COLUMBUS — Before the basketball season started, Lima Central Catholic coach Frank Kill knew who his best players were.
What he wanted to know was who would be the Thunderbirds’ leaders.
It turned out, they were the same people, as illustrated when Dantez Walton (30 points, 11 rebounds) and Tre Cobbs (20 points, 5 assists) led LCC to a 74-56 win over Cincinnati Roger Bacon in a Division III boys basketball state semifinal on Thursday.
“For the last two years they were kind of the Indians. These are my chiefs now,” Kill said about Walton and Cobbs after LCC advanced to the state championship game for a third consecutive year, where it will play Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph for the third season in a row.
LCC won the state title in 2014 and Villa Angela-St. Joseph was last year’s winner.
“It was something we had a conversation about, where were we going to find our leadership,” Kill said.
“Over the summer Tre took a lot of time to reflect after he had shoulder surgery. He worked really hard to get back to where he was. The whole time I think he has tried to understand his role on this team,” he said. “And Dantez is a natural-born leader.”
Walton shared Player of the Year honors on the Division III All-Ohio team and Cobbs was also on the first team.
Six of LCC’s top seven players are seniors. Four of them (Ethan O’Connor, Nick Taflinger, Cobbs and Walton) have played in three state tournaments and a fifth, Josh Dixon, has been in the starting lineup the last two state tournaments.
O’Connor scored 12 points against Roger Bacon and the six seniors in the top seven accounted for 72 of the Thunderbirds’ 74 points.
“I give a lot of credit to my seniors because we really rely a lot on what they do at both ends,” Kill said.
“I have four seniors who have played on this stage for the last three years and five who have played the last two years. It’s pretty special to be able to end your senior year on the biggest stage of your high school career,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be in this position without the five, six seniors who play and Thomas Williams. They play so unselfishly.”
Walton said, “Kill took Tre and me this summer and told us we had to step up. I believe we did that so far. But our job is not finished here.”
Cobbs said two previous trips to the state tournament made a difference for LCC’s veteran players. At least it did for him.
“This year just feels more special. I’d already been here so nothing was brighter. I was used to it. It was just another game,” he said.
Fashion competition: Villa Angela-St. Joseph coach Babe Kwasniak wore red shoes on the sideline for his team’s 81-64 win over Lynchburg-Clay, but Kill topped him with a new pair of bright red pants.
Kill acquired the new pants on Sunday at K&G Fashion Superstore in Columbus after an Ohio High School Athletic Association meeting for coaches and athletic directors of the schools in the state tournament.
In 2014 and 2015, Kill wore a three-piece suit to coach in the state tournament but thought it was time for a change.
“I thought I might as well go with something bold. This time I was going with something more casual. They’re T-Bird red,” he said.
Kill said he found the store on a recommendation from Lima City councilman Jesse Lowe.
“He came to my house one day for a garage sale and I inquired where he did his shopping. He sent me down here to Columbus and I’ve been shopping here ever since. It’s a big guys store, too,” he said.
Mr. Basketball advice: Twenty-two years ago LCC assistant coach Aaron Hutchins was in a similar position to Lima Senior’s Xavier Simpson when he was named Mr. Basketball the same week the Thunderbirds played in the state tournament.
Simpson became the fourth player from Lima to become Mr. Basketball on Wednesday.
Hutchins said he didn’t think being Mr. Basketball adds any pressure to playing in a state tournament.
“Not really. You still try to play your game,” he said. “I’d tell him to go out and play his own game. He got this far by playing his own style of play. I’d say play hard. You’ve got 32 minutes, go hard.”
Good genes: Alonzo Gaffney, a 6-foot, 7-inch freshman center for Villa Angela-St. Joseph who scored 11 points against Lynchburg-Clay, is the son of former University of Cincinnati player Kevin Gaffney.
Kevin Gaffney was a first-team Division I All-Ohio Player in 1979 on a first team that included Clark Kellogg, John Paxson and LaSalle Thompson.
Kwasniak compared Gaffney to Carlton Bragg, a Villa Angela-St. Joseph standout who is a freshman at Kansas.
“At this age he’s better skill-wise than Carlton was,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.