SportsInk.com is projecting Green, Nordonia and Wadsworth as the preseason top three teams in the Suburban League boys basketball race.
It's anybody's guess in what order they'll finish, but Green, Nordonia and Wadsworth are projected as the top three boys basketball teams in the Suburban League for 2011-12.
Nordonia is new to the league and might rise up and win it in Year 1. The Knights have seven seniors, led by forward Jarrett Ruffin and guard Nick Rodriguez.
Green returns two All-SL performers in forward Andrew Pratt, an outstanding three-sport athlete, and combo guard Evan Keeslar.
You could make a case that Wadsworth's 6-foot-6 senior Josh Kipfer is the best back-to-the-basket post player in the league. Kipfer has improved all phases of his game and is joined by five Grizzlies' football players, including All-Ohioan Jack Snowball.
Two-time defending champion Revere has lost plenty to graduation, but the Minutemen, riding a 28-game league winning streak, must remain in the conversation.
Tallmadge is a sleeper under the direction of first-year coach Aaron Hinkle. The Blue Devils also have a football flavor, which will translate to toughness on the floor as Hinkle implements his system.
Cloverleaf is taking aim for its first winning season in 24 years. The Colts have the deepest team they've had in years.
And based on last season, it would be a mistake to look past either Copley or Highland as second-year coaches at both schools continue to make their imprint on the respective programs.
Friday (Dec. 2) night openers include: Cloverleaf at Wooster, Firestone at Copley, Green at Stow-Munroe Falls, Hudson at Nordonia, Tallmadge at Twinsburg and Valley Forge at Highland.
On Tuesday (Dec. 6), Revere opens at Massillon Jackson and Wadsworth starts at Cuyahoga Falls.
Third-year coach Dan Brown believes the Colts are capable of registering the program’s first winning season since 1988.
With three starters returning, including senior point guard Zack Miglich (8.9 ppg, 3.2 apg), Brown anticipates being able to use as many as 10 players on a given night.
“This definitely is the best team we’ve had in my three years at Cloverleaf,” Brown said. “Zack is a special kid. He works so hard and his leadership is so great.”
Miglich has started all 42 games to date under Brown, and with All-Ohio football standout Robby Buckwald (10.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 23 3-pointers) back in the fold, the Colts certainly expect to improve upon last season’s 4-17 (2-12 SL) posting.
Buckwald is a junior and along with junior J.D. Schleich (5.0 ppg) gives the Colts a nice nucleus.
Brown said freshman point guard Cliff Collyer is ready for varsity basketball and at times will join Miglich in the backcourt.
Six-foot-4 senior Dylan Weese has returned to the hardwood after a year away and will get the nod at center.
Senior Cody Geisler is a 6-foot-1 swing player and should be in the starting lineup as well.
Second-year coach Mark Dente has graduated most of his height from last year’s team, but does return plenty of backcourt experience. The Indians were 10-11 (6-8 SL) last winter and lost to Lakewood in a sectional opener at Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
Copley stunned Green and Stow-Munroe Falls last season, but could not sustain its success into February.
Junior guard Jalyn Tyler was invaluable a year ago coming off the bench and will have to shoulder a bigger load in 2011-12. Senior guards C.J. Chatman, Alex Kormushoff and Devon Reif all have played big-game minutes.
At 5-foot-8, Chatman is a premier athlete and difficult to defend off the dribble. The Indians will be challenged to rebound the ball.
The Bulldogs, under 14th-year coach Mark Kinsley, expect to again contend for the SL title. Green has an excellent mix of size, skill and athleticism returning from last season’s 18-5 (10-4 SL) squad, which lost to Stow-Munroe Falls in the Copley Division I District championship game.
“We didn’t get off to the start we needed to last year and it hurt us,” Kinsley said. “We talk about it all the time: consistency. We have to be ready starting on day one.”
Senior combo guard Evan Keeslar (11.3 ppg, 3.8 apg) had 27 points in a sectional win over Nordonia last March and has an uncanny ability to get to the rim. Senior post Andrew Pratt (10.5ppg, 7.2 rpg) lists at 6-foot-5 and is one of the best overall athletes in the league and should rank among scoring and rebounding leaders this winter.
Pratt is an all-league wide receiver in football and a state finalist 400-meter runner in track. Kinsley said Pratt has had an outstanding preseason.
Six-foot-5 junior forward Dan Fanelly (4.8 ppg, 58% from the floor) is a rising talent, while senior guard David Lebo (26 3-point goals) is one of the SL’s best 3-point shooters. Junior center Josh Pritchard (6-foot-6) can score and is primed to contribute.
Junior Mazen Hasan and sophomore Nick Reale anticipate most of the point-guard work. Look for freshman guard Austin Marciniak, a 3-point threat, to be in the rotation.
Kinsley said he plans to use nine players in the first quarter of Friday's (Dec. 2) opener at Stow-Munroe Falls.
It’s a good news-bad new situation at Highland where Mike Marcinko gets set for his second year at the helm.
Senior wing and an honorable mention all-district performer Chad Sedio has decided to forego basketball and will focus on baseball, having signed with Miami University of Ohio. Sedio averaged double figures last season when the Hornets finished 7-14 (4-10 SL).
