This season, the first in program history, will be about more than the game for the Olentangy Berlin boys basketball team.

It’ll be about establishing a winning culture, not a winning record … although the Bears will certainly take one if they can get it.

“We have zero varsity experience,” Berlin coach Donovon Barrett, who came over from Westerville Central, said. “We need to grow every practice — every game — and take advantage of this unique opportunity. We need to establish a culture and effort people can look up to.”

The task is no different than what the programs competing in the fall faced … and it’s one Barrett is excited to take on.

“One of the many reasons I came to Berlin was the strong administrative team,” he said. “I knew what type of values and culture Mr. Spinner (Principal Todd Spinner) and Mr. Betz (Athletic Director John Betz) were going to set out to establish. Those values will certainly carry over to our athletic programs.

“Whenever everyone is pulling in the same direction from the get-go, the results will be evident. When I talked to the most influential people in my life, my wife most importantly, they all said the same thing: how many people get to start a new program in a new school?”

And when Barrett says new, he means new.

Forget varsity experience … half his guys don’t have experience of any kind, at least not at the high school level.

“We don’t have a guy with any varsity experience and 10 of our 20 varsity and JV guys didn’t play on a high school basketball team last year. I’m not sure there is a varsity team in the state that can say they don’t have at least one guy with varsity minutes.

“With that being said, though, our guys have done a great job of communicating, being coachable and demonstrating growth on a daily basis.”

Barrett said junior guards Grant Schrieber and Nick Camacho and junior posts Ethan Collins and Zak Stevens will lead the Bears into the season.

“Grant handles the ball well and has a good understanding of the game,” he said. “Nick is crafty with the ball and can score in bunches, Ethan plays with a lot of energy and passion and Zak is improving rapidly every day. He’s very coachable and is starting to play his size (6-foot-6).”

Others rounding out the roster include junior Benant Bukari and sophomores Jacob Moeller, Bryce Reed, Austin Corley, Kalvin Betz and CJ Bishop.

The Bears didn’t catch any breaks when it comes to the league they’ll be competing in, either. The OCC-Cardinal has a slew of teams with plenty of firepower.

“Hilliard Bradley would be the favorite followed by many teams who had some young guys (last year) that will be real contenders,” Barrett said. “Delaware Hayes, Thomas Worthington, Dublin Jerome, Hilliard Darby, Dublin Scioto and Worthington Kilbourne all played some younger guys last year and, at least from a won-lost standpoint, should improve.

“We are going to have a difficult time in the league, but are going to go out and compete daily. Berlin has to worry about Berlin and we will be fine.”

First up, the Bears will take on visiting River Valley in Thursday’s season opener. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m.

By Ben Stroup

[email protected]