Coming one nullified buzzer-beater away from a perfect 8-0 record on the day, the Columbus City-League South division was dominant going up against their northern foes. Highlighted by big wins from Africentric, Independence, Walnut Ridge and West, the South nearly pulled the upset of the century as Eastmoor fell one point shy of defeating powerhouse Northland.
Trailing 23-18 with 58 seconds to go, Northland forced a trio of turnovers, capped by a 6-0 run to shock the Warriors in the final seconds. As senior forward Jaylen Tucker's go-ahead put back lay in put Northland ahead 24-23 with six seconds remaining, Eastmoor senior guard Jahmal Hughes raced up court and launched a prayer from half court that found its way into the bottom of the net. However, Hughes was called for a controversial carry on the play, ending Saturday's festivities with a Northland win.
Now, let's take a look at some of the top players in action on Saturday.
City-League South standouts
Markel Wyche (6'4 Senior SF / West):
Leading all players in scoring on Saturday, Wyche's 16 points helped pace West in a convincing win over Linden-McKinley. A skilled forward with good size, Wyche is an above-average shooter from the perimeter that can also create his own shot closer to the basket. Wyche's most impressive qualities are his basketball IQ and shot selection, which helped the senior find open position to knock down each of his three shots from behind-the-arc on Saturday. Led by Wyche and senior forward Charles Holland, the once-dominant West Cowboys hope to return to relevance in 2013-'14.
Charles Holland (6'3 Senior SF / West):
Leading the city in scoring at 23.9 points per game last season, West's Holland had himself a solid outing on Saturday, going for 10 points and eight rebounds in a win over Linden. The 6'3 combo-forward is a high-level athlete that excels on the drive and is good at creating contact around the rim. With above-average court vision, Holland can play up to four positions on the floor, and is a reliable free-throw shooter when sent to the charity stripe. With questionable shot selection, West will need Holland to be more efficient this season given the scoring boost of Wyche and others.
Malik Breckenridge (5'10 Senior PG / Independence):
One of the top point guards in the area, Breckenridge had an outstanding performance leading Independence to an encouraging 32-23 win over Mifflin. A strong ball-handler with good vision, Breckenridge has underrated quickness and burst, and is really effective at setting his teammates up for open scores. Time after time on Saturday, Breckenridge blew past his defender, and kicked it out to an open teammate along the perimeter. With a trio of talented seniors, and sharp-shooting junior forward Kovien Dominaus, don't be surprised if the Sixers roar back to the top of the City-League South for the first time since 2003-'04.
John Pope (6'1 Senior SG / Independence):
The enforcer in the Sixers front court, Pope is a strong 6'1 guard that plays much bigger than his height. Tough as nails, Pope constantly got into the lane on Saturday, absorbing contact and finishing effectively at the rim. Showing to be a reliable shooter from the perimeter, Pope is an above-average ball-handler that can play up to three positions. With reliable scoring coming from Pope, Breckenridge, Dominaus and senior sixth-man Hassan Dawkins, Independence has the depth to be a force in the South.
Travon Hester (6'4 Senior PF / Briggs):
The leader on a Briggs team that looks to improve from an 8-14 campaign a season ago, Hester is one of the top post players in the city. Thickly built at 6'4, the senior has a wide frame and impressive footwork in the post. Using his drop step to seal defenders in the post, Whetstone simply had no match for Hester, who with the help of senior forward Malik Gore, led Briggs to a 32-23 victory. Hester showed a level of aggressiveness on Saturday that can be both a gift and a curse, as foul trouble limited his minutes in the second half. With seven seniors on the roster, look for Briggs to be one of the many surprising teams in the South this season.
Malik Gore (6'4 Senior SF / Briggs):
Hester's counterpart in the front court, Gore was Briggs' leading scorer on Saturday, showing a soft touch around the rim to go along with imposing strength. Similar to Hester, Gore is a thickly built forward who excels most in the paint. Filling in for Hester at the center position when the big man went out with foul trouble, Gore held position on the block for a number of tough rebounds. With the talented seniors in the post, and rising freshman Danny Corbett starting at the point guard position, coach Tony Rice has a few weapons to work with in 2013-'14.
James Manns (6'6 Soph. SF / Marion-Franklin):
Arguably the top sophomore in the South division, Manns was the top player on the floor in Marion-Franklin's comeback 32-28 victory over East. A legitimate threat in the post with his length and athleticism, Manns is a developing perimeter shooter that is best from mid-range at this point in time. With the transfer of standout junior forward Tony Anderson to dominant Oak Hill Academy and the graduation of now Kent State freshman forward Marquiez Lawrence, Manns and senior center Shakir Sims form the Red Devils new-look front court.
Shakir Sims (6'6 Senior C / Marion-Franklin):
One of the few players I hadn't seen before Saturday, Sims left a lasting impression with a solid showing in the post. With a wide body and good height, Sims has a soft touch around the basket and can finish with a defender hanging on his back. Cleaning up offensive rebounds for easy scores around the rim, Sims was a major key in the Red Devils' furious last-minute rally to take down East. Look for Sims and Manns, alongside talented guards Meechie Walker, John Montgomery and Jordan Cornley, to lead Marion-Franklin in 2013-'14.
