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Published: Friday, 12/5/2008

City League: Titans, Rams among best

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Dalante Heard, a 6-foot-8 senior, is one big reason Rogers could challenge for the City League championship. Dalante Heard, a 6-foot-8 senior, is one big reason Rogers could challenge for the City League championship.
HERRALLONG / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge

With Libbey's two-year hold on the City League boys basketball crown most likely to end - with the graduation of the Cowboys' superb class of nine seniors and the retirement of successful 16-year coach Leroy Bates - the league's throne appears to be awaiting a new champion.

And, with all five starters returning for the league's runner-up of the past two seasons, St. John's Jesuit is the odds-on favorite to claim the 2008-09 championship.

At least that's what the consensus is among the league's 12 coaches, 11 of whom picked St. John's to finish first in a preseason poll.

The Titans, who were 17-7 overall (10-1 CL) last season, received 143 of a possible 144 voting points to outpoint Rogers, which claimed the other first-place nod and 116 points in the coaches' vote.

St. Francis de Sales (13-7, 7-4) was picked to place third at 113 points, and hard-luck Start (11-10, 5-6), which lost eight games by five points or less last season, was voted fourth at 107. Waite was fifth and Scott sixth in the voting.

The Titans are led by fourth-year varsity player Michael Taylor, a third-year starter. Junior Jay Springs and sophomore Cheatham Norrils round out a top-notch backcourt. Inside, St. John's boasts the solid returning 1-2 senior punch of 6-7 Tim Simmons and 6-3 Tim Kynard.

Rogers, in its second season under former Scott coach Earl Morris, has re-entered the conversation as a City League contender after more than a decade's absence of being in the league's upper half.

The Rams were just 6-14, 2-9 last season, but league coaches note Rogers' group of returning seniors, including 6-8 center Dalante Heard, Craig Short and Traymone Camak, as well as promising 5-8 sophomore guard Damon Powell, a potential CL star of the future.

"The thing that's turned around is that I've got the guys [seven letter winners] back for a second year," Morris said, "and we had a great turnout over the summer. They worked hard and played well, and the kids acted like they really wanted to do something. I think we can be as good as we want to be."

St. Francis graduated scoring leader and first-team All-City selection Kevin Henry (15.4 points) but returns three starters, including 6-11 junior post player Storm Stanley. Stanley committed to West Virginia during the summer but withdrew that commitment to coach Bob Huggins two weeks ago and will rejoin the recruiting process, according to Knights coach Nick Lowe.

Start must undergo an unexpected last-minute transition with the Nov. 24 resignation of coach Gil Guerrero, who was to begin the fifth season (11th overall, 103-81 record) of his second stint at Start. He accepted an assistant men's basketball coaching post at Owens Community College, where was already the men's golf coach

Ted Pasqualone, Guerrero's longtime assistant at Start, has been named the Spartans' interim coach.

Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:

ST. JOHN'S

Coach: Ed Heintschel, 30th season

Last season: 17-7, 10-1 CL

Top players: Seniors Michael Taylor, 6-1, G; Tim Simmons, 6-7, F; Tim Kynard, 6-3, F. Junior Jay Springs, 5-10, G. Sophomore Cheatham Norrils, 5-11, G.

Outlook: Heintschel (515-165 career) begins his 30th year with 11 CL championships and five state tournament appearances under his belt and much promise for another successful season. The Titans, runners-up to Libbey the past two seasons, are poised to claim the top spot. All five starters return from a team that reached last year's Division I district final.

Simmons (10.4 points, 8 rebounds) and Kynard (8.6 points, 6 rebounds) are a formidable inside tandem, and Taylor (11.8 points), Springs (7 points) and Norrils (6.9 points, 5 assists) are one of Ohio's top back-court trios.

Heintschel sees a desirable combination of experience, athleticism, size, speed and overall depth. His early-season hope is to develop some backup help in the front court.

"As long as we keep our minds and hearts clear, we should be OK," Heintschel said. "We need to develop some depth inside, and the perimeter guys need to play like the seasoned group they are."

ROGERS

Coach: Earl Morris, second season

Last season: 6-14, 2-9

Top players: Seniors Dalante Heard, 6-8, C; Craig Short, 6-5, F; Traymone Camak, 5-9, G; Jeren Morris, 5-9, G. Sophomore Damon Powell, 5-8, G.

Outlook: The Rams, who were perennial City League title contenders from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, have not reached the CL's four-team playoffs for more than a decade. But coach Morris, in his second year, hopes to create a level of play that he was used to during his six-year, 92-38 stint at Scott, which included one City championship (2001) and three runner-up finishes.

He returns five starters plus two other letter winners and sees a promising combination of size, rebounding potential and enough quickness to strengthen the Rams both offensively and defensively. Morris hopes his team can avoid turnovers by playing together and with patience.

"We could be a good team," coach Morris said. "It depends on how well we play together."

