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The entirely-too-early Central Ohio basketball preview: Part 3

As we've hit the dead period between the end of AAU basketball, and the beginning of high school practice in the fall, let's take a look at part three of LGHL's "Entirely-Too-Early" Central Ohio basketball preview.

Walnut Ridge forward Malik Harrison looks to be one of the City League's top performers in 2014-15
Walnut Ridge forward Malik Harrison looks to be one of the City League's top performers in 2014-15

Entering the first season of basketball in the Columbus City League without Brookhaven being a member since 1962, times have changed in Central Ohio's oldest conference. As the reigning champion's returning players have moved on to several schools across the district, let's take a look at the early favorites in the City League.

City League North

1. Northland

2013-14 record:

21-5 (13-1, tied for first, Div. I regional finalist)

Key losses:

Derek McKeithen (6'4 SG, Rend Lake College)

Shemar Waugh (6'0 PG, Ohio Dominican)

Jaylen Tucker (6'7 PF, Dodge City CC)

Ty Hairston (6'2 SG, Stillman College)

Top returnees:

Seth Towns (6'8 SF, No. 112 in 247Sports class of 2016)

Doug Taylor (6'9 PF, several MAC offers, 2015)

DJ Tyree (6'2 PG, transfer from Pickerington Central, 2016)

Dez Wright (6'1 SG, transfer from Gahanna, 2015)

Outlook:

Looking to be the early favorite in the City League, Northland returns locked and loaded for yet another run at a regional title. With the uber-talented Towns returning for his junior season after a productive summer, the Vikings pair him with the 6-foot-9 big man Taylor, who received several MAC offers during the AAU season. In the back court, Northland adds transfer guards Tyree and Wright from area powerhouse programs Pickerington Central and Gahanna, while senior 6-foot-2 shooting guard Seth McCoy returns for his second season with the Vikings. Coming off the bench, look for senior guard Maleek St. Valle and junior guard Jordan Kinchen to play significant minutes while coach Sean Taylor figures out what other role players can fit into the Northland rotation. Winning seven of the last eight City League titles, Northland seems best-suited at this point to bring home yet another ring to north Columbus.

2. Mifflin

2013-14 record:

11-11 (6-7, fifth)

Key losses:

Coach Mike Thornton (City Prep)

Jontae Hudson (6'2 PF)

Top returnees:

Shad Kimble (6'2 SG, Brookhaven transfer, 2015)

J-Saun Davis (6'4 PF, Brookhaven transfer, 2015)

PJ Wilkes (5'10 PG, 2015)

Stanley Jackson (6'3 SF, 2015)

Outlook:

Adding pieces from Brookhaven and Beechcroft, Mifflin is an interesting team going into this season. Starting with Kimble and Davis, the second and third options at Brookhaven last season, the duo were instrumental in leading the Bearcats to a city title. As both join one of the city's leading scorers in Wilkes, look for Mifflin to be one of the more offensively explosive teams in the division. Mifflin also adds Brandon McEwen and Curt Armstrong from Brookhaven and Tolliver Cunningham from Beechcroft, along with returning starters D'Anthony Williams and Jalen Spencer. With the most depth of any team outside of Northland, all Mifflin has to do is knock the Vikings off once, while winning both meetings against all other North teams in order to win the division.  Former Brookhaven coach Hali Robinson also takes control of the Mifflin program after Thornton bolted after one season to take over the City Prep program.

3. Centennial

2013-14 record:

15-9 (9-5, fourth)

Key losses:

Octavius Luke (5'10 PG)

Gyai Gyamerah (6'1 SG)

Top returnees:

Joe Thomas (6'4 SF, 2015)

Anthony Slappy (6'2 SG, 2015)

Outlook:

Behind a high-scoring back court of Luke, Gyamerah and Slappy, Centennial finished strong during a 15-win season in 2013-14. Down the stretch, however, it was the 6-foot-4 forward Thomas who would make the difference in several key wins. Returning Thomas and Slappy for 2014-15, Centennial looks to be a top three team in a top-heavy division. While Luke and Gyamerah handled point guard duties for the Stars last year, it will be interesting to see who steps up and handles the rock for coach Roosevelt Osbourne in 2014-15. Expect a breakout season from Thomas, who earned first-team All-City honors a year ago.

joe thomas

Senior Centennial forward Joseph Thomas looks to have a major season in 2014-15

4. Beechcroft

2013-14 record:

7-15 (5-8, sixth)

