Unlike most teams, Lima Central Catholic’s boys basketball team talked openly about winning a state championship from the beginning of last season.
The Thunderbirds (25-4) accomplished that goal with a 64-62 win over Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in the Division III state championship game.
Now a year later, minus the top two scorers from last year’s state champion team, they’re not stepping away from talking about trying to make Columbus their destination again this March.
“I’ll use it again — ‘Columbus or bust,’ ” LCC coach Frank Kill said. “If you’re not in a conference, that’s what you play for, to get to Columbus and have a chance to play for a state title.
“I think you use last year’s mentality of becoming a state champion. You use it as a stepping stone,” he said.
LCC has three starters back — 6-foot, 1-inch junior guard Tre Cobbs (9.3 points a game) and inside players, 6-4 junior Dantez Walton (9.7) and 6-3 senior Jake Williams (5.0).
The Thunderbirds will have to replace leading scorer Martyce Kimbrough (18.6 points a game, 86 three-pointers) and point guard Xavier Simpson (17.8).
Kimbrough, now at the University of Indianapolis, was a state Division III Co-Player of the Year. Simpson followed his dad, Quincey, to Lima Senior when he became the Spartans coach. Simpson is rated the No. 58 prospect nationally in the junior class by espn.com.
Josh Dixon, a 5-9 junior, will take over at point guard and Ethan O’Connor, a 6-3 junior, will move into the other open spot in the starting lineup.
“And I think we have four or five guys who can come off the bench and give us that boost,” Kill said.
It’s not just scoring that LCC will have to replace this season
“The leadership role has always been the big deal. Who is going to lead this team?,” Kill said.
The Thunderbirds have added a couple of high-profile games to their schedule. They will play Kettering Alter in the Flyin’ To The Hoop Classic on Jan. 19 and will go to Grand Rapids, Mich., to play Union High School, expected to be a strong team.
“Everyone knows we’re going to have a good season but I think people are kind of doubting if we can get back to Columbus because of the loss of our seniors and Xavier but I think we’re a very good basketball team,” Williams said.
“We’re going to surprise some people when it comes to the tournament because I don’t think people think we can repeat, but we think we can,” he said.