Chris Byrd (6'2 Senior SG / South):
Exploding for 10 points in less than four minutes vs. Beechcroft, Byrd was the best player on the court in South's 31-27 victory over the Cougars. Byrd is a quick combo-guard that can attack the rim, as well hit consistently from the perimeter. Excelling more in a controlled team setting, compared to AAU and showcase basketball, Byrd is South's undoubted leader, and should help coach Ramon Spears continue the marvelous rebuilding job he has done with the Bulldogs.
Malik Harrison (6'5 Soph. SF / Walnut Ridge):
One of the top athletes in the city, Harrison is an explosive combo-forward that is continuing his offensive development. At 6'5 and 215 pounds, Harrison is an imposing force, and difficult matchup for defenses, given his length, quickness, and leaping ability. Paired with sophomore forward Tarik Wright and improving senior forward Marcellus Taylor, the Scots have a trio of lengthy contributors in the front court. The key to coach Jason Bates' swarming full court press, Harrison is an instant impact player for the Scots.
Tarik Wright (6'4 Soph. SF / Walnut Ridge):
One of the stars of the All-Ohio Fall League and City Series, Wright returns as one of the top sophomores in Central Ohio. One of the stronger forwards in the area, Wright is a difficult matchup for defenses, as he can either overpower smaller defenders with strength, or blow by slower defenders with underrated quickness. Showing improvement in his perimeter shooting, Wright is on pace to have a brilliant high school career with the Scots.
Jaquan Harrison (6'3 Junior SF / Africentric):
Arguably the top junior in the City-League, Harrison has continued to show improvement in all facets of his game. Leading Africentric to a big win over traditional power Brookhaven, Harrison did a little bit of everything for the Nubians. While his jump shooting is still a work in progress, Harrison has a level of athleticism that is just hard to find. Since the end of last season, Harrison has elevated his stock from a player with definite Division-I potential, to now a player that is a lock for a D1 program. While Africentric waits for junior transfer guards Chase Brown and Shawon Wilson's eligibility (each have to sit out the season's first 11 games due to transfer rules), Harrison will be looked at times to handle ball-handling duties for the Nubians.
Akil Cornish (6'2 Senior SG / Africentric):
Leading the area in three-point shooting in 2012-'13, Cornish returns as one of Africentric's two seniors on a team with worlds of potential. Deadly from the perimeter, Cornish is a streaky spot-up shooter that can get it going in a hurry. In the win vs. Brookhaven, Cornish knocked down three triples, highlighted by a catch-and-shoot from the top of the key toward the end of the first half. With athletes like Harrison, junior center Ulmer Manzie and springy sophomore Houston Smith, Cornish's ability to stretch the floor likens Africentric's chances of making a run for a Division-IV state championship.
Xavier Holston-Sims (5'10 Junior PG / Eastmoor):
One of Central Ohio's top junior guards, Holston-Sims was impressive going toe-to-toe with Northland guard Shemar Waugh in Eastmoor's gut-wrenching 24-23 loss to the Vikings. With incredible quickness and ball-handling skills, Holston-Sims and senior guard Jahmal Hughes compose a talented back court for the Warriors. Primarily a slasher at this point, Holston-Sims has a knack for getting into the lane and finishing difficult shots. Holston-Sims will be a key component on a team that went 16-8, and finished just one game behind Africentric for first place in the South a season ago.
Shamonty Manning (6'6 Senior PF / Eastmoor):
An athletic 6'6 post, Manning is one of several talented forwards on the Warrior roster. Showing fluidity around the basket, and a nice-looking shot form, Manning's match ups with Northland forward Jaylen Tucker and center Doug Taylor were intriguing on Saturday. Finishing around the basket on a number of offensive rebounds, Manning was one of the main reasons why the Warriors came within a controversial carry call of defeating the Vikings.
Jahmal Hughes (6' Senior PG / Eastmoor):
Eastmoor's heart and soul, Hughes, a three-sport athlete, was one of the top performers in the East High School gym on Saturday. Knocking down difficult after difficult shot, Hughes' three-point shooting and tough on-ball defense made a major difference in the battle vs. Northland. Knocking down a three from 27-feet to tie things at 18, Hughes showed a level of senior toughness and leadership that will pay dividends for the Warriors this season. In a division that had a 5th place team (Marion-Franklin) win a district title last season, watch out for Hughes' Warriors in 2013-'14.
City-League North standouts
PJ Wilkes (5'10 Junior PG / Mifflin):
A rising junior guard in the North division, Wilkes had an impressive showing going head-to-head with Independence's Breckenridge. An impressive ball-handler, Wilkes showed great perimeter shooting vs. the Sixers, knocking down a number of healthy threes. Under first year coach Mike Thornton, the Punchers will rely on Wilkes and junior combo-guard Stanley Jackson to compete in a division that isn't as strong as it used to be. Opening the season vs. OCC-power Dublin Coffman, the Punchers will know early on what type of team they have.