ST. FRANCIS

Coach: Nick Lowe, eighth season

Last season: 13-7, 7-4

Top players: Seniors Steve Yeager, 6-2, F; Jake Szenderski, 6-3, W; Brody Henry, 6-4, W. Juniors Storm Stanley, 6-11, F-C; Kent Goldsmith, 6-0, W.

Outlook: The Knights narrowly missed a CL playoff spot last season and appear to be a good bet to join the field this year with three returning starters plus four other letter winners returning. They will be without one of those starters, however, as 5-11 senior guard Jarrod Horton (8 points) will be ineligible for the first half of the season.

But, including Stanley inside, St. Francis has good overall size, and Lowe sees experience, perimeter shooting and the potential for balanced scoring as strengths. This should help offset a lack of overall quickness and a proven go-to scoring threat.

"We plan on being very competitive in a very balanced league," Lowe said. "The sooner we can all buy into 'team first,' the sooner we will be a threat. We will play tremendously hard."

START

Coach: Ted Pasqualone, first season

Last season: 11-10, 5-6

Top players: Seniors Devin Russell, 6-8, C; Marcus Gaines, 6-2, G; Burrow Alexander, 5-6, G. Juniors Anthony Henderson, 6-1, G; Hank Oswald, 6-4, F. Freshman Demond Crisp, 5-10, G.

Outlook: Pasqualone steps in on an interim basis for now with the late departure of former coach Gil Guerrero, who has accepted an assistant coaching post at Owens Community College. The first task will likely be restoring order to a team with much promise as a CL contender during the coaching transition.

Russell, who has committed to the University of Toledo, led the CL in rebounding last season at 12.9 boards per game and is a proven shot blocker. Henderson (15.5 points) is expected to be one of the league's top guards. But they are the only returnees from last year's team, so Pasqualone will be looking to cultivate a supporting cast.

"We are looking to be in the final four," Pasqualone said. "We feel we have two of the better players in the City with Devin Russell, who is committed to UT, and Anthony Henderson, who is looking for a breakout season."

WAITE

Coach: Dave Pitsenbarger, fifth season

Last season: 14-7, 8-3

Top players: Senior Darius Glover, 6-3, G-F. Junior Antonio Allen, 6-6, C. Sophomores Dishon Harris, 6-2, G-F; Ke-Sean Harris, 6-0, G.

Outlook: A year ago the Indians had their best season since reaching the City title game in 2001. But Pitsenbarger lost all five starters from that squad to graduation, including a pair of four-year regulars in All-City first-teamer Khari Riley (16.6 points, 9.3 rebounds) and second-teamer Brent Meredith (11.4 points, 6.8 boards). The coach will build around his top sub from last year - Glover (4.8 points, 2.9 rebounds), along with Allen (3 points, 3.3 rebounds) and the Harris cousins. Dishon (5.5 points) saw significant varsity action last year as a freshman.

The Indians have decent size, are fairly athletic, are versatile at both ends of the court and Pitsenbarger has seen good unity through summer league action and preseason practice. Inexperience may pose problems, and the team's quickness does not match last year's crew.

"We have a great group of student-athletes, however, we have increased our schedule strength over the past five years, and that will be a challenge," Pitsenbarger said. "Our players have continued to improve, both in the classroom and on the floor. The [CL] final four is not out of the question."

SCOTT

Coach: Joe Suboticki, fifth season

Last season: 9-11, 5-6

Top players: Seniors Tremayne Griffin, 6-4, F; Vernon Freeman, 6-3, W; Deon Richardson, 6-1, G; Damon Dotson, 6-0, W; Kendrick King, 5-10, F; Devore Clark, 6-0, G.

Outlook: The Bulldogs return no starters and only three letter winners from last year's squad, which posted Scott's first losing season in many years. Freeman (6 points) was a top sub last season. Griffin saw little court time. Much of the rest were junior varsity players, and Clark has transferred from Start.

Suboticki, who is 460-194 overall and 63-23 at Scott, will have his work cut out with this team's inexperience, lack of size and potential rebounding trouble. The Bulldogs will rely on quickness to offset some of their other weaknesses.

"We have eligibility problems in the front court," Suboticki said. "If they [eventually] become eligible, we will be a team to be reckoned with. Until then, we will have to claw and scrap for everything, which I think we will."

LIBBEY

Coach: Keith McClure, first season

Last season: 24-3, 10-1

Top players: Senior Brandon Ham, 5-11, G. Juniors Brandon Underwood, 5-10, G; Leondre Hawkins, 5-11, G.

Outlook: The Cowboys graduated perhaps the largest collection of talent one team has ever lost from one season to the next in CL history, and they also lost 16-year coach Leroy Bates, who retired his post after rebuilding the Libbey program into statewide prominence. McClure, who steps up from the freshman coaching position at Libbey, will probably need one rebuilding season with the Cowboys' bumper crop of sophomores before they expect to again compete atop the CL. Those seven sophomores were part of a 19-0 City freshman championship team last year, however, and are expecting big things in the future.

At first glance, McClure sees quickness, athleticism and versatility among his crew, and he hopes those qualities can help offset the youth and inexperience.

