Return of the Titans: St. John's predicted to regain dominance in City
There will most likely be a changing of the guard atop the City League boys basketball standings this season, and a familiar coach with five returning starters is expected to fill that slot as the season tips off tonight with a heavy slate of nonleague games.
What has not changed much is the bench presence of Ed Heintschel, the all-time dean of City League basketball coaches - both by length of service and number of victories.
As Heintschel enters his 30th season at St. John's Jesuit with a career record of 515-165, the table is presumably set for his latest group of Titans to make a strong run at the school's 12th City championship and later, perhaps, a strong Division I tournament run.
St. John's returns all five starters from a 17-7 team (10-1 CL) that lost to two-time defending City champion and Division II state runner-up Libbey in the City championship game and to Division I state semifinalist Whitmer in the district finals.
Back are seniors Michael Taylor, Tim Simmons and Tim Kynard, junior Jay Springs and sophomore Cheatham Norrils, a group that will collectively present a difficult combination of size, quickness, athleticism and battle-tested experience for its opposition this season.
But Heintschel warns that potential doesn't always evolve into success.
"The returning kids are talented, and the young kids coming up have complemented them," the veteran coach said. "However, the approach to practice and games needs tweaking. You can talk about potential and talent, but it comes down to working hard and doing the little things correctly. We are working on consistency in those areas."
Still, St. John's promising blend makes it the most likely successor to two-time defending City champion Libbey.
The Cowboys (24-3, 10-1) were just a fraction of a second and one fateful roll on the rim from becoming the City League's fourth boys basketball state champion last March 15.
Ultimately, however, they fell to Chillicothe in a 70-69 overtime heartbreaker on a buzzer-beating layup by the Cavaliers' Ray Chambers in the Division II state final at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Libbey graduated nine seniors from that team, including Ohio's 2008 Mr. Basketball, four-year Cowboys star William Buford, who is now calling Value City Arena home while playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Some of Buford's classmates are also under way in their college careers. Julius Wells led James Madison University in scoring with a 13.5 average through six games. Lance Jones and Rod Everage are playing at Ohio Valley University (Parkersburg, W.Va.), and Brad Burton is playing at Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College.
Their departure opened the door to what may be the City League's next viable statewide basketball power, provided St. John's lives up to its preseason forecast.
"Being picked to win the league is not totally new to St. John's," Heintschel said, "but it is to this particular group. We will get everyone's best game, which is not new either.
"These kids need to prepare, mentally and physically, for that. Whether we execute, that will determine living up to the expectations, or as I call it, 'The hype.'•"
No need to hype Heintschel.
As time has marched on, he has remained a constant on the City League sports scene.
He has won more district titles (11) and sent more players on to Division I college programs (15) than any previous City League coach.
Seniors Zach Hillesland and B.J. Raymond start at Notre Dame and Xavier, respectively, and sophomore Andrew Taylor has this year joined Raymond at Xavier after transferring from Division II Hillsdale. Joe Jakubowski is a starting sophomore guard at Bowling Green.
Last season, 2003 St. John's grad Brian Roberts concluded a superb four-year career at Dayton as that school's second all-time leading scorer.
Jonathan Dunn, a 2006 grad, was on scholarship as a redshirt freshman at Oral Roberts University last season before being released over the summer.
These six former Titans were each part of two St. John's teams that reached the state final four in Columbus, either in 2003 and '04, or in 2004 and '06.
Heintschel has matched former Scott coach and Ohio hall-of-famer Ben Williams with 11 City League championships and five state final-four appearances. Although his Titans have never captured a state championship, like Williams' Bulldogs did in 1990, Heintschel's teams have reached the state title game three times, falling shy in 1993, 1996 and 2004.
"The luxury of having this much returning experience remains to be seen," Heintschel said. "I have seen teams build on such experience, being runners up in the City and district and make it work for them and propel them to the next level.
"But simply having the experience does not guarantee that."
The Titans open tonight with a home game against Shaker Heights, and face Columbus Eastmoor tomorrow night in the Northwest Ohio Showcase at Central Catholic.