With big man Jalen Bethel patrolling the paint last season, the Olentangy Orange boys basketball team played to its strengths, routinely dumping the ball down low and letting him go to work.
This year, with Bethel and a slew of others gone to graduation, the Pioneers will bring a bit of a different look to the floor … a more up-tempo look.
“We need to stretch the floor and knock down shots,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said. “We need to play fast, and we need to be a very scrappy group.”
And Calo has more than a few guys back in the fold who can do just that.
Returners included senior point guard Bryson Lane, senior shooting guard Luke Ballinger, junior guard Ryan Cutler and senior guard Nik Brannon.
“Bryson averaged double figures last season, and was one of our top assist guys, too,” Calo said. “Luke also averaged double figures, shot 44.3 percent from three and hit 51 of them last season, Ryan shot 43 percent from three last season and Brannon is much improved athletically and can shoot and get to the rim.”
Calo said sophomore guard Andre Irvin, who also saw some time last winter, will be a big part of Orange’s gameplan this time around as well.
“Andre and Bryson are both point guards, but they will play together,” he said. “Both are tough and skilled and both can drive and shoot. All the guys can shoot … and this is a very committed and coachable group.”
Others rounding out the roster include seniors Junior Agyapong and Ryan Lewis, juniors Darius Butler, Sam Rankin and Wilson Baker and sophomores Jordan Bethel and Nate Hoang.
“Those will be the guys coming off the bench,” Calo said. “Some of them are shooting specialists, and some will give us nice energy off the bench.”
Energy is something Orange had plenty of early on last year. The Pioneers started the season 9-2 with wins in each of their first five games before fading a bit down the stretch. They finished 13-10 overall and 4-6 in the OCC-Buckeye Division.
The league was one of the best in the area last winter … and this year shouldn’t be any different.
“Olentangy Liberty is the favorite in my opinion,” Calo said. “Also, Westerville South won more than 15 games last season and has many of its key pieces back. Olentangy could have the Player of the Year in Sean Marks and Westerville North is vary talented with two really good players in Jeremiah Keene and Phillip Alston.
“Westerville Central should be well-coached and play hard as well. I heard they have two good transfers.”
Orange opens the season Friday against visiting New Albany before taking on host Marion Harding the next day. The Pioneers open league play after that, set to face Liberty Dec. 7 in Powell.