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Published: Friday, 12/4/2009

City: Titans expect to reign; experienced Cowboys look to improve on last year

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Libbey welcomes back four starters, Lonacy Utley (34), Brandon Underwood (32), Maurice Taylor (30), and Delvin Williams (24), who are expected to be the major contributors this season. Libbey welcomes back four starters, Lonacy Utley (34), Brandon Underwood (32), Maurice Taylor (30), and Delvin Williams (24), who are expected to be the major contributors this season.
JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

In recent seasons there has been a clear favorite for the City League boys basketball championship, and typically those teams have lived up to their billing.

St. John's Jesuit was the most recent favorite to turn its perceived potential into title reality.

A year ago the Titans (20-6, 9-2), who returned five starters from a 17-7 City runner-up team the previous season, stumbled out of the blocks with a 5-5 start overall (1-2 CL). But coach Ed Heintschel's team regained its focus and rolled to 15 consecutive victories en route to a City championship and the school's sixth trip to the Division I state semifinals.

Entering this season, the role of favorite - based on the vote of the league's 12 coaches - promises to be much more of a wide-open chase.

Returning only two starting guards, Heintschel admits he is baffled by the fact that the Titans are picked to repeat.

St. John's garnered five of the 12 first-place votes and received 127 of a possible 144 voting points.

"People may say this every year, but I think the league will be really balanced," Heintschel said. "There will be multiple big games every [league] night, and there's probably 10 teams that could [have potential to] make the final four."

Five different teams received first-place votes, and the league-wide consensus is that as many as eight or nine teams possess the potential to compete for one of the league's four playoff spots.

Libbey, which earned three first-place votes, was slotted for second place at 116 points, closely followed by St. Francis de Sales (two first-place votes) at 113 points, and last year's regular-season trophy winner, Waite, at 102.

Next were Whitmer (98), which got one first-place vote, Central Catholic (95) and Start (77), which got one first-place vote.

Rogers (17-5, 8-3) and Scott are also acknowledged as reasonable playoff contenders.

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

Coach: Ed Heintschel, 31st season

Last season: 20-6 overall, 9-2 CL

Top players: Seniors Jay Springs, 5-11, G; T.J. Gillespie, 6-0, G. Juniors Cheatham Norrils, 5-11, G; Nick Felhaber, 6-1, G; Zach Steinmetz, 6-4, F. Freshman Marc Loving, 6-7, G-F.

Outlook: The Titans were the obvious choice as CL favorite last season, returning all five starters. But three-year starters Michael Taylor (CL player of the year), Tim Simmons and Tim Kynard have graduated, and repeating a City title will be much more difficult.

If the Titans do repeat, much of the reason will be the output of the veteran backcourt duo of third-year starters Springs (10 points, 3 rebounds) and Norrils (8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), along with the potential emergence of the highly regarded freshman talent, Loving. Gillespie, Felhaber and Steinmetz all contributed off the bench last year.

"We would be terrific in a 6-foot-3 and under league," said Heintschel (535-171 career). "The development of a post presence is critical. The perimeter should make us entertaining."

Coach: Keith McClure, second season

Last season: 9-13, 4-7

Top players: Senior Brandon

Underwood, 5-10, G. Juniors Maurice Taylor, 6-3, G; Lonacy Utley, 6-5, F; Delvin Williams, 6-3, G; Milan Mabry, 6-4, G; Chris Lawson, 6-5, F; Maurice Birdsong, 6-3, F.

Outlook: A young Cowboys squad took a few lumps early last season. But the majority of this group played on a 19-0 City championship freshman team in 2007-2008. This young core came of age during a surprising run to the D-II district final, where the Cowboys lost on a buzzer-beating

3-pointer in overtime.

They are tall, talented and, with four returning starters and five other letter winners back, have plenty of depth. McClure sees consistency and focus as they keys.

Taylor (15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds), Williams (6.4 rebounds) and Utley (5.9 rebounds) look to be top CL standouts over the next two years.

"This year's team has potential," McClure said. "We have good size and athleticism in all positions. We need some players to step up and contribute every game."

Coach: Nick Lowe, ninth season

Last season: 11-9, 6-5

Top players: Seniors Storm Stanley, 6-11, P; Kent Goldsmith, 6-1, W; Greg Fockler, 6-5, P; Brandon Focht, 6-0, W; R.J. Smith, 6-4, F. Juniors Dan Yodzis, 6-3, W; Ben Syroka, 6-0, PG.

