The two words Olentangy Orange boys basketball coach Anthony Calo used to describe his outlook on the upcoming season were, “quietly optimistic.”
Calo, who is entering his sixth season at the helm of Orange, really likes the mix of youth and experience on this year’s team.
“I’m pleased with our kids,” he said. “I’ll take the more quiet approach. I’m hopeful that we can do some things this year. I’m hoping that we can surprise some people.”
Orange finished 8-15 overall and 1-9 in the OCC-Buckeye after a 5-2 start last year.
“We’ve got to be unselfish (this year),” Calo said. “We have to be a team. We have to be committed. Right now, our guys are doing what they need to do.”
Orange has a wealth of experience, including seniors Manny Anderson, Jack Betz, Jack Neer, Matt McCollum, Jalen Bethel and Jordan Shelton. Bethel is the Pioneers’ top returning scorer from last season.
Juniors Luke Ballinger, Bryson Lane and Nik Brannon all saw some time at the varsity level last season. Calo says all three will see significant time this season.
Sophomore Elijah Meredith saw limited action last season. Sophomore Ryan Cutler and freshman Andre Irvin are newcomers that could see some time this season as well.
“We have a nice mix of young talent and veteran experience that’ll hopefully do things the way that I want them done,” he said. “It could be a fun year if things come together the right way.”
Calo said he’s not focusing on what fellow OCC-Buckeye teams like Olentangy, Olentangy Liberty and Westervilles North, South and Central are doing. He’s trying to keep the team focused internally.
Orange opens on the road at New Albany (Dec. 1) and Buckeye Valley (Dec. 2). Big Walnut (away Dec. 19), St. Charles (away Dec. 23), Walnut Ridge (away Dec. 30) and Dublin Coffman (home Jan. 23) highlight the non-league slate.
“We’ve got to be more process driven than outcome driven,” Calo said. “We need to focus on staying committed to the things that we’re emphasizing … defend, rebound (and) run. Those are three things that are at the core of what we do.”
Take a look at the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team every year and there’s sure to be some multi-sport athletes … and this year’s no different.
Four of Liberty’s top players are key members of the football team, which wrapped up an OCC-Buckeye title and made it to the D-I state semifinals for a second straight season.
“Success breeds success,” said Greg Nossaman, who is entering his 10th season at the helm of the Patriots.
He thinks Ben Roderick, Mitchell Kershner, Mitchell Okuley and Grant Wilson are all learning valuable lessons from football coach Steve Hale and his program.
“I think the biggest thing in being around another sport is success,” Nossaman said. “If they’re going 0-10 (in football), they’re not picking up much … they’re learning to give up.”
Liberty doesn’t have the luxury of moving games around this season. It opens with Mentor in the All-Ohio Nike High School Hoops Showcase Dec. 2 at Whitehall-Yearling High School.
“Whenever those guys are done, they’ll be over,” Nossaman said. “We’re not moving our first game. If we (the football team) played in the state championship game on Dec. 1, we open up Dec. 2. So, they may not get any practices in.”
Mentor just so happens to be Liberty’s opponent in the football state semifinals, something Nossaman is well aware of.
Despite not having his full complement of players for preseason practice, Nossaman likes his team’s chemistry.
“We (have) some guys that just play basketball,” Nossaman said. “So, it’s a nice mix that we can bring those guys over (from football). Of course, those guys are all friends, which really helps.”
It’s a roster mostly made up of juniors – eight of 13, in fact.
Roderick was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season. He’s been a key contributor on varsity since his freshman year, but really took on the scoring load last season.
“He’s gotten taller, he’s gotten stronger and he’s learned to compete harder,” Nossaman said. “He comes in before school and gets shots up even though it’s football season.
“He’s got four offers on the table right now in Division I. I think he’ll get some more. He’s a key component to our team, but you can’t win with one guy. There’s going to be other guys around him.”
Roderick isn’t the only weapon in Liberty’s arsenal. Kershner and Nick Nakasian each played big roles last season, which saw the Patriots improve to 15-9 overall on the way to a district semifinal appearance. Nossaman needs them to up the ante, though.
“Their point production has to increase, their rebounding has to increase, their maturity and their leadership has to increase,” Nossaman said.
Liberty has to replace its point guard and find some depth in the post. Nossaman sees the point guard position as having himself on the floor.
Junior Joey Thatcher filled that role on the JV squad last season and freshman Henry Hinkle will provide depth.
“Henry is on the varsity as a freshman. He’s having a really nice offseason,” Nossaman said. “I think those two will do nice things complimenting each other at the point for us this year.”
Llwyatt Hofer is another junior who saw significant time in the post last season.
Post Dan McFarland is the only senior on the roster.
Liberty’s schedule is tournament and showcase heavy in the non-conference. The Patriots travel to North Allegheny (PA) over the winter break in late December for a tournament.
They also play Xenia in the Flying to the Hoop showcase in Dayton and Dublin Coffman in the Jared Sullinger Classic at Ohio Dominican Jan. 27 to go along with the opener against Mentor.
“We have some really good teams in our non-league. That’s what we want to do – we want to play good non-league teams,” Nossaman said.
“People get caught up in wins and losses – I don’t. I want to compete for a league championship and put the best team in the tournament and try to get to a district final.”
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.