The regular season officially gets underway this week with most teams beginning on Friday, and the excitement in the area is beginning to build as we get closer to tip-off. Last season, it was Garfield Heights who made the trip down to Columbus, but with one of the best senior classes in recent memory moving on, let's take a look at how things will shape up this year as we bring you the NEO Spotlight Division One preview!
Marreon Jackson (Garfield Heights) 5'11 Sr., G - Jackson is as dynamic of a point-guard that you will find in the state's 2017 class. The senior is known for his flash and shooting ability, but as he enters his final go-around with the Bulldogs, he will be asked to lead a group that will be without some key pieces early on.
Tommy Schmock (St. Edward) 6'0 Sr., G - The Findlay University commit was the Eagles first option on offense just a year ago, but Schmock finds himself in a new role this season. With the graduation of Sean Flannery, Schmock will be asked to facilitate an Eagles offense that has the ability to put up some big numbers.
Naz Bohanon (Lorain) 6'5 Sr., F - Bohanon's motor and competitive spirit make him one of the most competitive athletes in the state. Practically a walking double-double, Bohanon is the catalyst behind a balanced Titans attack. The 6'5 forward is the top uncommitted senior in the area and has a tough decision lying ahead of him.
Kyle Young (Massillon Jackson) 6'7 Sr., F - Young is the returning scorer and rebounder for Jackson who sits at the top of our Division One rankings. His versatility and athleticism make him a tough get for any team in the area, Young will be suiting up for the Butler Bulldogs next season.
Derek Culver (Warren Harding) 6'9 Sr., F/C - When he's engaged, Culver is arguably the top player in Ohio. Throughout the preseason, the 6'9 big man has exerted his dominance on both ends of the floor, having impressive showings against some of the state's top programs.
Darryl Straughter (Canton McKinley) 5'9 Sr., G - The lone starter from last year's regional finalist team, Straughter will be asked to lead a young McKinley team as they try to regain a Federal League crown. The senior guard has the ability to score the ball in bunches and should finish among the area's best in that category.
Shawn Christian (Garfield Heights) 5'11 Sr., G - Arguably the top shooter in the area, Christian and Marreon Jackson combine to be one of the state's best duos. The future Cleveland State signee enters his senior season with an improved game and a chip on his shoulder.
Yahel Hill (Cleveland Heights) 6'0 Jr., G - After performing at a high level this summer, Hill earned a handful of Division One offers. Hill is a smooth guard plays with a pace that is unmatched by anyone in his class, and as he enters his third year as the Tigers' lead guard, Hill appears ready to get his squad over the hump.
Logan Hill (Massillon Jackon) 6'5 Sr., F - Hill, along with Kyle Young and Jaret Pallotta, combine to form the state's top frontcourt. Hill adds toughness and the ability to protect the rim. At 6'5, the Toledo commit is an elite leaper and his motor makes him a guy that you have to put a body on every position.
A.J. Gareri (Akron Ellet) 6'9 Sr., F - Coming off of an injury that sidelined him for the majority of the summer, Gareri has been cleared to play and ready to pickup where the Orangemen left off last season. At 6'9, Gareri is a multi-dimensional big capable of leading his team night in and night out.
Ben Geschke (Medina) 6'1 Sr., G - Geschke, a Spring Arbor University commit, knows when to pick and choose his spots on the floor as he tends to find a balance in creating opportunities for himself and teammates. With the graduation of Jon Teske, Geschke will be asked to be more assertive this season as the Bees look to get back to the district finals.
Dale Bonner (Shaker Heights) 6'1 Jr., G - Bonner is one of a handful juniors that I expect to break out in 16-17 season. With a pair of teammates opting to transfer, Bonner finds himself transitioning from the wing to the point-guard spot, a place where he should excel. The lengthy guard has a good feel for the game to go along with his ability to bother primary ballhandlers on the defensive end of the floor.
Jaylen Harris (Cleveland Heights) 6'5 Sr., F - While the football world is eager to see where the four-star wideout will be heading next season, Harris enters his third year with Cleveland Heights on the hardwood. His freakish combination of size and athleticism makes him one of toughest players to deal with at the forward slot.
