1. Garfield Heights; 2. Strongsville; 3. Brunswick; 4. Elyria; 5. Lakewood; 6. Medina.
Garfield Heights boys basketball coach Sonny Johnson doesnâ€™t think his team has the best backcourt in the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division.
â€œWe have the best backcourt in the state,â€ the third-year head coach said.
That very well may be true, as 6-foot-4 senior shooting guard Robert Wilson already hasÂ a full ride to play at Wisconsin, while 5-11 point guard Carl Jones, just a junior, has been offered scholarships by eight Division I schools, including Xavier.
Wilson, an athletic slasher and standout defender, averaged 16.5 points and 3.6 assists as the Bulldogs went 21-3 overall last season, won a Lake Erie League Erie Division co-championship and advanced to the Warrensville Heights Division I District championship.
Jones, the top-rated point guard in the state, averaged 16.2 points and 6.2 assists while shooting a school-record 42 percent from 3-point territory.
If that werenâ€™t enough to make the Bulldogs the favorite to win the inaugural NOC Valley Division title, theyâ€™ve also added 6-5 senior forward Paul McQueen, who transferred to Garfield Heights after earning all-state honors at Lutheran East last season.
â€œAs long as we play good defense, we should have a pretty good year,â€ Johnson said.
So should Strongsville, which went 19-5 overall a season ago, advanced to the Toledo Division I Regional and won a Pioneer Conference championship.
The Mustangs lost 20-point, 12-rebound man Danny Kelly and PC co-MVP Nate Korinchak from that team, but seven lettermen return from a squad that averaged 77.9 points a game.
First-team All-PC pick Tim Kamczyc (6-5, F, 19.5 ppg, 11 rpg) and guard Matt Fegan (14.5 ppg, 6.0 apg) top that list.
â€œWe have a lot of experience coming back, a lot of kids who have been in the program since they were freshmen,â€ coach Joe Lynch said. â€œWe have great depth again, so weâ€™re very fortunate. We have a lot of interchangeable parts, which will allow us to play a lot of full court.â€
The Mustangs also arenâ€™t shy about shooting, which could make for some memorable battles when they meet equally explosive Garfield Heights.
â€œWeâ€™ll run up and down and shoot a lot of threes,â€ Lynch said. â€œWeâ€™ll try to put pressure on and turn it into a numbers game.â€
Brunswick (18-4), which has won at least 15 games for eight straight seasons, will also be in the mix, as will Elyria (17-6) if it can develop its inside game.
The Pioneers return some talent in 5-8 point guard Promis Cabbil (8 ppg, 3 apg), 5-9 shooting guard Demetrius Dalton (15 ppg) and 6-4 forward Syrell Davis (7 ppg), but there are question marks on the interior.
Travis Nobleâ€™s status is uncertain due to injury, Tyler Harrell moved out of the district and Danny Noble, a 16-point, 10-rebound man a year ago, is now redshirting on the University of Toledo football team.
â€œExperience we have, but our size is a little bit lacking,â€ coach Bob Walsh said.
Compounding matters, the Pioneers are now in a league that added Garfield Heights to traditionally strong Strongsville and Brunswick.
â€œIt was tough before, but now itâ€™s a lot tougher,â€ Walsh said. â€œWe had enough to handle with the likes of Strongsville and Medina and Brunswick. Now, weâ€™ve added to our woes. Itâ€™s going to be a knock-down, drag-out battle in the league.â€
Lakewood (8-13) and Medina (10-11), which returns just two seniors, probably arenâ€™t legitimate title contenders, but both clubs should be respectable.
The Rangers will build around 6-6 center Kevin Knab, a fourth-year varsity player who averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds a year ago.
First-year coach John Silva, who plans to emphasize defense, also has four other lettermen, including guard Pat Barrett.
â€œHaving a skilled post player, obviously most of our offense is going to be run through him,â€ Silva said. â€œWe want to get better every single day. Thatâ€™s our goal. By the end of the season, we want to be playing our best basketball.â€