On the map, Defiance College can be found roughly 50 miles southwest of Toledo. But there's plenty of evidence that Toledo is just a short drive from Defiance any time you look on the school's basketball court.
Several Toledoans have taken the hour-long drive down U.S. 24 to play a key role in the success of the Yellow Jackets, who have zoomed to a 12-5 record that includes a 7-1 mark - good for first place - in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Yellow Jackets coach Jon Miller said having Toledo players like C.J. Johnson, Anthony Pettaway, and Mike Floyd on his roster is by design.
"With our location, and our proximity to Toledo, we would like to be in Toledo enough to get the best basketball players at our level to play here," Miller said.
Johnson is a 5-10 senior who starts at guard for the Yellow Jackets. A graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School, Johnson leads the team in scoring with an average of 18.1 points per game. He ranks 22nd on the school's all-time list with 1,217 career points.
"C.J. was largely a point guard for St. Francis, so we didn't realize he would score as much as he has here," Miller admitted. "He always has been good at getting by guys and making plays in the lane, and it's a rare skill to be able to finish in the lane as he can.
"But he shoots the 3-pointer well, and that's something he has added to his game."
Pettaway is a 6-8 junior who played his high school ball at Bowsher. He averages 13.1 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per contest. A preseason Division III All-American choice by Basketball Times magazine, Pettaway already has four double-doubles this season.
"Anthony always was a pretty skilled guy for his size," Miller said. "He catches the ball well with both hands, and he can catch the ball in traffic. But he has elevated his game this year because of his conditioning.
"He has transformed himself physically, adding strength and muscle, and he continues to develop a consistent level of play."
Floyd is a 5-10 guard who graduated from St. John's Jesuit High School and starts opposite Johnson. Floyd, who joined the starting lineup at midseason, averages 6.3 points and a team-best 3.6 assists per game.
But the statistic that best explains Floyd's value to the team is Defiance's average of 84.6 points per game with him in the starting lineup. In the 11 games Floyd was not a starter, the Yellow Jackets reached 70 points just five times and surpassed 80 only once.
"The thing that Mike does exceptionally well is that he has a tremendous understanding of the game," Miller said. "He can create shots for other guys, and he can make plays, both on offense and defense, away from the ball.
Another local player making an impact for the Yellow Jackets is sophomore guard Heath Armstrong. The Fayette product averages 6.7 points per game off the bench and has made 39 percent of his 3-point shots, including six against Roanoke and five versus Mount St. Joseph.
"Heath probably is the best pure shooter on our team," Miller said. "His level of [shooting] confidence is beginning to come around.
"He may have identified himself as a scorer in high school, but he's beginning to find out he can do other things - be a good defender, dive after loose balls, run the floor - that gives us even higher hopes for him now and in the future."
Among the other local players in the Defiance program are Joe Nowak, a 6-3 junior who graduated from Woodmore, and Kasey Bodenbender, a 6-1 sophomore from Liberty Center.
"These guys all are assets to our program," Miller said. "And they bring another potential asset: they can help us recruit other area guys into this program."
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