Division I poll.
Building that lofty status, to this point, was as simple as closing an open hand. And, reaching their goal of making the state tournament inColumbus will require clenching that hand into a tight fist.
Scott stunned Libbey and St. John s Jesuit to win last year sD-I district championship.
But the Bulldogs, who were 19-5 last season, returned only one full-time starter, 5-foot-8 senior guard Kyle Lightner, and one part-time starter, 6-3 senior forward Stephen Woodley.
But, with an influx of three senior transfers from within the City League, and its veteran roster (nine seniors, two juniors), Scott became the championship choice in the CL coaches poll.
Living up to that prognostication started with blending players from three schools into one lineup.
Guard Terry Sandridge and 6-8 post player Marcus Outlaw came over from rival Libbey, and standout 6-6 swingman Grant Maxey arrived from Start.
Anytime you have guys with different personalities and egos, it s hard to blend them together, Suboticki said. It took some time. We were going in separate ways at the beginning. In the middle, maybe two or three were going in the same direction.
Now we re getting to the point where most of the guys are blending together. The chemistry s a lot better, and it s showing.
Although the wins have piled up with just one setback at a holiday tournament in New York the product on the court is a work in progress. At one point, after not seeing his players reaching their collective potential, Suboticki used a simple visual aid to emphasize a point.
We ve kind of gotten to that [unselfish team play] gradually, Suboticki said. One day I put my fingers out and said, We ve got five guys going out in different directions. We need to be more like a fist, with everybody going toward the same goal. Slowly but surely, we re getting to that point.
Suboticki wasn t the first coach to use this speech, and he won t be the last. But his Bulldogs apparently have gotten the point.
On Jan. 27, they broke from an early fourth-quarter tie to take a 67-56 win over Libbey at Savage Hall. On that same court four nights later, the Bulldogs hit 12-of-12 fourth-quarter shots in building a 16-point lead and holding on for a 66-61 victory over then fifth-ranked and previously unbeaten St. Francis de Sales.
Scott had revealed some of the excellence Suboticki was searching for. Now the coach looks for more.
We can score, we can play half-court, and we can play full-court, Suboticki said. We have some versatility. But we really haven t played four quarters yet. We ve played real good halves, or real good first quarters or third quarters. But we haven t put four together yet.
In big games, you ve got to do that. Hopefully we can come up with a couple of those.
Lightner leads Scott at 16.3 points per game, and is the chief playmaker with 4.4 assists per game.
Everybody didn t think we were going to get along that good or play together like a good team, Lightner said. But right now we re gelling like nobody can beat us. We re a good team now.
My coach told me I had to be a leader. I had to bring them back together. We were like an open hand, and now we re like a fist. We re stronger than ever.
The multi-dimensional Maxey is averaging 15.8 points, a team-best 9.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots. He has emerged as Scott s go-to guy.
It didn t take that long, he said of blending. It just took a couple times when we played good teams to realize that we can t win without each other. We re all good players individually, but together we re the best.
It s just [a matter of] not being selfish. If everybody on the team is trying to get each other some points instead of themselves, then everybody does well. That [fist concept] means together we can do anything, but separate we won t win nothing.
Woodley, who averages 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds, is a strong 3-point threat, hitting 17 from beyond the arc.
We just had to start working as a family, Woodley said. As one, not as individuals. We started doing that.
Sandridge, contributes 7.7 points, and the imposing Outlaw adds 5.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and has blocked 2.0 shots per game.
Sandridge is kind of the guy who sets the table, and he makes the 3 if you leave him alone, Suboticki said. He s settled in to playing his role in getting everybody involved.
Outlaw is coming around the last few games and, if he continues to do that, he can be a real dominant inside presence on defense.
Off the bench, guard LeeMark Swain has been a solid pentrator and emotional spark, while backup guards Irmon Young (5.1 points), Vio Snow (5.5 points) and 6-6, 240-pound reserve center Dominic Bracey have also made solid contributions.
Where the Bulldogs go from here depends on how closely they can pull together down the stretch during the City League playoffs and state tournament trail. How tightly they can close the fist.
Challenges await. The next big one comes Feb. 17 against four-time defending CL champion St. John s at Savage Hall. The playoffs (semifinals and final) at Savage Hall are Feb. 21 and 23.
The Bulldogs, St. John s (14-2, 9-0) and St. Francis (14-1, 8-1) have already clinched playoff spots, with the 1-2-3 seeding order still to be determined by pivotal St. John s-St. Francis and Scott-St. John s matchups. Libbey and Start are battling for the No. 4 seed.
We got together early and discussed what our goal was, Suboticki said. We re striving to get to Columbus [state tourney]. Whether we get there or not, I don t know. It takes a lot of luck, some good calls by the refs, and you can t have a bad night or have the other team have a great night.
There s a lot of things involved in getting there, so it s a difficult thing to do. But that s our goal and we ve tried to attack the season like that. The season s a journey, not a sprint, and the kids have bought into that [philosophy].
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.