July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Bulldogs should run off with crown

Predicted finish

1. Garfield Heights; 2. Strongsville; 3. Brunswick; 4. Elyria; 5. Lakewood; 6. Medina.

Garfield Heights boys basketball coach Sonny Johnson doesn’t think his team has the best backcourt in the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division.

“We have the best backcourt in the state,” the third-year head coach said.

That very well may be true, as 6-foot-4 senior shooting guard Robert Wilson already has  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 weren’t enough to make the Bulldogs the favorite to win the inaugural NOC Valley Division title, they’ve also added 6-5 senior forward Paul McQueen, who transferred to Garfield Heights after earning all-state honors at Lutheran East last season.

“As long as we play good defense, we should have a pretty good year,” 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.

“We have a lot of experience coming back, a lot of kids who have been in the program since they were freshmen,” coach Joe Lynch said. “We have great depth again, so we’re very fortunate. We have a lot of interchangeable parts, which will allow us to play a lot of full court.”

The Mustangs also aren’t shy about shooting, which could make for some memorable battles when they meet equally explosive Garfield Heights.

“We’ll run up and down and shoot a lot of threes,” Lynch said. “We’ll try to put pressure on and turn it into a numbers game.”

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 Noble’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.

“Experience we have, but our size is a little bit lacking,” coach Bob Walsh said.

Compounding matters, the Pioneers are now in a league that added Garfield Heights to traditionally strong Strongsville and Brunswick.

“It was tough before, but now it’s a lot tougher,” Walsh said. “We had enough to handle with the likes of Strongsville and Medina and Brunswick. Now, we’ve added to our woes. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out battle in the league.”

Lakewood (8-13) and Medina (10-11), which returns just two seniors, probably aren’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.

“Having a skilled post player, obviously most of our offense is going to be run through him,” Silva said. “We want to get better every single day. That’s our goal. By the end of the season, we want to be playing our best basketball.”

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.