Matt Davet (St. Ignatius) 6'6 Sr., F - Davet is a smooth operator with his back to the basket. He has a great air of mitts and solid footwork that gives him a lethal combination of primary and counter moves from the low-block. After losing a strong class from last season, Davet will find the ball in his hands a lot more throughout the year.
Austen Yarian (St. Ignatius) 6'8 Sr., F - Last season, Yarian was able to earn a starting role and play a significant part in the Wildcats success. The 6'8 forward possesses a unique skillset that makes him a dangerous distributor and scoring threat out of the high post, Yarian announced his commitment to Hillsdale College back in October.
Luke Schaefer (Medina, 6'3 Sr., G/F), Andrew Ziegler (Warren Harding, 6'3 Sr., G), Jack Korsok (Mentor, 6'2 Sr., G), Nathan Fox (North Canton Hoover, 6'4 Sr., F), Jason Steele (Solon, 6'1 Sr., G), Matt Dimitrijevs (Brecksville-Broadview Heights, 6'1 Sr., G), Jared Bazil (Brecksville-Broadview Heights, 6'5 Sr., C), Austin Brenner (Copley, 6'1 Sr., G), Eli Blackledge (North Canton Hoover, 6'7 Jr., F), Christian Guess (Shaker Heights, 6'5 Jr., G), Coryon Rice (Stow-Munroe Falls, 6'0 Jr., G), Omari Peek (Strongsville, 6'5 Jr., F), Alfonse Hale (Maple Heights, 5'11 Jr., G), Sincere Carry (Solon, 6'0 Jr., G), Collen Gurley (Archbishop Hoban, 6'2 Jr., G), D.J. Dial (Brush, 5'9 So., G)
In 2010, Massillon Jackson won the state championship by a score of 57-34 over Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller. Six years later, the Polar Bears find themselves in the top spot of some preseason polls, including ours. Coach Debevec returns Kyle Young and Logan Hill, who both earned All-State honors a year ago, and a number of players with experience on last year's district finals team. Juniors Jaret Pallotta and Ethan Stanislawski join the two bigs and their athleticism adds a new dynamic on the defensive end that wasn't there last season. Kyle Nicolas, a Ball State University baseball commit, is a consistent deep threat that will round out the starting lineup. The Polar Bears have had some impressive showings throughout the preseason and they are hoping to carry over some of that momentum as they get ready to take on the Federal League and a tough stretch of non-league matchups.
In a year where Donald Trump has been elected as President of the United States and the Cleveland Cavaliers win the city's first championship in a combined 147 seasons, the most shocking outcome of the year may have come when Coach Flannery placed three freshmen in the varsity rotation. While it may not be quite to that extreme, St. Edward has turned some heads with their roster changes. Freshmen Grant Huffman, Devontae Blanton, and Montorie Foster join sophomore Demetrius Terry as underclassmen who will see time this year. The Eagles have a combination of youth and experience that is only rivaled by St. Vincent-St. Mary. Coach Flannery has assigned Tommy Schmock the task of running the show as he transitions into the team's lead guard spot. Seniors Kelvin Calhoun and Jack Sullivan will join Schmock in the team's starting lineup as they did a season ago.
The regional tournament has proven to be a mountain that Lorain High has just not been able to climb. In the last two seasons, they have fallen short of making their first final four appearance since the Admiral King and Southview merger, but Coach Rositano and company are out to make sure it doesn't stay that way. The Titans followed up an impressive summer in which they won the Earl Boykins Summer League by playing at a high level throughout the month of November, oftentimes playing without seniors Naz Bohanon and Daesean Brooks who helped lead the football team to a regional final appearance. The team combines an unselfish brand of basketball on the offensive end with a gritty, tough-nosed defense on the other end. Sophomores Devon Grant and Taevon Pierre-Louis join a close knit group of seniors in their chase for a state title.
