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If there is one stark reality that jumps out with the start of the boys basketball season today, it is the tremendous talent void left by the graduating class of 2013.
With the possible exception of the substantial group of gifted players who graced the courts around Toledo in the mid-1970s, this area has never seen a stockpile of talent like the one that exited last March.
Taking a look back at the five-member All-Blade team of 2013 — Division I player of the year and Ohio Mr. Basketball Marc Loving of St. John’s Jesuit; D-I first-team All-Ohioan Nigel Hayes of Whitmer; Ohio D-II co-player of the year Vitto Brown of Bowling Green; D-I second-team All-Ohioan Mark Donnal of Anthony Wayne, and Michigan Class A first-team all-stater Jackson Lamb of Bedford — it was actually a more talented group than the Division I All-Ohio first team.
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The 6-foot-8 Loving (21.2 points, 8.4 rebounds) is now at Ohio State. The 6-7 Hayes (15.4 points, 8.7 rebounds) and Brown (23.7 points, 13.0 rebounds) are both at Wisconsin, and the 6-9 Donnal (18.0 points, 10.5 rebounds) is at Michigan.
The 6-6 Lamb (26.0 points, 10.9 rebounds), arguably the most explosive leaper in the group, was a surefire Division I basketball prospect, but instead opted for baseball scholarship at Michigan after also being selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
St. John’s Jesuit’s Ed Heintschel, who is 609-190 entering his 35th season, has seen all the best players from the area dating back to his first season as Titans head coach (1979-80).
He caught the end of Toledo’s supremely talented mid-1970s group while working as a high school assistant, played against the City League’s best while competing for St. Francis de Sales (1964-68), and remembers watching the great Butch Komives play for Woodward in the early 1960s.
“From a historical perspective, last year — and the previous couple years — will be viewed as really a golden era of basketball in Toledo,” Heintschel said. “Not only did you have four Big Ten kids, but you had a whole slew of really talented kids who went to Division I and Division II schools.”
As if the five-player All-Blade group wasn’t impressive enough, there was the Rogers Rams of the City League who advanced to the Division I state championship game behind the superb guard play of seniors Clemmye Owens (16.3 points) and Tony Kynard (15.5 points). Those two moved on to Bethune Cookman University in Florida.
Then there was Napoleon’s 6-5 Jordan Lauf (21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds), a D-II third-team All-Ohioan now at Toledo, and guards Austin Gardner (16.0 points) of St. John’s and Ricardo Smith (16.2 points) of Whitmer, both D-I Ohio honorable-mention selections who are at the University of Findlay.
Another honorable mention pick in D-I was 6-5 Central Catholic post player Keith Towbridge (11.5 points, 9.5 rebounds), who is now playing football at Louisville.
Finally, to round out this dynamic dozen seniors, there was 6-2 guard Eric Cellier (21.7 points) of Toledo Area Athletic League champion Toledo Christian; he was named to the Division IV All-Ohio first team.
“Historically, people will say, ‘Wow, how lucky we were to see that kind of talent,’ ” said Heintschel, who has guided six Titans teams to the Ohio D-I final four. “But I don’t think the cupboard’s bare. There’s still a lot of good talent around, just not those big names that we’ve had.
“Many schools have taken hits to graduation, but there’s still plenty of talent and should be a good quality brand of basketball for the fans in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.”
So who are the top players expected to rise to the top this season?
“We’re counting on Anthony Glover to step up for us here,” Heintschel said, “and I’m sure Central will have [DeShone] Kizer and [Nate] Harris in major roles. Findlay has several guys who are ready to step up, Anthony Wayne has [Matt] Fox, and I think [coach] Stan Joplin’s going to have a strong team at Springfield. In the City League, Bowsher has a good core of guys.
“Some of these guys have had limited roles and, once they are in expanded roles, they will be doing more than you’re used to seeing them do.”
Rogers’ run to the 2013 D-I state final followed Whitmer’s D-I runner-up finish of 2012, and the runs of Central Catholic and Rogers to the D-I and D-II state final four, respectively, in 2011.
Findlay is the choice of conference coaches to win the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, Scott is favored to win the City League, Springfield got the coaches’ nod in the Northern Lakes League, Rossford is the pick to win the Northern Buckeye Conference, Ottawa Hills is the clear title choice in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, and Archbold is viewed as the top contender to win the Northwest Ohio Athletic League.