JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
What Toledo Area Athletic Conference school has the best boys basketball team?
At first glance, the question seems simple enough. But the answer isn t nearly that simple.
A look at the standings shows two teams, Ottawa Hills and Toledo Christian, ahead of the rest. But there s no separation between the two, since both have identical 9-1 league records. And there s little difference in their overall records the Green Bears are 14-2, the Eagles 15-1.
They ve met twice and split a pair of hard-fought games. Ottawa Hills claimed a 43-38 victory on its home court in December, with the Eagles returning the favor with a 62-58 win in overtime at home last Friday.
If we played 10 times, we d play 10 games like the first two, Ottawa Hills coach John Lindsay said. The games include some great matchups, and both teams have some great competitors who have a great desire to win.
Toledo Christian entered this season as the favorite to win the TAAC title despite losing five seniors who played key roles on a 22-1 team that reached the Division VI district final.
They were a great group of kids, Eagles coach Dave McWhinnie said. They worked hard and did everything we asked of them. They were a special group.
But I was excited about this group too. When I first came to TC they were in fifth and sixth-grade, and I ve seen them have success. They have good guard play and good size, a good blend, and they are competitive.
McWhinnie knew the foundation for this year s team would be Ethan Michael, a 6-6 junior, who was the TAAC player of the year last season. He averages 13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Kyle Whitlow, a 6-1 senior who came off the bench last season, contributes 13.4 points per contest.
Kyle has been a tremendous leader he sets the tone for us, McWhinnie said. He does the little things, such as boxing out, so well, and he has an intense desire to win.
Ethan had a great year last year, and he has developed a mid-range jumper. But on the defensive end, he s a difference-maker. He s an intimidating force with long arms and great range.
Among those who have filled the holes left by graduation are seniors Grant Sims (10.9) and Carson Oostra, (8.5).
Grant has really stepped up his game and has played five or six really good games lately, McWhinnie said. Right now he s playing at an all-league level, and you can see his confidence rising.
Carson is hard to stop in transition, and he has picked up his level of athleticism [from last season]. I didn t expect us to press and use pressure as much as we have this season, but we ve done it because he s such a force in a press.
McWhinnie felt his team s early season loss to Ottawa Hills helped the Eagles become a better team.
We knew after that game we still had some work to do, McWhinnie said. We realized that, if we didn t work hard for a day or two, they would be getting a leg up on us.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
Neither team gives up an inch, and if you give either team an inch, they ll take it.
Lindsay said he entered this season confident the Green Bears would improve on last year s third-place finish.
I knew many of our players had really improved over the summer, he said. They put in a lot of work to improve their games in a lot of ways.
The leader has been Brent Abendroth, a 6-3 senior who averages 18.7 points per game.
The greatest quality Brent possesses is his competitiveness, Lindsay said. He has a deep desire to play at the next level, and both in the summer and in the season he works on his shot, his conditioning, and all the aspects of his game.
He also has been a great leader for us. He always competes hard in practice, but he takes [his competitiveness] up a couple of notches in a game.
Abendroth s scoring has been complemented by the 18.4 points per game of Philip Beans, a 6-7 junior who averages 11.9 rebounds. He leads the TAAC in both categories.
His work ethic is similar to that of Brent, Lindsay said of Beans. They both are very dedicated to improving their games. One of the biggest improvements Phillip has made is in his ability to run the floor, and he also has done better at getting rebounds outside of his area.
Sophomore Eliot Browarsky started at point guard as a freshman and has learned his lessons well. The 6-0 guard scores 12.1 points per game and adds 7.4 assists and 3.1 steals per contest.
I think Eliot is one of the best point guards in the area, Lindsay said. He has unbelievable court awareness and basketball sense, and he s a great competitor. He s a guy that you want on your team.
The Green Bears have shown depth as well, thanks to the development of seniors Armon Mohammadione and Matt Navarre, as well as junior Kevin Nugent.
At the beginning of the season, I thought depth would be an issue, Lindsay said. But some kids have really stepped up for us. One of those is Kevin Nugent, who is our best defender and who extends so many of our possessions because he wins the hustle plays. And he has improved his offense too.
Matt Navarre and Armon Mohammadione have added to our depth. They re really made great strides this year.
What has made this growing rivalry so interesting is the respect both teams have for one another. But both coaches also pointed out that neither holds any animosity for its rival.
There always has been a great deal of respect between the two teams, Lindsay said. But this year there are some friendships as well, and I think that s pretty neat.
In years past the two teams might have settled the score with a third meeting during tournament time. But Ottawa Hills has moved to Division III, while Toledo Christian remains in Division IV.
It might be fun to play them a third time, but I expect they will have a lot of success inDivision III, McWhinnie said of the Green Bears. One thing I do know: If we played again, it would be a great game.