As barbecues all across Central Ohio will be firing up for graduation parties this weekend, the conclusion of yet another talented basketball class is coming to fruition. With dozens upon dozens of talented student-athletes making the next leap forward, let's take a look at where Central Ohio's top prep stars will be headed for college.
Jae'Sean Tate (Pickerington Central) - Ohio State
Ohio's top senior, Tate was off to a monstrous senior campaign before season-ending shoulder surgery in February. Tate moves on to Ohio State where he will likely be an energy guy off the bench as a freshman (we discussed how he might fit in next season in greater detail here). He was a major contributor on a Pickerington Central team that won a Division I state championship in 2012.
Javon Bess (Gahanna Lincoln) - Michigan State
Arguably Ohio's most-improved senior, Bess moves on to Michigan State where the 6'5 combo-guard will have a great chance to crack the starting lineup as a freshman. Bess, once a Pickerington Central Tiger, led Gahanna Lincoln to a district runner-up finish this past season, while being named Ohio's AP Division I Co-Player of the Year.
Kevin Vannatta (Upper Arlington) - UNC-Asheville
After leading Upper Arlington on a magical run to the state final game, Vannatta moves on to UNC-Asheville. Committing prior to his senior season, Vannatta played with a clear head and monstrous chip on his shoulder, putting up incredible numbers in the district, regional and state tournament to bring the Golden Bears to within a crazy buzzer-beater and overtime period from being state champions for the first time since 1937.
Eric James (Westerville Central) - Duquesne
The highly skilled and explosive James will take his talents to the Pittsburgh area to play at Duquesne next season. Leading Westerville Central to a district runner-up finish, James looks to have a successful college career as the 6'5 small forward is a versatile scorer capable of getting hot at any minute.
Danny Hummer (Upper Arlington) - Air Force
Vannatta's co-pilot in a historic run to the state championship game, Hummer realized his Division I dream, committing to Air Force earlier in the month. After a nagging hip injury nearly ended Hummer's career last summer, the 6'1 floor general made an amazing comeback as a senior, motivating not only his teammates, but the entire Upper Arlington community in the Golden Bears' magical run this past March.
Connor Kern (Pickerington Central) - Arkansas State
Originally committing to Division II Wheeling Jesuit, Kern continued to work, and work, and work, eventually landing a Division I offer from Arkansas State. The sharp-shooting Kern was a major factor down the stretch for Pickerington Central, leading the Tigers to a district championship despite Tate's absence.
Josh Gantz (Bishop Ready) - UMass-Lowell
The most under-publicized Division I signee in Central Ohio's senior class, Gantz' all-around productive play was a major factor in Bishop Ready's run to a state semifinal finish this season. At 6'6, Gantz is a skilled combo-forward whose senior leadership and toughness played a major role in Ready's inspiring run.
Matt Lehmann (Bishop Watterson) - West Virginia (preferred walk-on)
One of several key seniors in a legendary Watterson class that produced back-to-back state final appearances, highlighted by a state championship in 2013. Lehmann's perimeter shooting was key for Watterson the past two seasons, stretching defenses and playing a vital role in a suffocating zone defense that fueled the Eagles' great success the past two seasons. Lehmann moves on to West Virginia as a preferred walk-on.
Ronnie Williams (Brookhaven) - Ohio Dominican
Brookhaven's spiritual and emotional leader in the Bearcats' historic final season in program history, Williams moves on to Ohio Dominican. Literally keeping the Brookhaven program alive with clutch performances in key wins vs. Northland, Walnut Ridge, and South, Williams was as important as anyone to his team this season. Williams ends his career as the last player to be named to first-team All-State in Brookhaven school history.
Charles Holland (West) - Tiffin
Central Ohio's leading scorer the past two seasons, Holland will take his talents, both on the football field and basketball court, to Tiffin next season. Scoring more than 1,300 points in his final two seasons, Holland ends his career as one of the greatest players in a rich West program history.
Kwamel Wade (Westerville Central) - Ohio Dominican
Taking his game to a completely new level as a senior, Wade joins a talented class for first-year Ohio Dominican coach Dan Evans. WIth the help of James, Wade was a vital piece to a Warhawk team that won an OCC-Cardinal division title.
Tyler Primmer (Teays Valley) - West Liberty (D2)
Prolific scorer that leaves Teays Valley as one of the program's top players ever. Efficient 6'4 combo-guard that understands the game and heads to a Division II powerhouse in West Liberty. Primmer was vital for Teays Valley in the postseason as the Vikings knocked off Hilliard Darby and hung around late against Northland in the district semifinals.
Conor Keck (Newark Catholic) - Walsh (D2)
Arguably the top big man in Central Ohio this past season, Keck leaves Newark Catholic for Walsh. In a tough GLIAC conference, Walsh will benefit from Keck's imposing size and skill in the front court.
