Ohio prep hoops: Columbus Africentric season preview

Africentric looks to return to the Columbus City-League Championship in 2014 - Zach Fleer-SB Nation

Falling two points short of a Columbus City-League championship a year ago, Africentric returns as a young and talented unit.

Taking Columbus Northland to overtime in the 2013 Columbus City-League Championship Game, Africentric quickly let the city know that the Nubians are here to stay. After a Division-IV state final four finish in 2012, coach Mike Bates and the Nubians are building a program that is nearing the level of the Northland Vikings. Led by an assortment of talented underclassmen, Africentric is looking to return to the City Championship for another shot at the dominant Vikings.

Key Players:

Jaquan Harrison (6'4 Junior SF):

One of Columbus' most improved players over the last three years, Harrison has had a successful offseason building up to a junior year with high expectations. Arguably Central Ohio's best athlete, Harrison has shown an ability to do more than just rise up for powerful finishes, showing improved ball-handling, perimeter shooting, and on-ball defense in the last several months. The junior is a tough matchup for most forwards, as Harrison's strength overpowers smaller defenders, while his quickness allows him to blow past taller forwards and centers. One of two returning starters, Africentric will rely on Harrison's all-around game to pace the Nubians to a shot at a city championship.

Ulmer Manzie (6'8 Junior C):

Africentric's other returning starter, Manzie has a high level of upside at the power forward/center position. At 6'8 and roughly 230 pounds, Manzie welcomes contact in the paint, and is an active rebounder. With developing perimeter skills, Manzie is best served with his back to the basket, and has been working extensively with coach Bates on his low-post offense. Going along with Harrison to visits at Cleveland State, Dayton and Indiana State in recent months, Manzie is a sure-fire Division-I prospect based on potential alone. Competing with All-Ohio Black over the summer, Manzie has seen an increase in his recruitment, which should only progress as the season goes on.

Akil Cornish (6'1 Senior SG):

Returning as Central Ohio's top three-point shooter, Cornish is a spot-up specialist known for stretching defenses. Leading the area in three-point shooting as a junior, Cornish has improved his overall offensive skill set in the offseason, most notably his ball-handling, which has helped him keep defenders off balance when he rises up for threes. Another one of Cornish's top qualities is his leadership, which the Nubians will need in a wide variety this season as he is one of two seniors on the roster. A top shooter with decent size and good academic standing, Cornish is a high quality Division-II prospect in Central Ohio.

Houston Smith (6'4 Soph. SF):

Another talented sophomore in a seemingly endless talent pool in Central Ohio, Smith is undoubtedly the best athlete out of all. At 6'4, Smith has ridiculous leaping ability and a long wingspan, which makes scoring around the basket that much easier. While his perimeter shooting is still a work in progress, Smith has shown to be more comfortable pulling up from the mid-range area and beyond as of late, something that hasn't always been the case with him. With the tools to be a lockdown defender and imposing scorer, the sky is the limit for Smith over the next three years.

Shawon Wilson (6'2 Junior PG):

Transferring from City-League South rival Marion-Franklin, Wilson returns to Africentric to provide the Nubians with much-needed guard play. At 6'2, Wilson has great size for the point guard position, coupled with good basketball IQ and an ability to attack the basket. Arguably Wilson's greatest strength is his versatility. Depending on the situation, Wilson can excel as a scorer or a distributor, while also being a physical on-ball defender. While transfer rules prohibit Wilson from participating in the Nubians' first 11 games, the junior will finally hit the hardwood in early January.

Chase Brown (5'10 Junior PG):

Another transfer guard, the flashy Brown comes in from Columbus' Whetstone High School. A little smaller than Wilson, Brown is a natural scorer with impressive ball-handling skills. Close friends with Northland shooting guard Ty Hairston, Brown's play style is very reminiscent of the Viking senior, as both guards can attack the basket with quickness, while also excelling with the step-back jump shot. Also forced to sit out the Nubians' first 11 games due to the transfer, look for Brown and Wilson to add experienced guard play that will help Africentric's chances in winning the South division for the second consecutive season.

Lorenze Gordon-Haynes (6'1 Soph. G)

Key Games:

Nov. 29 vs. Cleveland John Glenn

Dec. 7 vs. Cincinnati Summit Country Day

Dec. 10 vs. Columbus Walnut Ridge

Dec. 20 vs. Columbus Eastmoor Academy

Dec. 21 vs. Ironton HS (Ironton Classic)

Dec. 23 vs. Bloom Carroll

Jan. 17 vs. Columbus Walnut Ridge

Jan. 18 vs. Cincinnati Roger Bacon

Outlook:

With a challenging non-conference schedule, Africentric will know rather quickly what type of team they will be in 2013-14. With all the tools and talent to make a run to the state final four for the second time in three years, the Nubians must commit themselves on the defensive end to open up opportunities in transition. Once Brown and Wilson enter the lineup in January, look for the Nubians to really make a statement leading up to tournament time. With elite level athletes such as Harrison and Smith, a workhorse in the middle in Manzie, talented shooters on the wing, and a coach that gets the most out of his players, Africentric is more than capable of running through Ohio's Division-IV. As mentioned earlier, the Nubians must bring it each and every night on the defensive end, while playing turnover-free basketball to reach their ultimate potential. With the core of the roster returning after this season, keep an eye out on coach Bates' Nubians for years to come.

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