In a similar position as Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, first-year Walnut Ridge head coach Brian Shininger is inheriting a gold mine of talent. But as Shininger pointed out to 40 or so student-athletes at the school's first open gym on Tuesday, talent is nothing without teamwork, honesty, truth and communication.
Coming over to Ridge from reigning state runner-up Upper Arlington, Shininger knows a thing or two about team ball. As the Golden Bears relied on ball movement, superb footwork and suffocating team defense to make an inspired charge to the Jerome Schottenstein Center for the state final four, Shininger hopes to bring those elements to a talent-rich Scots roster. Let's take a look at some of the talent that the Scots have to work with this season.
James Manns (6'6 SF / 2016):
Transferring from rival Marion-Franklin, Manns is an absolutely tremendous addition to an already talented Walnut Ridge team. One of Ohio's top wing forwards, Manns has built off a successful AAU summer, most notably with the improvement of his perimeter shooting. Already a smooth slasher off the dribble, Manns hit a handful of pull-up jump shots, showing more offensive versatility, while handling the ball like a guard in transition. Receiving the most interest from Northern Kentucky at this point in time, Manns has heard also from Dayton and Ohio as of late.
Tarik Wright (6'4 SG/SF / 2016):
Much like Manns, Wright has continued his impressive play from a successful summer into the fall. A major part of a Nova Village team that finished as the national-runner up at AAU Nationals in July, Wright has been an absolute offensive force in my last several viewings of him. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Wright bullies defenders off the dribble, while keeping them off balance with a step-back jump shot that he is getting to fall more consistently. A threat from the perimeter, Wright is improving his offensive game day by day, and has looked to really attack the rim recently. Receiving an offer from Northern Kentucky earlier in the summer, Wright told me on Tuesday that the Norse have been most involved in his recruitment recently.
Maurice Cooley (6'1 SG / 2018):
The younger brother of former Columbus West standout Charles Holland, the freshman Cooley resembles his older brother when it comes to scoring. A skilled left-handed shooting guard, Cooley is a smooth operator on the offensive end that is unselfish with the ball, and consistently makes the smart pass. Playing for All-Ohio in the AAU season, Cooley is no stranger to high-level competition, and did not seem fazed going against the older opposition on the floor on Tuesday. Aggressive off-the-dribble, Cooley showed an ability to finish with contact and create for himself, traits that are not easily taught.
Jaylyn Watkins (6'0 PG / 2015):
One of Walnut Ridge's hardest-working players, Watkins was the Scots' top lead guard on Tuesday. Improving his ball handling since last season, Watkins was able to keep defenders on his hip, resulting in several scores at or near the rim. With quality vision and command of the offense, Watkins would go on to hit four game-winning buckets, mixing a combination of strength and quickness to get by defenders. Showing more maturity since his junior year, Watkins is a guard to keep an eye on this season.
Dre Williams (6'4 PF / 2017):
Winning the Corey Evans Award for Tuesday, Williams has a motor that was made in a Lamborghini factory. With tree trunks for legs, Williams is an incredibly active forward that straight up gets after it in the paint. With great strength and leaping ability, Williams was the top rebounder in the gym, and created several second chances for the offense with his commitment to the glass. One of several talented Walnut Ridge sophomores, look for Williams to be a contributor off the bench in 2014-15.
Mar'ye Taylor (6'7 PF / 2017):
The lengthiest player on the Walnut Ridge roster, Taylor is a sophomore forward with tons of upside. Putting together his best performance since earlier in the summer, Taylor was one of the more versatile scorers in the gym, converting several attempts around the basket, in addition to being able to step out and shoot from mid-range. A star on the junior varsity team a season ago, Taylor looks to be another solid rotation guy for the Scots, who should be one of the best teams in the Columbus City League.
Azende Johnson (6'1 PG/SG / 2016):
One of Central Ohio's top three-point shooters during the high school and AAU seasons, Johnson scorched the nets from deep once again on Tuesday. Used last season to come off the bench and hit timely threes, Johnson looks to resume a greater role in the rotation as a junior. Adding strength to a wiry frame, Johnson has shown more ability to score off-the-dribble, while being an active defender in the half court and transition. As several Scots battle for the two open guard spots, Johnson is in a great position to earn one of those spots.
Bernard Rogers (5'7 PG/SG / 2018):
Regarded by several Walnut Ridge upperclassmen as the hardest-working freshman in the program, Rogers impressed in my first ever viewing of him. A scrawny 5-foot-7 guard, Rogers is scrappy on defense, and showed a high level of comfort playing against bigger and stronger upperclassmen. Hitting several key threes in close scrimmages, Rogers is a name to remember in the coming years.