Stanley Jackson (6'3 Junior SF / Mifflin):
One of Mifflin's top athletes, Jackson had an impressive performance vs. Independence, showing glimpses of an all-around skill set. With a strong and athletic build at 6'3, Jackson can do a lot of good things for the Punchers, a team that lacks true height in the front court. With Wilkes and Jackson, coach Thornton has a few talented juniors on a team primarily consisting of seniors.
Aaron Adair (6'2 Senior PG / Whetstone):
The lone bright spot for Whetstone in a loss vs. Briggs was the senior guard Adair. Scorching the nets from behind-the-arc, Adair led the Braves in scoring and looks to be the go-to option this season. Losing sophomore Matthew Moyer and junior Chase Brown to transfers, Whetstone must rebuild with the talent they have now, and that starts with the senior Adair. A tough matchup on the road vs. the defending Division-II state champion Bishop Watterson awaits in the first full week of the season, which should give a glimpse of how tough the Braves should be in 2013-'14.
Jacob Craft (6'4 Senior PF / East):
One of several talented athletes on the East roster, Craft was a huge reason in the Tigers' near upset over traditional force Marion-Franklin. With good length and athleticism, Craft cleaned up a number of offensive rebounds for scores on Saturday, and did a fine job of defending the Red Devils' front court of Manns and Sims. Playing alongside senior first-team All-City selection JD Davis a season ago, Craft will be expected to increase his production in his last season with the orange and black.
Josh Chellers (6'2 Junior SF / Beechcroft):
One of the best pure athletes in the city, Chellers nearly helped Beechcroft rally back from an early double-digit deficit to South. At 6'2 and roughly 180 pounds, Chellers is a high-rising athlete that is still developing his perimeter game. Most effective in the open floor, Chellers can get out and defend along the perimeter, and is great at rising up for rebounds amongst taller players. On a Beechcroft team with limited depth, the Cougars will rely on Chellers for heavy production to compete in the North division.
Octavius Luke (6'2 Senior SG / Centennial):
Transferring from Northland, the senior Luke was the lone bright spot for Centennial in a double-digit loss to Walnut Ridge. With good court vision and ball-handling skills, Luke can operate as either a facilitator or scorer, depending on what the defense gives him. At a school where talented guards have ran the show for the last several years (see: Bucky Chenault, Boo Osbourne), Luke will be looked to for major production from either guard position in 2013-'14. With three difficult games in the first month of the season (Dec. 6 vs. Northland, Dec. 13 vs. Brookhaven and Dec. 14 at Dublin Coffman), Centennial will rely on its five seniors for production.
Shad Kimble (6'3 Junior SG / Brookhaven):
With Ohio Dominican commit Ronnie Williams out with an ankle injury, the junior Kimble was Brookhaven's lone consistent scoring threat on Saturday vs. Africentric. With good length at 6'3, and undervalued athleticism, Kimble is a knockdown shooter from the perimeter who can hit with a hand in his face. Kimble also commits himself on the defensive end, using his long wingspan to force deflections, leading to opportunities in transition. With the graduation of a talented class of 2013, Brookhaven will rely on Williams and a deep junior class to stay around the top of the North division.
Jaylen Tucker (6'7 Senior PF / Northland):
The last time Tucker played in the East High gym, the forward's tip-in at the buzzer sent Northland into the postseason with an astonishing seventh-straight City-League championship. Going up against a talented and hungry Eastmoor unit, Tucker would finish another missed shot in the final seconds, this time lifting the Vikings to a 24-23 victory over the Warriors. At 6'7, Tucker is an athletic specimen that can play both post positions, as well as step out to the mid-range area and shoot with improving consistency. Paired with lengthy sophomore forward Seth Towns, and junior center Doug Taylor, Tucker gives coach Sean Taylor an arsenal of weapons in the front court.
Shemar Waugh (5'11 Senior PG / Northland):
Undoubtedly the top point guard in Central Ohio, it was Waugh's stifling on-ball defense that helped Northland rally back from a five-point deficit in the final moments of Saturday's victory. With incredible foot speed and lateral quickness, Waugh is a jack-of-all-trades at the point guard position, operating primarily as Northland's facilitator on a team loaded with scorers. Committed to Ohio Dominican, Waugh performs at his best on the brightest stages, and should help Northland fulfill final four expectations this season.
Doug Taylor (6'8 Junior C / Northland):
Showing mass improvement as of late, Northland's Taylor was the top post performer on Saturday. With great length and underrated athleticism, Taylor's highlight play came in the middle of the second half on Saturday, when the junior rose up for a powerful two-handed poster slam on an Eastmoor defender. A week prior to the City preview, Taylor put on an excellent showing vs. Gahanna Lincoln, scoring, defending, assisting and making the most out of his minutes on the floor. On a senior-laden team, coach Taylor might just have the area's top front court with Tucker and his talented junior center.