Always one of the area's toughest leagues, 2015-16 will be no different for the Columbus City League-South. As four teams won district titles a year ago, with two advancing to the state tournament, there is a lot of talent to go around in a league that is getting better by the year. Let's take a look at our 2015-16 Columbus City League-South season preview.
1. Walnut Ridge
2014-15 record: 21-6 (13-2, Div. II state semifinalist)
Key returnees: Malik Harrison (6'5 PF / 2016), James Manns (6'7 SF/PF / 2016), Tarik
Wright (6'4 SG / 2016), Kalib Younger (6'2 SG / 2016), Azende Johnson (6'1 PG / 2016)
Key additions: Darnei Hairston (6'2 PG / 2016 / former school: Independence), Parell
Tyler (6'2 SG / 2016 / former school: Marion-Franklin)
Outlook: Arguably the most talented team in all of the Columbus City League, Walnut Ridge is the unanimous pick for No. 1 in the South division. Winners of back-to-back division titles, the Scots have one of the area's biggest and best front lines as Malik Harrison and James Manns provide Walnut Ridge with toughness, scoring, rebounding and athleticism underneath.
On the wings, the Scots have a bevy of guards, as seniors Tarik Wright, Azende Johnson, Darnei Hairston, Kalib Younger and Parell Tyler give Walnut Ridge a ton of firepower in the backcourt. Losing just two seniors from a team that advanced to the Div. II state final four, Walnut Ridge finds itself up a division in 2015-16, but that should not mean a whole lot for a squad that many coaches in the area have been highly impressed with in the offseason.
Look for junior 6'7 forward Mar'ye Taylor to continue to improve on a deep bench rotation, while senior guards Nick Reissland and Deohn Bunts will also provide the Scots with depth. Sophomores Justin Vance and Maurice Cooley could also see some time off the bench, but expect coach Brian Shininger to roll with his talented and hungry seniors in crucial stretches.
The biggest question for Walnut Ridge in 2015-16 is who will man the backcourt as the team's point guard? With an assortment of combo guards on a deep roster, we expect the incoming transfer Hairston to fill that role, as he played both guard positions while torching the nets last season at division rival Independence. Also look for Johnson, Wright, Younger and the incoming transfer Tyler from Marion-Franklin to handle the ball in stretches as well.
With as much talent as any team in the area, we think Walnut Ridge has a great chance to become the first South division representative to win a Columbus City League championship since Africentric in 2005.
Prediction: 22-6, Columbus City League champion, Div. I regional finalist
2014-15 record: 19-7 (9-5, Div. II regional semifinalist)
Key returnees: Tamal Watkins (5'9 PG / 2016), Marquez Hargrove (6'1 PG / 2016),
Daevon Taylor (6'3 SF / 2016), Daeshawn Thompson-Green (6'0 PG / 2016), Lamont
Broomfield (6'5 PF / 2017)
Key additions: Carter Williams (6'5 PF / 2016 / former school: Bexley), Treohn Watkins (5'10 PG / 2019)
Outlook: Coming off its first district title in nearly 30 years, South is rolling high with momentum in a successful three-year stretch for the program. As South alum and fifth-year head coach Ramon Spears has revived the Bulldog program from the doldrums of the City League, 2015-16 could figure to be South's best team yet.
With several returning seniors from last year's team, the Bulldogs have one of the league's best backcourts, as Tamal Watkins and Marques Hargrove are one of the area's better duos. Seniors Daeshawn Thompson-Green, Sayvon Thompson and Trayvon Thompson give South more backcourt depth, as Spears likes to use an assortment of different guards depending on the situation.
In the front court, South may be a bit undersized, but the Bulldogs are tough. Senior Daevon Taylor is a reigning first-team All-City League performer, as he is one of the South division's better scorers from 12 feet and in. Junior Lamont Broomfield is a wide-bodied forward that defends the low block well and is arguably South's best rebounder, while the incoming transfer Carter Williams is a versatile forward that can score from inside and out.
Knocking off tough Africentric and Eastmoor teams during last season's campaign, South's confidence is at an all-time high, and the Bulldogs will be gunning for Walnut Ridge's spot in 2015-16.
Prediction: 20-7, Div. II regional semifinalist
2014-15 record: 20-7 (11-3, Div. IV regional finalist)
Key returnees: Houston Smith (6'5 SF / 2016), Lorenze Gordon-Haynes (6'3 SG / 2016),
Rondell Clark (6'2 SG / 2016), Tyler Potts (5'10 PG / 2018), Jah Bennett (6'6 PF / 2018)
Key additions: Tre Baumgardner (5'10 PG/SG / 2018 / former school: City Prep)
Outlook: While Africentric will be looking to make up the dent that a talented 2015 class leaves in the Nubians' roster, we expect the darlings of Central Ohio Div. IV basketball to still be as tough as ever in 2015-16.