Key losses:

Tolliver Cunningham (5'11 SG, transfer to Mifflin, 2015)

Darius Ford (6'1 SF)

Tarik Woods (5'9 G)

Top returnees:

Josh Chellers (6'4 PF, 2015)

Robert Martin (6'0 PG, 2015)

Robert Banks (6'5 SF, Brookhaven transfer, 2015)

Outlook:

One of the more athletic teams in all of Central Ohio, Beechcroft looks to be much improved from last season. Adding Banks from Brookhaven, the Cougars now have a dynamite combo between he and the 6-foot-4 power forward Chellers, who is one of the better athletes in all of Columbus. Martin returns to run the point once again for Beechcroft, while 5-foot-10 junior guard Michael Powers and 6-foot-2 senior guard Donte Burt join him in the backcourt. Six-foot-6 senior forward Dre Mills also joins the Cougars after a year at Brookhaven, and should have a role in the rotation. Playing disciplined basketball will be the key for Beechcroft, a team with the potential to finish in the top three of the division.

5. Linden-McKinley

2013-14 record:

5-18 (4-11, sixth)

Key losses:

Joseph Allen (6'0 PG)

Ray Brooks (6'0 G)

Top returnees:

Hasan Varence (6'7 PF, 2015)

DeAnthony Griffin (6'1 SG, 2016)

Jeff Floyd (6'2 SG, 2016)

Outlook:

As the Linden coaching staff enters year two in a steep climb out of the bottom of the City League, the Panthers look to be one of the more improving teams in the division. Returning the 6-foot-7 Varence, who was a double-double machine last year, Linden will utilize his length while scoring guards Griffin and Floyd should be key assets on the perimeter. Don't be surprised if Linden wins more than 10 games in for the first time in 10-plus years.

6. East

2013-14 record:

14-8 (10-4, third)

Key losses:

JJ Curry (5'9 PG)

Zayon Mock (5'10 G)

Jacob Craft (6'3 SF)

Top returnees:

Dalton Laster (6'3 SG, 2015)

Adam James (6'4 SF, 2015)

Outlook:

A surprise team in the City League North last season, East loses a great deal of scoring to graduation. While the Tigers' leading scorer Laster is back for his senior year, coach Bob White will have his work cut out for him in finding a supporting cast for his sharp-shooting 6-foot-3 guard. With Northland and Mifflin looking to be the presumable favorites at the top of the division, East has a difficult task on its hands in getting back into the top three of the division.

7. Whetstone

2013-14 record:

2-20 (1-14, eighth)

Key losses:

Aaron Adair (5'11 PG)

Brian Scott (5'11 G)

Top returnees:

Dexter Kowalski (6'5 PF, 2016)

Tommy Lee (6'0 G, 2016)

Marcus Benson (5'11 G, 2017)

Outlook:

As nine freshmen and sophomores played meaningful minutes last season, Whestone took the knockout blows that are expected for a team that young. As Adair was the Braves' lone scorer in double-figures last season, the Braves will need several players to step up and fill the gap that Adair leaves behind. Look for the 6-foot-5 junior forward Kowalski to be one of Whestone's better players, while sophomores Benson and Jack Staggs should be key pieces in the rotation. Averaging 6.7 points per game in 2013-14, the junior Lee is Whetstone's top returning scorer. Brookhaven's top perimeter defender from a year ago, LJ Buttrum, joins the Whetstone program, and should be one of the Braves' top go-to players.

8. International

2013-14 record:

7-14 (2-12, seventh)

Key losses:

Jordan Radcliff (5'11 PG)

Hamadi Diop (6'2 SG, Vermillion CC)

Top returnees:

Mamadou Sall (2016)

Outlook:

Losing virtually all of the program's scoring from the past two seasons, International will be a team in full rebuilding mode in 2014-15. The Lions may be able to compete with Whetstone, but other than that, expect International to really struggle.