Shemar Waugh (Northland) - Ohio Dominican
Arguably Central Ohio's top point guard, Waugh heads to Ohio Dominican after capping off a successful final two seasons at Northland. Leading the Vikings both on and off the court, Waugh's defense, leadership, and takeover scoring will be sorely missed at Northland next season.
Teddy Metzen (Newark) - Ashland
Newark's man in the middle, Metzen moves on to Ashland after a solid senior season. Helping lead the Wildcats to a district runner-up finish, Metzen will be missed in the Newark front court next season. Along with star junior shooting guard Jordan Dartis, Metzen was a major part to a Wildcat team that picked up major wins on the road at both Gahanna and Pickerington Central.
Mike Deleon (Olentangy Liberty) - Ohio Dominican
All-around productive small forward that moves on to Ohio Dominican after setting several school records at Olentangy Liberty. Deleon was a major part to an Olentangy Liberty team that played for a district championship in 2012-13 after winning the OCC-Central division title.
Alex Stevens (Delaware Hayes) - Ohio Dominican
The lengthy 6'8 Stevens moves on to Ohio Dominican after helping lead Delaware Hayes to an OCC-Capital division title as a senior. The son of Magic 106.3 DJ Warren Stevens, Alex is as smooth in the post as his father is on the microphone.
Hassan Dawkins (Independence) - Salem International (West Virginia)
Overcoming a seizure suffered during an early season game vs. Eastmoor, Dawkins bounced back in a great way by landing a commitment with Salem International. Joining fellow Sixer teammate John Pope, the Independence duo look to make Columbus proud at the next level. Dawkins is a score-first 6'2 guard that flew under the radar as a senior during Independence's struggles in the City League South.
John Pope (Independence) - Salem International (West Virginia)
Joining Dawkins, Pope lands at Salem International after a turbulent senior season. One of the better pure scorers in the City League, Pope is as tough as they come, and should find success in college.
Akil Cornish (Africentric) - Central State
The sharp-shooting Cornish lands at Central State after helping lead Africentric to a regional final finish as a senior. Leading all of Central Ohio in three-point shooting as a junior, Cornish ends his career as arguably the best three-point shooter in Africentric program history.
Dymiere Finch (Walnut Ridge) - Central State (verbal)
Running the show at the point guard position for Walnut Ridge the past two seasons, Finch looks to head to Central State after graduation. At 6'2, Finch has great vision and was a key part to a Walnut Ridge team that loved to give opposing teams fits with a swarming trap defense.
Corey Howard (Gahanna Lincoln) - St. Joseph's (Indiana)
Another piece to a talented senior class for Gahanna, the perimeter shooting specialist Howard moves on to St. Joseph's in Northwest Indiana. While Howard had a bit of a turbulent senior season, the 5'11 guard found a great fit in the Puma program, and should blossom as a collegiate student-athlete.
Avery Williams (Tri-Valley) - Ohio Valley (West Virginia)
One of the better power forwards in Ohio's senior class, the athletic 6'5 Williams signed with Ohio Valley University earlier in May. Known for his rim-rattling jams and strength on the low block, Williams is a player to keep an eye on as he begins his college career in the fall.
RJ Hutcherson (Westerville North) - Fairmont State (West Virginia)
Much like Keene, Hutcherson look advantage of increased minutes as a senior after committing to Fairmont State prior to the season. Really boosting his stock during Coach Vic's Open Gyms in the fall, Hutcherson had a productive senior year, and is someone whose best basketball is ahead of him. Keep an eye out for the 6'7 forward in the years to come.
Babe Murphy (Licking Heights) - Concord (West Virginia)
Arguably the greatest player in Licking Heights program history, Murphy takes his volume scoring with him to Concord University in West Virginia. Averaging more than 20 points per game in each of the last two seasons, Murphy was a major reason why Licking Heights won a Mid-State League title in 2012-13.
Nate Jameson (Eastmoor) - Capital
Having a breakout season in the City League South, Jameson moves on to nearby Capital after a productive senior year. A major piece to an Eastmoor senior class that won two district championships in three seasons, Jameson is a skilled combo-forward that received looks from several Division II programs.
Chris Moxley (Bishop Hartley) - Heidelberg
Bishop Hartley's primary scorer on a team that relatively overachieved this past season, the stocky 5'10 Moxley moves on to Heidelberg. One of Central Ohio's best pure scorers from the point guard position, Moxley is as strong as they come for his position, and is a steal for Heidelberg.
Matt Hughes (Bishop Watterson) - Otterbein
The man in the middle for a Bishop Watterson senior class that made trips to the state tournament in back-to-back years, Hughes will head 20 minutes north to Otterbein for his collegiate career. One of the best fundamental post players in Ohio's class of 2014, Hughes will be a solid piece to a talented incoming freshman class for Otterbein.
Michael Howard (Grove City Christian) - Otterbein
One of the most productive seniors in Central Ohio this past season, Howard moves on to Otterbein after a successful year at Grove City Christian. As a 40-point, 18-rebound performance vs. Tree of Life highlighted Howard's senior year, the 6'2 combo-guard is a welcomed piece to a solid incoming class for the Cardinals.