Returning for coach Mike Bates is the versatile senior wing guard Houston Smith, who ended last season with a breakout, 31-point, 12-rebound performance in the regional final loss to Harvest Prep. Smith is finally the leader on this team, and we expect he and fellow seniors Lorenze Gordon-Haynes and Rondell Clark to establish Africentric with a different identity this season, as the Nubians will look to get up and down the floor faster than in recent years.
Outside of the big three, Africentric is talented with sophomore guards Tyler Potts and Tre Baumgardner, as both brings confidence, swagger and toughness to the guard spots. Baumgardner comes from City Prep, and is one of the better shooters in the area's 2018 class.
In the front court, Africentric will rely on budding sophomore big man Jah Bennett, who has shown some promise in the offseason, as he has a big body and some natural instincts in the post at 6'6.
Always guaranteed to be a contender no matter what the year is in the City League, Africentric could very well end up right behind Walnut Ridge, but we don't know if the Nubians have enough firepower to contend with a team that swept the season series a year ago. While a City League title may be out of the equation, we are confident that Africentric can sweep Div. IV district and regional titles in March.
Prediction: 18-9, Div. IV state semfinalist
4. Eastmoor Academy
2014-15 record: 17-12 (9-5, Div. III state semifinalist)
Key returnees: Osaretin Onaiwu (6'4 PF / 2016), Isaiah Hairston (6'4 SF/PF / 2018),
Tariq Brown (6'5 SF / 2018), Will Prater (6'2 SG / 2016), Taevion Kinsey (6'2 PG / 2018)
Key additions: Stanley Williams (6'7 C / 2018 / former school: City Prep), Stephon
Williams (6'7 C / 2018 / former school: City Prep)
Outlook: Eastmoor Academy is a year or two away from dominating the City League South. With one of the area's best 2018 classes, the Warriors' sophomore group got even better with the addition of twin big men Stanley Williams and Stephon Williams from City Prep during the offseason. With great length, versatility and youth, Eastmoor could easily find itself higher on this list if coach James Miranda's young group of players gel and adapt to the rigors of City League-South basketball early on in the season.
While the Warriors have several talented sophomores, Eastmoor will be led by senior leader and do-it-all big man Osaretin Onaiwu. One of the area's most positive and high-motor forwards, Onaiwu has enjoyed a breakout fall season, as the 6'4 forward has performed well at a variety of different venues. Coming off a junior season in which Onaiwu had several high-scoring performances on the block, we look for him to provide Eastmoor with toughness and physicality inside.
In the backcourt, sophomore point guard Taevion Kinsey is ready to take over as the next heir in a lineage of Eastmoor guards that have been very talented over the years. Kinsey is big, athletic and has all the tools to be a vital playmaker for the Warriors in 2015-16.
Returning starters and sophomore forwards Isaiah Hairston and Tariq Brown will play key roles for this Warrior team, as both give EA length and scoring ability from all over the floor. Hairston and Brown both had solid AAU seasons, as each forward brings their own unique traits to the forward positions.
With length, versatility and sheer young talent sprinkled all throughout the Eastmoor roster, the Warriors could be a prime contender in Div. II in March, as this group will have another full season under its belt in a tough league. Don't be surprised if Eastmoor wins its fourth district title in the last fifth years next spring. It will all be contingent on how fast this team grows up over the course of the season.
Prediction: 14-9, Div. II district finalist
2014-15 record: 3-20 (0-14)
Key returnees: Antonio Givens (6'6 C / 2016), Quinton Gibson (6'1 PG / 2016), Rakim
Fells (6'3 SF / 2016), Shamar Brown (6'2 SF / 2018)
Outlook: A team that we think could surprise people in 2015-16, West returns a core group of players that have played meaningful varsity minutes over the last two seasons. Led by seniors Antonio Givens, Quinton Gibson and Rakim Fells, West could be a surprise team to watch in the bottom half of the City League South.
While 2014-15 was not kind to Orlando McCoy's team, a promising season could be ahead for the Cowboys. Givens is a wide-bodied threat in the post, as he had a breakout junior season, going for several double-double performances. Gibson is a playmaker at the point guard position that has manned the lead guard spot for West dating back to his sophomore season. The senior Fells is an athletic utility player that seems like he has been at West for the last six years, but finally returns for a senior season that could be the best yet for West in recent years.
