The 29th Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Annual Boys Tip-Off Classic will give hoops fans the opportunity to get an early season glimpse of four of the Lima schools in the area and see what each team has to offer.
Here is a breakdown of the teams playing in the two-day tournament held at the Elida Fieldhouse beginning Friday with Bath against Lima Central Catholic at 6:30 p.m. followed by Elida taking on Shawnee in the second contest.
Lima Central Catholic
After posting a six-win season last year, Thunderbird head coach Frank Kill admits it was humbling, but with 11 players back, the LCC mentor is looking for vast improvements.
“With 10 or 11 guys returning from last year’s 6-17 team hopefully we learned a lot last year on the things we can do and the things we need to improve on,” Kill said. “Last year was a very humbling experience for all of us coming off a state title and I think with these seniors it is going to take a lot of hard work and learning again to what makes us better come March.”
Six seniors dot the LCC roster with Mark Janowski, Matthew Cecala, Raoul Samaroo, DeAngelo Garner, Dylan Beiry and Brandon Stolly, returning.
Even though Kill’s teams are noted for defense, the LCC head coach said the focus in the early practices has been the offense.
“Recently we have had about four practices and those practices I have probably done 75 percent offense because it is going to be a key component whether we are going to be successful,” Kill said. “Defensively, I think we have stressed that in our program over the years and it is always important. I would like to go full court but as of right now we are going to focus on man-to-man and half court set and hopefully wear teams down.”
Janowski, a 6-7 post player, will be counted on to provide the bulk of the offense. Last year, Janowski averaged 12 points per game and with a year under his belt and a little more muscle on his frame, he should be a force to reckon with during the season.
However, Kill knows that they cannot rely on Janowski to carry the team.
“Well, I think finding a true scorer and someone who is going to be able to score for us and be an offensive threat,” Kill said. “We know Mark Janowski is capable of doing some great things inside but it is going to take some guard play to get him opportunities to score.”
Kill added that teams will look to pack it in inside to try and neutralize Janowski and so the guard play becomes even more important to produce.
With just four real practices under their belt, Kill has a pretty good idea of his rotation but added that who plays and gets minutes depends on the individuals themselves.
“I have a rotation of seven or eight guys and all of them either started or played a significant role for us last year and I am excited on how things are going to play out,” Kill said. “It is still uncertain who is going to start but most importantly who is going to finish the game.”
As the Thunderbirds enter the tip-off classic, Kill said he will be looking for a positive reaction from his players and how they are going to play.
“We know it is a big stage for all of us and hopefully we can get that first win and get that monkey off our back,” Kill said. “I expect us to play hard each and every night. Last year for 23 games we played hard but that is half the battle. We need to get to the next step of producing and executing on both ends.”
Elida made an incredible postseason run last year to make it to the regional finals.
Elida head coach Denny Thompson is hoping to keep that momentum going into this season and with eight seniors it appears the Bulldogs are poised for another big campaign.
“It absolutely gives a lot of confidence and momentum coming off our tournament run last year,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of the pieces back from last year but at the same time we are missing two pieces in Drew Sarno and Baylin Stinson. Both those guys stepped up big in the tournament run last year.”
Thompson said the team will have to find individuals to step up and fill the void left by those who graduated and with eight seniors back from last year he is confident that hole can be filled.
Senior Dan Unruh, who was the leading scorer last year, averaging 17.3 points a game, returns and although he was the shooting guard last year, Thompson said he will begin at point guard until someone is ready to take over those chores.
Thompson said Elida lacks size but said last year this was not a problem due to the athleticism of the players and he expects the same this year.
Senior Isaac McAdams, Donte Johnson, Calan Henderson and Skyler Smith, along with Unruh, make up the core of players who played in every game last year.
“Daniel has established himself as one of the better players and we have five guys coming back that played major minutes and one is Daniel so we need the other four to all step up in all aspects of the game,” Thompson said. “I feel those five could give us 20 on any given night. They have to realize they can do that and at the same time realize it is not going to happen all the time.”
Thompson’s primary focus in the early season is defending in the half court and executing the offense without turning over the ball.