"A lot of teaching and developing will be necessary," McClure said. "We're going to prepare the boys to come out ready to compete every night."

CENTRAL CATHOLIC

Coach: Jim Welling, first season

Last season: 14-9, 7-4

Top players: Seniors Eric Bates, 6-0, G; Steve Becker, 6-5, F; Blair Hueston, 5-11, G; Bruce Huntley, 5-11, G; Nick Lewis, 5-9, G; Doug Williams, 6-2, F.

Outlook: Welling, the highly successful coach at Owens Community College, where his teams won more than 500 games and a national junior college championship, steps into a challenging high school situation for the second straight year. He was a late hire at Lake last season, inheriting a depleted varsity roster. This year, in moving to Central, he begins with no returning starters and just one returning letter winner.

Still, Welling remains optimistic. The Irish won the CL junior varsity championship last season, and the new coach likes what he's seen as far as quickness, athleticism and attitude. He hopes these things can make up for the obvious inexperience and lack of size.

"It's too early to tell," Welling said. "They're learning a new system with a new coaching staff. Chemistry will be the key to this year's success."

CLAY

Coach: Joe Guerrero, 15th season

Last season: 8-12, 4-7

Top players: Seniors Drew Kuns, 6-3, G; Terence Huggins, 6-2, F-C; Matt Swaim, 6-1, G; Terrelle Huggins, 6-0, G; Aaron Duncan, 5-10, G.

Outlook: Guerrero has three starters back plus three other letter winners. But 6-9 post player Zac Taylor (17.2 points, 9.6 rebounds) graduated and is now at the University of Toledo. And Eric Holmes, a potential third-year starter at point guard, injured his knee in football.

The Eagles are a little smaller but a little faster than last season and have good senior leadership. But an overall lack of height may pose serious problems with rebounding and defending inside.

"I think we'll be better than last year," Guerrero said. "It was so unpredictable last year because Zac was out about half the season [knee injury]. This year I hope we can be more consistent. We have to limit our turnovers. If we do that, we have a chance to be better than last year."

WHITMER

Coach: Bruce Smith, 18th season

Last season: 20-6, 8-3

Top players: Seniors Zak Teel, 6-2, C; Andrew Kroll, 5-10, G; Chris Baker, 6-0, F. Sophomores Ken Hayes, 6-5, C; Mike Szymanski, 6-0, G.

Outlook: The good thing for veteran coach Bruce Smith is that his team had a dream season last year, finishing 20-6 with the school's second ever trip to the Division I state semifinals. The down side is basically every player that made that happen has graduated, including Smith's son, Ryne, who is now playing at Purdue, and Kevin Koger, who started at tight end on the Michigan football team this fall. Teel (2.2 points, 2.1 rebounds) is the most experienced returnee.

Smith lists depth, overall size, competitiveness and attitude as team strengths, but he sees limitations with the inexperience, youth and back-court personnel.

"We hope to become more competitive as the season progresses," Smith said.

BOWSHER

Coach: John Rice, second season

Last season: 4-15, 1-10

Top players: Senior Mike Brownlee, 5-9, G. Juniors, Austin Boisselle, 6-2, F; Jerome Davis, 6-1, G; Troy Huebner, 6-2, F; Justin Neptune, 5-11, G. Sophomore Robert Davis, 6-2, G.

Outlook: Longtime coach John Rice (478-310) enters his second season at Bowsher with two returning starters, a new gym and three junior transfers (Jerome Davis, Huebner and Neptune) to help make a climb in the CL standings. Robert Davis was one of the league's top freshmen last year, averaging 14.2 points per game. Brownlee (4 points, 4 assists) also brings experience.

The Rebels should see improvements on perimeter scoring, defensive pressure and in the transition game. But with no player taller than 6-3, rebounding will be a challenge, and the team needs to develop the stamina to execute the full-time up-tempo style Rice seeks.

"We have a saying we abide by at Bowsher," Rice said. "Play hard, play smart, play together. If we do this, we can have a successful season."

WOODWARD

Coach: Darrell Dorn, second season

Last season: 2-16, 0-11

Top players: Seniors Robert Oliver, 5-10, G; Shejuan Wells, 5-7, G; Jack Mabrey, 6-9, C. Juniors Antonio Dinkins, 5-5, G; Ray Hooker, 5-10, G.

Outlook: Dorn enters his second season back at Woodward (four total years as head coach) looking to climb in the CL ranks. He has three returnees to help in that quest. Oliver (6 points, 6 rebounds), Wells (7 points, 3 boards) and Mabrey (4 points, 5 rebounds) provide a reasonable base, and a trio of freshmen - Dontonio Kynard, LaJorden

Kynard and Justin Allison - represent hope for the future.

The Polar Bears are quick, and Dorn has seen good chemistry. His chief concerns are inexperience and potential rebounding trouble.

"I really love my guys for being young men of character," Dorn said. "If we can continue to do the right things in life and the classroom first, we will have a great season on the floor."



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