While it is very possible that West can band together and win 10 games in 2015-16, the Cowboys must be weary of the other teams in the bottom half of the league that will be just as hungry. With solid size and scoring ability, West's success will be entirely dependent on staying healthy, eligible, and hungry in 2015-16.
2014-15 record: 11-12 (4-10)
Key returnees: Danny Corbett (6'0 PG / 2017), Kapone Richardson (6'0 SG / 2016),
Xavier Gibbs (6'0 SG / 2016), Ryan Almond (6'4 PF / 2016), Sean Potenciano (5'11 PG / 2016)
Outlook: Graduating a talented 2015 class that combined for many bright spots over the last few years for Tony Rice's club, Briggs returns to the 2015-16 season with a new identity. Gone is the length, athleticism and fireworks that Briggs' seniors provided a year ago, but returning is a hungry backcourt that is working hard to bring the Bruin program back to the top half of the league.
Starting with point guard Danny Corbett, the junior is one of the most determined players in the league, and is looking to have a breakout season in leading this Bruins team. Manning the point guard position for the last two years, Corbett has played meaningful minutes and is ready to take the next step forward in his development.
Joining Corbett in the backcourt are senior guards Kapone Richardson, Xavier Gibbs and Sean Potenciano. As Briggs is disadvantaged in the height department in 2015-16, the Bruins will need to desperately rely on its guard play, which Rice expects to be improved from a season ago. Look for senior big man Ryan Almond to continue to make strides, as he has shown to be a difference maker at times on the glass.
While there isn't a whole lot of separation between the bottom four teams in the league, Briggs is a group that could very well find itself right below the big four at the top. The Bruins will be tough, and could overachieve from where we have them right now.
2014-15 record: 3-17 (2-12)
Key returnees: Allen McMichael-Roberts (6'0 PG / 2016), Thomas Davis III (6'0 SG /
2016), Mychal Keys (6'3 PF / 2018), Travis Geiger (6'3 PF / 2018)
Key additions: Richard Campbell (6'0 PG / 2016 / former school: International)
Outlook: Gone are the days of Marion-Franklin dominating the City League South as the Red Devils did toward the end of the last decade, however, the South Side boys may be a little better this season compared to 2014-15. With a returning nucleus that is determined to bring the Red Devil program back to prominence, Marion-Franklin is another bottom half program that could end up being better than expected.
Senior guards Allan McMichael-Roberts and Thomas Davis III return from last year's team, while the Red Devils add talented senior scoring guard Richard Campbell, who was International's leading scorer a season ago. Marion-Franklin won't have a ton of depth, but senior leadership in the backcourt could go a long way for the Red Devils. In the post, sophomores Mychal Keys and Travis Geiger are back from last year's team, and should make some improvements to help Marion-Franklin underneath.
In a challenging time for Marion-Franklin basketball, we see the Red Devils just outside the top six in the league.
2014-15 record: 14-8 (8-6)
Key returnees: Caron Harrison (6'4 PF / 2016), Ishon Powell (6'3 SF / 2016), Mershawn
Smith (6'2 SG / 2016), Dana Price (6'4 PF / 2016), Jaymes May (6'3 SF / 2016)
Outlook: After a successful 2014-15 season that saw Independence be the only division team to knock off Walnut Ridge during the regular season, the Sixers have some challenging days ahead. Gone are the Sixers' top two scorers in Kovien Dominaus, who is a redshirt freshman at Richmond, and Darnei Hairston, who transferred to Walnut Ridge. With the majority of the team's production from last season missing in 2015-16, coach Terry Holliman will have his work cut out for him in putting together a competitive unit on Refugee Road.
Returning is senior forward Caron Harrison, who is an undersized post, but had a few standout performances last year. Harrison is joined by fellow seniors Ishon Powell, Mershawn Smith, Dana Price and Jaymes May, who flirted with the idea of joining Hairston at Walnut Ridge, but ultimately returned to Independence. With many new faces who will be needed to produce, we see Independence having a down year in a league that is very top heavy.
Look for the Sixers to take their bumps and bruises in a rebuilding year for the Independence program.
City League South Superlatives
Preseason MVP: Malik Harrison (Sr. PF, Walnut Ridge)
Preseason Breakout Player of the Year: Taevion Kinsey (So. PG, Eastmoor Academy)
Preseason Coach of the Year: Brian Shininger (Walnut Ridge)
Preseason All-Columbus City League-South: Tamal Watkins (Sr. PG, South), Houston Smith (Sr. SF, Africentric), Osaretin Onaiwu (Sr. PF, Eastmoor Academy), James Manns (Sr. PF, Walnut Ridge), Malik Harrison (Sr. PF, Walnut Ridge)