City League South

1. Walnut Ridge

2013-14 record:

19-5 (13-1, first)

Key losses:

Coach Jason Bates (Pickerington North)

Dymiere Finch (6'2 PG, Central State)

Brandon Paschal (5'10 G)

Marcellus Taylor (6'6 PF)

Top returnees:

Malik Harrison (6'5 PF, 2016)

Tarik Wright (6'3 SG, Northern Kentucky offer, 2016)

James Manns (6'6 SF, Marion-Franklin transfer, 2016)

Outlook:

After winning two City League South titles in three seasons, Bates leaves Walnut Ridge for Pickerington North. Hired in from Upper Arlington's staff, new coach Brian Shininger has inherited a gold mine at Walnut Ridge. With arguably the area's top junior class, the rich got richer as the Scots bring in the highly-talented 6-foot-6 forward Manns from rival Marion-Franklin. As Manns scored in double-figures in all but three of the Red Devils' 20 games a season ago, he will be a welcomed addition to a Walnut Ridge starting lineup that includes talented juniors Harrison and Wright. As the starting back court from last season moves on to college, look for senior Seany Johnson to run the point, while juniors Azende Johnson and Kalib Younger will play significant roles on this team, as well as senior guard Jaylyn Watkins. As Walnut Ridge and Africentric seem to be the two favorites in the South, Ridge's size and skill in the front court gives them the nod at top of the league at this point in time.

2. Africentric

2013-14 record:

16-11 (8-6, tied for third, Div. IV regional finalist)

Key losses:

Akil Cornish (6'2 SG, Central State)

Darik Artis (6'0 PG)

Top returnees:

Jaquan Harrison (6'3 SF, Bethune-Cookman offer, 2015)

Ulmer Manzie (6'8 C, Bethune-Cookman offer, 2015)

Houston Smith (6'4 SG, Behune-Cookman offer, 2016)

Outlook:

A basket or two away from a state final four appearance in 2013-14, Africentric returns to this season ready for another deep run in the playoffs. Returning four of five starters from a season ago, the Nubians look to be a stronger unit in 2014-15. Led by the uber-athletic Harrison, Africentric looks to lock teams down defensively, while operating a run-and-gun style of offense. Manzie is an improving big man drawing looks from several low-major programs, while the 6-foot-4 junior guard Smith is steadily looking like the Nubians' top prospect the more I see him. Outside of the big three, Africentric has depth at both guard spots, as seniors Shawon Wilson (6-foot-2) and Chase Brown (5-foot-10) are skilled ball-handlers with experience, while junior 6-foot-1 guard Lorenze Gordon-Haynes returns after starting more than a dozen games as a sophomore.. Look for a breakout season from junior 6-foot-3 guard Rondell Clark, who improved more than any other Nubian player over the summer. Replacing Cornish's scorching three-point shooting will be a difficult challenge, but keep an eye on sophomore 6-foot-2 wing Landon Martin, who should get some varsity minutes this season. While Walnut Ridge has the best front court in the South, Africentric has the most depth at the guard positions, which may make a difference late in the season in the fight for supremacy.

3. Eastmoor Academy

2013-14 record:

20-7 (11-3, second)

Key losses:

Nate Jameson (6'2 SF, Capital)

Jahmal Hughes (5'9 PG, Wittenberg)

Shamonty Manning (6'4 PF)

Khalil Wade (6'5 SF, Independence transfer, 2015)

Top returnees:

Xavier Holston-Sims (6'0 PG, 2015)

Jalon Lewis (6'1 PG, 2015)

Kyle Oglesby (5'10 G, 2015)

Outlook:

After a regional semifinal appearance in 2013-14, Eastmoor returns a strong 2015 class led by guards Holston-Sims and Lewis. On the wing, Eastmoor loses Wade and Brown, who both enrolled at division rival Independence on Aug. 8, while 6-foot-7 center DeQuan Daniels is back for his senior year, Eastmoor will have to replace two solid forwards in the starting lineup. Eastmoor has more depth in the backcourt, as senior guard Kyle Oglesby should be a key piece to what the Warriors hope to accomplish this season. Always well-coached and disciplined, don't be surprised if Eastmoor finds themselves at the top of the division at the end of the year.

4. Briggs

2013-14 record:

14-9 (7-7, fifth)

Key losses:

Travon Hester (6'3 PF)

Dantae Brown (5'10 SG)

Top returnees:

Danny Corbett (5'10 PG, one of Ohio's top guards in the class of 2017)

Rodney Willis (6'2 SG, 2015)

Maleik Gore (6'3 PF, 2015)

Outlook:

The biggest surprise team in the City League South last season, Briggs would pick up big wins on the road at Africentric, and Eastmoor, giving the Bruins the confidence they need to compete at the highest level. Returning the talented sophomore point guard Corbett, coach Tony Rice has a lot to look forward to in 2014-15. As Corbett has elevated his game to another level this offseason, so has the 6-foot-2 senior guard Willis, who was the Bruins' leading scorer in the second half of the season. While the Bruins are very limited in the front court, look for the 6-foot-3 senior Gore to be Briggs' anchor on the block. Adding more depth in the back court, juniors Xavier Gibbs (transfer from West) and Kapone Richardson are two players that will compete for the guard spot opposite of Corbett. A fearless and confident team, Briggs is my sleeper pick to come up and surprise some of the top teams in the division.