The Raiders of Warren G. Harding will look to push the tempo and use their athleticism to put pressure on opposing defenses. The team added Mike Hughes from Youngstown Ursuline and Andrew Ziegler from Renaissance School at Olympic in North Carolina. The two backcourt runningmates help fill a void left behind by senior Gabe Simpson, the school's all-time leading scorer. Simpson and 6'7 Shakem Johnson are two key pieces that Coach Vlajkovich will be without as he enters his 5th year of coaching. Senior Derek Culver understands the task that lies ahead and has embraced the challenge with open arms. The 6'9 West Virginia commit has been locked in all month long, dominating games on both ends of the floor. The Raiders play as tough of a schedule as anyone in the area, and it should pay off as they look to be the last team remaining in a stacked regional.
No one may have taken a bigger hit from last year than the Wildcats. Kyle Kalish, Deven Stover, and the Berger brothers combined to make up one of the area's most explosive offenses. Without the size and length of last year's group, the team dynamic changes quite a bit as we enter the new year. Seniors Matt Davet and Austen Yarian provide a high-low attack as they will be accompanied by an assortment of new faces. Devin Jackson was the team's backup point-guard last season and will be asked to step up as a facilitator. Jackson has a number of quality shooters around him, led by senior Michael Spear. Luke Wiskes has been sidelined this preseason, but the 6'4 junior is a fluid athlete who runs the floor and brings additional size and length to complement Davet and Yarian.
Last season didn't go as planned for Cleveland Heights as the Tigers fell victim to the brute strength of their schedule. Similar to a year ago, Coach Holmes is fortunate enough to have a number of strong, athletic forwards in the frontcourt with Grayson Green, Tyreke Smith, and Jaylen Harris. Green, the least experienced of the three, is coming off of a breakout offseason where both he and Yahel Hill had to go out on the floor without some key pieces due to football. With Smith and Harris gearing up for camp and practice on the gridiron, the team watched juniors Javon Roberts and Cory Hicks blossom. The team's achilles heel last season was their lack of options in the backcourt, and their success will be determined by whether or not they will get consistent efforts from their bench and supporting roles.
It is difficult to envision the Garfield Heights Bulldogs basketball team without Frankie Hughes and Willie Jackson, two of the program's most accomplished players, but it will become a reality later on this week as the team begins the regular season. Marreon Jackson and Shawn Christian return from last year's starting five and are two upperclassmen who will have no choice to lead by example, especially early on. The team will be without Leonard Cottrell, Donovan Forte, and Brison Waller for the first 11 games of the year. Julian Whiteside and McRay White will see an increase in their responsibilities from a year ago as the two enter the team's starting lineup for the first time in their careers. The Bulldogs will have two of the best guards on the floor in every game they will play this season and will certainly hold their own until their frontcourt trio is able to return. Come late January/early February, Garfield Heights will have all of the pieces in play to compete for their third consecutive final four appearance.
North Canton Hoover is looking to bounce back from a season that was cut short in the district tournament by the hands of Canton McKinley. The Vikings feature a duo of talented bigs on the inside with Nathan Fox and Eli Blackledge, son of head coach Todd Blackledge. The two combined for an impressive 50 points in last week's four-point win over Mentor in the school's annual foundation game. Senior wing Cameron Telesz is a skilled wing with the ability to change the outcome of games with his versatility and scoring ability. With the Federal League once again being one of the state's most competitive conferences, the Vikings should be battle tested come March.
After a 64-62 loss to Solon in last season's district final, Mentor enter the 2016-17 season with a great amount of depth and experience. While the team lacks a traditional inside presence, senior Allen Simms and junior Tadas Tatarunas, also the team's starting quarterback, fit effortlessly into the uptempo style of basketball that the Cardinals are accustomed to playing. Jack Korsok will serve as the team's first option on the offensive end and the crafty senior guard will be joined by Manning Trubisky and junior sharpshooter, Caden Kryz. Xavier Cheek will see an increase in his minutes from a year ago and freshman Luke Floriea will provide the team with another primary ballhandler.
The Bees enter their first season without their former centerpiece in Jon Teske, but Coach Chris Hassinger returns a strong core from a year ago that will compete in a well-balanced Greater Cleveland Conference. Seniors Ben Geschke and Jackson Sartain provide an outside punch that will be tough to match, and Luke Schaefer's inside-out game will round out the team's offensive attack. With Teske's departure, Tyler Kaminski slides into the starting lineup and the 6'7 junior brings with him a much needed inside presence.
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