Jahmal Hughes (Eastmoor) - Wittenberg
A three-sport star at Eastmoor, Hughes moves on to Wittenberg where he will play both football and basketball for the Tigers. One of the more clutch shooters in the Columbus City League, Hughes ends his high school career winning two district championships in the last three years. More interesting, is Hughes' ability to rock a mic. Check out the talented rapper here.
Travis Gleason (Reynoldsburg) - Wilmington (verbal)
There might not have been another player in Central Ohio with more heart than the 5'8 Gleason. Reynoldsburg's senior leader, Gleason literally came up big for the Raiders in important home wins vs. Gahanna and Chillicothe in the first round of the sectional tournament. Gleason told me last week that he has verbally committed to Wilmington.
Joe DiOrio (Bishop Watterson) - Ohio Northern
After spending the majority of his junior season on the JV team, DiOrio was Watterson's most-improved player as a senior, coming up huge in major wins vs. Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the state semifinal. A solid post defender and perimeter shooter, DiOrio moves on to Ohio Northern for college.
Nate Axelrod (Dublin Coffman) - Ohio Wesleyan
Coffman's lone senior this past season, the 5'6 Axelrod was huge for the Rocks as a senior, leading a young squad to a district championship. Axelrod does everything that you ask for out of a true point guard, and will be surely missed at Coffman next season. Did we mention the Aaron Craft look-a-like is the younger brother of the ever-so-talented Ben Axelrod?
Isaiah Keene (Westerville North) - Marietta (verbal)
Finally earning a spot in the Warrior starting lineup as a senior, Keene took full advantage of his increased playing time, finishing the year as one of North's top scorers. A deadly three-point shooter when he catches fire, Keene is a welcomed addition to a Marietta program looking for scorers.
Brandon Manley (Bloom-Carroll) - Capital
A vital piece to a Bloom-Carroll team that battled with Eastmoor to the final whistle in a district runner-up finish, the 6'4 Manley moves on to Capital. Manley is literally a man in the middle, and will be another welcomed piece to the Capital frontcourt.
Jimmy Hanley (Bishop Ready) - Heidelberg
The other key piece aside from Gantz on Ready's state final four team, Hanley is an intriguing combo-forward with legitimate perimeter game. Having a big performance for the Silver Knights in a district title win over rival Bishop Hartley, Hanley teams up with Hartley point guard Moxley at Heidelberg.
Trey Miller (New Albany) - Otterbein
A key piece to a New Albany team that came within a crazy Khalil Iverson buzzer-beater from being OCC-Capital champions, Miller moves on to nearby Otterbein. The 6'1 guard is a solid all-around player that should excel with the Cardinals.
Malik Breckenridge (Independence) - Wilberforce
The skilled Independence point guard, and senior class president Breckenridge moves on to Wilberorce to continue his basketball career. While the Sixers suffered one of its worst seasons in program history, Breckenridge was a continual bright spot for Independence this past season.
Joey Schmitz (Bloom-Carroll) - Mt. Vernon Nazarene
Arguably Central Ohio's best perimeter shooter, Schmitz exits Bloom-Carroll as the program's all-time leading scorer. Committing to Mt. Vernon-Nazarene earlier in the spring, Schmitz is a welcomed addition to a team that could use a sharp-shooting volume scorer.
Dametrius Walker (Marion-Franklin) - Butler Community College (Kansas)
One of Central Ohio's most skilled point guards, Walker moves on to Division I junior college Butler in El Dorado, Kansas. Committing to Butler on Thursday, Walker looks to have a major early impact, as he has all the necessary tools to be a productive point guard at the highest collegiate level.
Derek McKeithen (Northland) - Rend Lake College (Illinois)
Arguably Central Ohio's most explosive dunker, McKeithen moves on to top Division II junior college Rend Lake in Illinois. Joining a program that won a national championship in 2012-13, McKeithen looks to flourish in a program that will help the 6'4 combo-guard reach his ultimate potential.
Manny Powell (Gahanna Lincoln) - Sinclair Community College
Taking the reigns as Gahanna's starting point guard after waiting his turn behind guys like Stevie Taylor and Ronnie Stokes, Powell moves on to Division II junior college Sinclair in Dayton. At 5'9, Powell is a talented scorer whose pull-up jumper is as deadly as they come.
CJ Crowder (Groveport-Madison) - Sinclair Community College (verbal)
One of three seniors on a Groveport team that fared well in the daunting OCC-Ohio division, Crowder told me last week he had given a verbal to Sinclair. At 6'2, Crowder is a strong guard that excels with his mid-range game and right-hand drives to the basket. Crowder capped off his final season as a Cruiser with a buzzer-beating three to take down Licking Heights on Senior Night.
College coaches: With a deeper look at where Central Ohio's top talented is headed at the next level, there are still a great deal of unsigned seniors left on the board. I have compiled a scouting report on the top unsigned seniors remaining in Central Ohio. Email me at email@example.com to receive that list.