Outlook: The Knights are one of the more experienced teams in the CL with four players back who started last season plus three other letter winners. Stanley (12.1 points, 9.1 rebounds) is a fixture in the post, and gets help inside from Fockler (four points, 5.3 rebounds). Goldsmith (8.5 points), Yodzis (five points) and Focht (4.5 points) combine to form a solid perimeter threat. Lowe sees team chemistry, experience and rebounding ability as the chief strengths, and points to a lack of overall team speed as a possible trouble area for a team that placed sixth in the league standings last season.

"As long as we buy into team first, they have the ability to be very successful, knowing that from top to bottom this league is as balanced as it's ever been," said Lowe, who brings a 99-60 career record into the season. "Our kids will continue to represent the St. Francis community in a positive way."

Coach: Dave Pitsenbarger, ninth season

Last season: 14-5, 10-1

Top players: Seniors Antonio Allen, 6-6, C-F; Luke Murphy, 6-6, C-F; Anthony Perrin, 6-0, G-F. Juniors Ke-Sean Harris, 5-11, G; Dishon Harris, 6-2, G-F; Tim Morehead, 5-8, G; Henry Newson, 6-6, F-C.

Outlook: The big graduation loss is that of all-district first-team member Darius Glover (18.6 points, 9.3 rebounds), but the Indians return three starters, three other letter winners, and have some strong additions. Back to lead the way are Ke-Sean Harris (15.8 points), Allen (8.9 points, 9.1 rebounds), and Dishon Harris (8.9 points, 5.4 rebounds), and Murphy should also be a strong inside presence.

The Indians have good overall size and quickness, are versatile defensively, and have a proven track record. They have gone 9-0 at home in each of the last two seasons. Pitsenbarger looks for improvement in patience and decision making, wonders if his team can utilize its post potential, and seeks a source for court leadership.

"If we play as a team offensively and continue our defensive efforts, we will have success," Pitsenbarger said. "We need some guys to step up and be true leaders. We have good talent and will succeed if we play like a family."

Coach: Bruce Smith, 19th season

Last season: 5-16, 3-8

Top players: Senior Mitchell Kosier, 6-5, F. Juniors Kenny Hayes, 6-5, C; Franklin Lindsay, 6-3, F; Dareon Jones, 6-4, G; Mike Szymanski, 6-0, G. Freshman Nigel Hayes, 6-6, F.

Outlook: The Panthers, a season removed from their surprising run to the 2008 Division I state semifinals, took a few lumps with a young and inexperienced squad a year ago. But Kenny Hayes (13.7 points, 7.9 rebounds), Lindsay (eight points. 6.5 rebounds) and Jones (seven points) provide a solid trio of returnees,

Szymanksi and Kosier also saw significant court time, and highly regarded freshman Nigel Hayes is projected to be one of the CL's top talents. Whitmer brings good size and physical strength to the court, but needs to improve on perimeter shooting.

"At some point in time, we expect to be very competitive," Smith said. "Hopefully, that occurs sooner instead of later."

Coach: Jim Welling, second

season

Last season: 14-8, 8-3

Top players: Seniors Nate Hobbs, 6-0, G; Corey Layson, 6-0, G; Marty McDonald, 5-10, G. Juniors Drew Lehman, 5-11, G; Jay Marquette, 6-3, F. Sophomore Tony Mays, 6-4, F.

Outlook: The Irish have just two returning starters and two other letterwinners. The biggest loss to graduation was Bruce Huntley (15 points, 6.7 rebounds), whose strong play was key in the Irish success. But Mays (9.4 points, 6.9 rebounds), Lehman (nine points, four assists), Hobbs (seven points) and Layson (four points) form a decent core to build around.

Welling likes his team's quickness, shooting ability and defensive fundamentals, but sees an overall lack of size and experience.

"We have a great group of kids who play hard and smart," Welling said. "But it's a very young group and we must stay healthy to compete for a final-four spot."

Coach: Ted Pasqualone, second season

Last season: 14-7, 8-3

Top players: Seniors Anthony Henderson, 6-2, G; Hank Oswald, 6-5, C; Devon Price, 6-0, G. Junior Jeff Copeland, 6-4, F. Sophomore DeMond Crisp, 5-7, PG.

Outlook: The Spartans reached the CL playoffs last year for the first time since winning the City championship in 1997, and they hope to challenge for the final four again behind three returning starters plus another letter winner. The biggest loss was the graduation of 6-9 post player Devin Russell (16.1 points, 12.8 rebounds), who has moved on to the University of Toledo. But the Spartans have last year's CL scoring champion Henderson (22.1 points, 7.5 rebounds) to lead the way, and Crisp (nine points, two assists) is solid at the point. Oswald (six points, six rebounds) adds post experience, and Copeland (nine points, five rebounds) has shown scoring potential on occasion.

The Spartans should be quick and athletic, and Pasqualone sees the potential for good perimeter shooting and disciplined play. With an overall lack of size, rebounding may be a trouble area.

