High school basketball is back, and the City Series figures to be competitive again on the boys and girls sides.
Firestone and Buchtel appear to be top boys contenders to dethrone an East team that won City Series and Division II district titles last year with a 23-2 overall record that included a 13-0 league mark.
“We take pride in our defense,” East senior Trevon Stafford said. “That is what Coach [Ross Fiorello] really focuses on. We can guard with the best of them. We just need to make sure we are mature enough to handle pressure. We lost a lot of seniors and not everyone is mature yet.”
East graduated four senior starters — Davonte Brunson, Mycle Shadie, Sir Charles Travis and Nate Gibson — and returns just one starter, senior Brandon Townsend.
“It is definitely going to be tough playing without all of those guys,” Townsend said. “Mycle and Davonte were pretty much an automatic 40 points combined per game. They were definite bail-out players sometimes on offense. I am ready to step up and lead the team.
‘‘Coach brings good guidance to the team and helps us do our best. He doesn’t tolerate any nonsense in practice. That helps us mature and gets us on the right track to have another winning season.”
Coach Stephen White said Buchtel should be improved after going 9-12 overall last year.
“We return all 15 players,” White said. “I didn’t lose anybody. I think we are going to be 100 percent better. Our expectations are to definitely be in the City Series championship and to be in the district championship. We definitely think that after the summer we had that we are going to turn the program back around.”
The Griffins returning starters are senior Elijah Bell, senior Tyler Jones, junior Lemontre “Tre” Smith, sophomore Deric Rucker and senior Demonte Hicks.
Coach Dave Milo guided Firestone (16-7, 9-4) to City Series runner-up and Division I district runner-up finishes.
“I got senior Jerome “J.T.” Lane back who was first-team All-City Series last year and third team all-state,” Milo said. “He has been a leader so far. He just practices so hard and that helps.
“[A month ago] Kevin Gladney came by and told me he was going to play basketball this season, and he was first-team All-City Series last year. He is just a heck of a player and he is heading to Nebraska as a wide receiver. He said he was going to stay in school.
‘‘He had already applied to graduate [early] and he is going to come back and play for us. He has his core classes and he is eligible and ready to roll. Nebraska told him to stay here and finish out his senior year.”
Milo also expects senior St. Vincent-St. Mary transfer Chaz Brantley, junior Evan Kennerly and sophomore Reggie Rogers to contribute in starting roles.
“We are going to play hard defense,” Milo said. “It was always grilled into me when I was younger to play hard defensively. Offense comes easy. These guys can all play offense. As long as we play defense we will be alright because offensively, we are fun to watch. These guys get the ball out and run. Everybody is dunking the ball.”
The Falcons should also have solid depth with a roster of 13 players.
“We are stepping into the place of the two [graduated seniors Stefan Willis and Corbin Bates] and ready to lead,” Gladney said.
Lane expects his team to be solid with six seniors.
“We are coming to practice every day to work hard and get better,” Lane said. “We have a few new players who came into our team. We are trying to work to get our team chemistry together and finding out everybody’s role.”
Ellet, Garfield, Kenmore and North are each trying to work into that top tier.
North features first-year coach Stacie Carter, whose daughter, Shaia Horton, a former standout at Firestone, is a freshman playing at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo.
“I am excited to take over this program,” Carter said. “I think what we have now is a group of kids that are hungry. They are hungry for not only leadership, but they are hungry for somebody to believe in them and to take it to that next level. We have some great talent, and some great kids who come from great families.”
Carter acknowledged that being a woman coaching boys has attracted a few looks.
“People rumble and talk a lot, but I am working with the fellas on just having thick skin about it,” Carter said. “Once we get on the court I think everything will speak for itself.”
Vikings senior Damon Bowman has enjoyed the experience so far.
“It is fun,” Bowman said. “I actually played for Coach during AAU in the past. I am excited for this season.”
Junior Terrell Stapleton is also enthusiastic about what Carter brings to the team.
“It is a new season with new changes,” Stapleton said. “I am looking to improve and we are all looking to improve.”
Firestone and Kenmore appear poised to continue to be atop the City Series girls standings.
Falcons coach Audley McGill is going with three seniors — Imani Scott-Thompson, Mishae Roper and Brooke Morgan — in a starting lineup that includes junior Destini Turner and sophomore Darian Carter.
The Falcons have won 11 City Series titles since 1998, including the last three.
“I feel like we are going to keep the tradition going,” Scott-Thompson said. “We have a lot of good players that will step up to the plate, and I will refuse to lose this year. We are going to win.”
Kenmore coach Yontami Jones said senior Porshae Hearn is the Cardinals leader.
Buchtel and Garfield will also be in the mix to challenge Firestone and Kenmore.
Coventry fourth-year girls basketball coach Bob McNamara says that senior Kristi Morisak is the undisputed Comets leader.
The Comets are 2-0 with wins over Southeast and Woodridge. McNamara is also happy with the production of his other starters — seniors Delaney Walters, Talia Magestro and Alyssa Angeletti along with sophomore Emily Cerepak.
“We have been in a rebuilding program since I got here,” McNamara said. “Before we had a lot of freshmen who were learning to play, a lot of freshmen. Delaney Walters, for instance had never played before. She was I believe a cheerleader in eighth grade and came out for basketball as a freshman. You can see how far she has come and we wouldn’t have the team we have without her. She is a fighter and she won’t quit. Talia Magestro is playing with a back injury. You wouldn’t know she is playing with a back injury by the way she is playing and as hard as she goes.”
McNamara previously assisted with the girls programs at Lake for 14 years and at Jackson for four years.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.