5. Independence

2013-14 record:

3-20 (1-13, eighth)

Key losses:

Malik Breckenridge (6'0 PG, Wilberforce)

John Pope (6'2 SG, Salem International)

Hassan Dawkins (6'1 SG, Salem International)

Top returnees:

Kovien Dominaus (6'6 PF, 2015)

Kahlil Wade (6'6 SF, transfer from Eastmoor, 2015)

Darnei Hairston (5'10 SG, 2016)

Lavoris Brown (6'3 SF, transfer from Eastmoor, 2015)

Outlook:

After an extremely underwhelming 2013-14 season, I expect Independence to be a much-improved team after the school was saved from a forced closure. Led by the lengthy combo-forward Dominaus, who is receiving several high-Division II looks, Independence has some pieces in the backcourt, headlined by the sharp-shooting junior guard Hairston. The Sixers get a major upgrade on the wing, as Eastmoor forwards Wade and Brown come over for their senior year. With the lengthy duo of Wade and Dominaus, Independence becomes a much more dangerous team to defend as each senior wing can play an inside-outside style of offense. The Sixers also return senior 6-foot-4 forward Isaac Anderson, who led Independence in scoring in the second half of last season. Seniors Kenneth Proby, Sidney Perry, and Antonyo Lavender should play significant minutes, as coach Terrance Holliman works to bring the Sixers out of the gutter and back into the upper half of the City League South.

6. Marion-Franklin

2013-14 record:

12-8 (8-6, tied for third)

Key losses:

James Manns (6'6 SF, Walnut Ridge transfer, 2016)

Dametrius Walker (6'2 PG, Butler CC)

John Montgomery (6'0 SG)

Top returnees:

DeShawn Nelms (5'10 PG, 2015)

Jordan Cornley (6'1 SG, 2015)

Outlook:

Manns' transfer to league-rival Walnut Ridge is a huge blow to Marion-Franklin who was already losing a strong senior class led by the talented guard Walker. With the cupboard looking pretty bare at the moment, look for senior guards Nelms and Cornley to lead the Red Devils, as coach Scott Williams will work to find a consistent rotation that will be most competitive.

7. South

2013-14 record:

16-9 (6-8, sixth)

Key losses:

Chris Byrd (6'2 SG)

Aaron Mullins (5'11 PG, Wilmington)

Deone Lindsey (6'3 SF)

Top returnees:

Marquez Hargrove (5'9 PG, 2016)

Dominic Sanon (2015)

Teshawn Hines (2015)

Outlook:

As South graduates Byrd and Mullins, who were instrumental in the turnaround job that coach Ramon Spears has done in his short time with the program, the Bulldogs will have a lot of production to make up for in 2014-15. As the Bulldogs started a cast of seniors last season, look for the junior point guard Hargrove to have a big season, as the 5-foot-9 guard looked impressive the few times I saw him in the AAU season. Seniors Sanon and Hines should also fill in and contribute, as the Bulldogs could range anywhere from fourth to seventh in the division.

8. West

2013-14 record:

7-16 (2-12, seventh)

Key losses:

Charles Holland (6'2 SG, Tiffin)

Markel Wyche (6'3 SG, OSU-Newark)

Trenton Miller (6'4 PF, OSU-Newark)

Top returnees:

Quinton Gibson (6'0 PG, 2016)

Rakim Fells (6'2 SG, 2016)

Antonio Givens (6'7 PF, 2016)

Outlook:

Replacing the area's leading scorer from the past two years is never an easy task, and unfortunately for West, there isn't a player on the current roster that compares to Holland. As the Cowboys' top three scorers from last season move on to college, West also loses junior guard Xavier Gibbs to Briggs, while senior forward Twain Davis moves on to Marion-Franklin. Returning for the Cowboys is a trio of juniors, led by the 6-foot point guard Gibson, who showed several flashes of being a productive player in 2013-14. Fells started most of the season as a sophomore, while the 6-foot-7 big man Givens played sparingly toward the end of the season. West looks to be a year away from being close to competitive.