Falling one game short of a berth in the state semifinals a season ago, Gahanna Lincoln sent away a decorated group of seniors. Losing Akron freshman forward Aaron Jackson, some in Central Ohio were skeptical about whether or not Gahanna could return to such prominence in 2013-14. Led by Michigan State commit Javon Bess, a player that has exploded onto the scene in recent months, the Lions feature a balanced lineup complete with all the pieces necessary for a run at a state championship.
Coach: Tony Staib (10th season)
Javon Bess (6'5 Senior SG): Signing his national letter of intent with Michigan State on Wednesday, Gahanna's Bess has established himself among Ohio's top players in the class of 2014. At 6'5, the combo-guard has great size for his position and desired versatility on the defensive end. Being able to guard positions 1-4, Bess is a defensive stalwart, using his long wingspan and quick feet to stifle opposing ball-handlers. On the offensive end, Bess has greatly improved his perimeter shooting, and can be virtually unstoppable when he catches a rhythm. Bess is one of the Midwest's top rebounding guards, a tendency picked up from a junior season that saw him operating primarily in the post. Playing in the shadows of Aaron Jackson as a junior, and Caris LeVert as a sophomore at Pickerington Central, Bess finally gets his chance to shine as a senior with the Lions. Look for the Spartan commit's leadership to pay dividends down the stretch on a fairly young unit.
Manny Powell (5'9 Senior PG): One of Central Ohio's top point guards, Gahanna's Powell is a player that can do a little bit of everything. With a natural score-first mentality, Powell has adapted to the point guard position fairly easily over the course of his high school career, and has developed into the assist man that the Lions desperately need. One of the area's top shooters, Powell is deadly using his pull-up jump shot, and can extend his range well beyond the three-point line. Incredibly quick, the shifty senior is a terror in the open floor, often times setting up teammates for high-flying scores. Criticized for his questionable decision making in the past, look for a much more mature and composed Powell to lead a talented Lions team on the offensive end.
Matthew Moyer (6'7 Soph. PF): Transferring to Gahanna from Columbus' Whetstone High School, Moyer has made a meteoric rise in the recruiting universe during the offseason. After a shaky freshman season with the Braves, Moyer's performance on the AAU circuit with the VCC Ohio Warriors, coupled with a growth spurt and improved athleticism, has resulted in a sharp increase in high-major interest. Holding offers from Dayton, Detroit, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin, Moyer is one of Central Ohio's top sophomores in an absolutely loaded class. At 6'7, the sophomore has a very high motor and is balanced on the offensive end. Showing improvement as a perimeter shooter, Moyer is an above-average slasher and can be a terror on the offensive glass. Leaking out in transition and running the floor with ease, expect Moyer to grow into an even more dangerous player this season under the guidance of Bess and the rest of the seniors.
Nick Ward (6'8 Soph. C): Fresh off a knee injury suffered in June, Ward is easing his way back into midseason shape. A traditional post, Ward rarely shies away from contact, and makes up for average athleticism with a killer tenacity in the post. Constantly fighting for space under the rim, Ward provides great length and a rebounding edge every time he steps out on the floor. Paired with Moyer in the front court, look for Gahanna to have one of Ohio's most formidable 1-2 punches around the rim. Starting as a freshman a year ago, look for Ward to continue to mature, which will only mean good things for the Lions going forward.
Corey Howard (5'10 Senior PG/SG): One of Gahanna's more unheralded contributors, I expect Howard to be a key component to a team with the potential to go very far. With the senior in the lineup, the Lions are much more efficient offensively, as Howard brings toughness, leadership, perimeter shooting ability, and a reliable ball-handler to take pressure off Powell for intermediate stretches. Entering this season as a first-year starter, look for Howard to receive an interest in recruiting, as Division-II schools should certainly have him on their radar.
Keith Scowden (6'6 Senior PF)
Alonzo Campbell (6'10 Junior PF/C)
Dez'Juan Wright (6'1 Junior SG)
Jenisys Battle (6'3 Junior SG)
Junior Arrey (6' Soph. SG)
Braden Foulke (6' Soph. SG)
Nov. 29 vs. Columbus Brookhaven
Dec. 13 vs. Newark
Jan. 10 at Pickerington Central
Jan. 11 vs. Westerville Central
Jan. 19 at Kettering Fairmont (Flyin' to the Hoop)
Jan. 24 at Newark
Jan. 25 vs. Mansfield Senior (Play by Play Classic)
Feb. 14 vs. Pickerington Central
With one of Ohio's most talented rosters, I expect coach Staib to have the Lions prepared to play high quality basketball from the jump. Led by the modest Bess, the Lions are a humble team highlighted by top of the line work ethic and togetherness. With a tough non-conference schedule including match ups against four Columbus City-League opponents (Brookhaven, East, Eastmoor and Independence), Gahanna also runs into match ups with Duquesne commit Eric James and Westerville Central, Kettering Fairmont, host of the Flyin' to the Hoop tournament, and Mansfield Senior at the Play by Play Classic. In the toughest division of the Ohio Capital Conference, league games vs. Jordan Dartis and Newark, Ohio State commit Jae'Sean Tate and Pickerington Central, and a talented Reynoldsburg team should make things interesting come February. With a roster stockpiled of Division-I talent, Gahanna must continue to work hard as a unit and not let egos get in the way of progress to fulfill lofty expectations for 2013-14. Often teams, the best teams are characterized by their best player, and this is exactly the case for Gahanna. As Bess has exploded onto the high-major scene in the later stages of his high school career, expect the Lions to reach their ultimate potential late in the season, and at the perfect time.