Easing the loss of Sedio is Cleveland Benedictine transfer Luke Heben, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, who anticipates taking over for graduated John Alexander. Heben is projected as a true point and has overcome some knee problems to stay on the floor.
The Hornets return 6-foot-5 junior Austin Adams – a big-bodied, inside-out player with 3-point range.
Marcinko is going to be working several young players into the fray as Highland begins to rebuild its program.
The Hornets lost to Parma Normandy 52-38 in a sectional opener to end last season.
Don’t underestimate what Nordonia will bring to the Suburban League party this winter.
Third-year coach Matt Cash has a strong nucleus, including seven seniors, returning from last year’s 14-8 (7-3 NOC) squad, which lost to Green, 61-54, in a Copley Division I sectional championship game.
Seniors Jarrett Ruffin, an athletic 6-foot-5, double-double caliber player, and Nick Rodriguez, a dangerous perimeter shooter, both were honorable mention all-district picks last winter.
Scrappy senior guard Patrick Osborne is a cross country state qualifier, while junior lefty Chris Scott at 6-foot-6 is a load on the block.
"The players know each other and they know our system," Cash recently told Record Publishing. "We're also extremely athletic and quick. Our weakness is depth in the post. Other than Chris Scott and Jaylyn Osbey (6-foot-4 senior), we're thin in the post areas."
Cash is a Green graduate.
Having guided the Minutemen to back-to-back undefeated (14-0) Suburban League championship seasons , 10th-year coach Dean Rahas is rebuilding his team this winter after graduating nine seniors, including all-stars Larry Nance (16.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and D.J. Bettinger (14.1 ppg, 4.8 apg).
Nance now plays at the University of Wyoming and Bettinger is at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Revere does return 6-foot-5 senior Mitch Ruetty, senior 3-point marksman Mark Mockbee and 6-foot-6 junior post Jason Tretter.
The District and Akron Touchdown Club Coach of the Year, Rahas had the Minutemen in the Brecksville Division I District championship game each of the last two season, falling both times to private-school power Lakewood St. Edward.
Revere has won 28 straight Suburban League games and was 21-2 last season.
First-year coach Aaron Hinkle must have felt like he was under water holding his breath.
Anxious to begin retooling the storied tradition of Tallmadge basketball, some of Hinkle’s most experienced returners also were instrumental in the Blue Devils’ championship football campaign which lasted until Week 12.
Then his 6-foot-5 senior post Tucker Linder (Kent State baseball signee) had one final all-star football appearance on Thanksgiving Day – and caught two touchdown passes.
With one week until the start of the regular season, Hinkle could finally exhale. Lake Center Christian, where Hinkle served as head basketball coach the last two years, doesn’t have football.
“We’ve had everybody together for nine practices and two scrimmages,” said Hinkle, a former assistant at Green under Mark Kinsley. “We don’t have everything in, but regardless we’re going to tip it off Friday.”
After a rough 5-16 (4-10 SL) posting last winter, the Blue Devils do have the pieces to make life miserable for the rest of the league.
Quarterback/point guard Anthony Gotto is a junior and potentially one of the top backcourt players in the Suburban League.
Hinkle believes 6-foot-5 senior Nate Jackson “might surprise some people.” Jackson had an excellent preseason, according to Hinkle.
Senior 3-point shooter Eli Baker and senior guard Mike Strand, having recovered from a wrist injury, give Tallmadge experienced guards.
While Wadsworth’s football team advanced to the Division I, Region 2 championship game, boys basketball coach Mike Schmeltzer, Jr., saw an opportunity to develop a host of talented sophomores during preseason.
“I’ve been pleased with what we’ve gotten out of those guys so far,” said Schmeltzer. “It’s a learning experience and it’s going to be helpful down the road.”
That group -- including Barry Fernholz, Anthony Palacek, Eric Perebzak, Kyle Prunty, Tucker Robinson, and football player Martice Jackson – is the future of Wadsworth basketball.
“Those minutes are invaluable to a sophomore,” Schmeltzer said.
The Wadsworth coaching staff has encouraged its first-year varsity players to understand the advantage of having a 6-foot-6 senior center in Josh Kipfer.
Kipfer, a third-team all-district selection last season, averaged 16.8 points per contest as the Grizzlies finished 15-7 overall, 9-5 in the Suburban League.
“If we can work through him, we’re definitely going to have open looks,” Schmeltzer said.
Kipfer put himself through an intense offseason preparing for his senior campaign.
“Kip spent a lot of time in the weight room. He’s gotten stronger. He played a great AAU schedule this summer, which I think playing against that good competition helped him develop more of an outside game. I expect big things out of him this year.”
Four senior football players -- Brett Baughman, Chester Foth, Tyler Perry and Jack Snowball – have practiced basketball for about a week.
“The thing about those kids is: going to a region final game in football, that’s got to help them,” Schmeltzer said. "They are pretty physical kids. And you know, when you play so many sophomores you are going to lack some physicality. So, that will help us for sure.”
Snowball is the All-Ohio Division I Co-Offensive Player of the Year in football.
The Grizzlies did move their opener from Friday, Dec. 2, to Tuesday, Dec. 6.