"If Anthony Henderson is aggressive and Jeff Copeland plays big, I believe we will be extremely successful," Pasqualone said.

Coach: Joe Suboticki, sixth season

Last season: 7-14, 4-7

Top players: Seniors Deshawn Lee, 6-5, F-G; Austen Alabata, 6-8, C. Juniors Randy James, 6-1, G; Jordan Holmes, 6-3, G-F; Donovan McClain, 5-9, G; Mike Jones, 6-6, F. Sophomore Dontonio Kynard, 6-1, G.

Outlook: Despite have no letter winners back on a roster with 10 seniors, Suboticki is highly optimistic. Scott has good size, quickness and athleticism. His main concerns include the lack of experience and confidence at the outset. Long a perennial power in the league, 18-time City champion Scott seeks to break a three-year drought missing the CL playoffs after winning it all in 2006. The biggest loss to graduation was All-City first-teamer Vernon Freeman (20.1 points).

"We have a very strong schedule this year," Suboticki said. "If we can get out fast and get some big wins early, it should build confidence and carry forth through the season."

Coach: Earl Morris, third season

Last season: 17-5, 8-3

Top players: Seniors Quincey Caldwell, 6-3, F; E.J. Tucker, 6-3, C; Jordan Stewart, 6-0, F. Juniors Damond Powell, 5-8, G; J.R. Rayford, 5-11, G; Dominique Jackson, 6-1, F.

Outlook: The Rams narrowly missed the CL playoffs last year, losing a tie-breaker for fourth place to Central and Start. But they regrouped for a run to the Division I district final, and Powell (15 points) and Caldwell (nine points, 10 rebounds) return as starters. Tucker also saw significant court time last season. The biggest losses to graduation were sturdy 6-8 post player Dalante Heard (11.3 points, 10 rebounds) and point guard Traymone Camak (11 points).

Coach: Joe Guerrero, first season

Last season: 5-14, 3-8

Top players: Seniors Jerome Davis, 6-1, G; Austin Boisselle, 6-3, F. Juniors Robert Davis, 6-3, G; Justin Neptune, 6-0, G; Eric Daniels, 5-9, G.

Outlook: The Rebels make the transition from one veteran coach in John Rice to another one in Guerrero, who is heading up his third different CL team. He was 238-223 over a combined 22

seasons at Waite and Clay. Guerrero inherits three starters and two others who played last season. Robert Davis (17.6 points) was fourth in the CL in scoring a year ago and seventh in rebounding (8.6). Jerome Davis and Boisselle also bring experience.

Bowsher should show good team quickness and perimeter shooting skill, but an overall lack of size might prove troublesome for rebounding and post defense.

"They're adapting to a new system and a new coach, and it's going to take time," Guerrero said. "But I like our work ethic so far, and if we continue to improve I think we can be pretty good, and be competitive in the league."

Coach: Rob Belegrin, first season

Last season: 5-16, 3-8

Top players: Seniors Taylor Schabel, 6-3, F; Jordan Wamer, 6-5, F; Bruno Maretta, 6-3, G. Juniors Doug Waldmannstetter, 6-6, P; Kevin Gaskins, 6-1, G-F.

Outlook: Belegrin inherits a cupboard that is virtually bare in experience with no returning letter winners. The biggest losses to graduation were All-City first-team player Drew Kuns (16.1 points, 7.8 rebounds), Matt Swaim (13.8 points and Terrelle

Huggins (10.7 points).

Belegrin sees the potential for a decent inside presence with good size and bulk in the frontcourt, but the inexperience will be create challenges.

"We have decent pieces and good height and length, but you can't get around the inexperience," Belegrin said. "We've got a tough schedule and we're going to have to gain experience quickly. One good thing is they do work very hard."

Coach: Jason Moss, first season

Last season: 3-16, 0-11

Top players: Seniors Ray Hooker, 6-2, G; Antonio Dinkins, 5-9, PG; Vonnie Parker, 5-9, G; Weylan Carpenter, 5-9, G. Junior Brandon Wyatt, 6-3, F.

Outlook: Moss, who previously served two seasons as coach at Rogers before taking an assistant's position as Tiffin University, returns to Woodward, where he led the Polar Bears to a CL junior varsity title five years ago. Three starters plus two other letter winners return. But building confidence after a winless CL performance is the first step for Moss. Hooker (13.3 points) should lead the way on a team that needs to improve on its defense and ballhandling, and seeks to find some on-court chemistry. Players are adjusting to a third coach in four seasons.

"Turning around from 0-11 is our commitment," Moss said. "They want to leave that behind and look to the future. We will be competitive and work hard on and off the floor, and that's all I will expect of them."



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