“In our tournament run, our ability not to turn the ball over was really, really huge for us and we are trying to get back to where we were in that respect,” Thompson said.
Thompson will get a chance to see how things will look at the tip-off classic and while he will be evaluating his team in these early match ups, his goal is to win the tournament.
“I don’t believe there is a coach that has coached in the tip off whose goal wasn’t to win the tip-off,” Thompson said. “We are looking to win the tip off but as a coach in the early part of the season we would really like to see some consistency throughout the two games at both ends of the floor.”
Coming into the Tip-Off Classic, Bath head coach Shawn Allen will not only be focusing on winning but getting to the title game.
In the last three years, the Wildcats have dropped the opener.
“Our goals are little bit different,” Allen said. “Our first goal is to get to the championship game. For three years in a row we have played absolutely horrendous and then turn it around 180 degrees the second night.”
Allen added that if they can be successful in the tournament it will serve as a springboard to the season.
The Wildcats return four letter winners with three of them being starters including leading scorer Chad Frey and 6-9 center Harrison Gough, along with Devon Kenyon and Will Clark, who both started at various points last season.
“A comfort zone yes, but just because you have guys back it is what they did in the offseason,” Allen said. “Did they get better? I think so but until the lights come on at an eight o’clock game and it counts that is always a big question mark as a coach.”
Coming off a four-win season, Allen said he has made adjustments during the summer and the offseason in hopes of posting more wins this year.
Consistency in scoring was a huge problem last year with averaging 46 points a game and in 10 of those games the Wildcats scored 41 points or less.
“I think we lost 10 or 11 basketball games last year by five points or less,” Allen said. “We would just have that bad two minute stretch at some time in the game that got away from us. “
Allen is looking for players like Clark, who was in and out of the starting lineup, to step up and contribute more this season. Allen described Clark as the best shooter but added that has to make shots when they count.”
Kenyon is another player Allen is counting on to up his game. The Bath head coach said he is a solid defender and will mostly likely be called on to shut down the opposition’s best offensive player.
Coming off the bench for Bath will be sophomores Derek Grigsby and Steven Shook.
“I think scoring the basketball is our biggest deal and consistently from 12 feet and down,” Allen said. “I think we just missed a lot of shots around the basket that rolled around and didn’t go down for whatever reason.”
While the team does it work on the court in practice, Allen said during the offseason the players hit the weight room and did additional conditioning to get them in shape for the physical battles in the paint.
Shawnee comes into the Tip-Off Classic as the defending tournament champion and while Indians head coach Mark Triplett would like to retain the title he is also focused on the end of the season as well.
“It was nice last year and we got off to a great start,” Triplett said. “But we talked about that. The last couple of years we have gotten off to a couple of good starts … and then kind of tailed off from there. We want to play well at the Tip-Off but I think it is a lot more important for us to play well in January and February than on Friday nights in November.”
Triplett reiterates that his team is up for the challenge of the Tip-Off Classic but he is hoping a quick start leads to a strong finish.
Shawnee comes into the season with senior starters Tyler Moore, who has hurt midseason, Riley Rosado and Sheridan O’Neal back with Jared Thomas, Brady Sweeny and Johnny Caprella rounding out the returnees.
“We have seniors back, two of which Tyler Moore and Riley Rosado, we really looking to for leadership,” Triplett said, “They have been dressing varsity since they were sophomores so they got their feet as sophomores and were really asked to do a lot more last year.”
Triplett added that injuries hit these two players and it hurt them down the stretch.
Tabbed as the core six, Triplett said these players bring a variety of skills to the floor that allows Shawnee to be more diverse in their approach.
“We are able to do a lot of things with them,” Triplett said. “They are a versatile group and we are able to get up and down the floor. They are not very big and we don’t have a ton of size but they are a group that match up-wise we can stick different guys on different people.”
Triplett admits this team is not blessed with the best shooting ability but are working on that as well as other aspects of their game.
In addition to the nucleus of the six returnees, Triplett said they will be looking at juniors Justin Behnke and Jake Hutchins to contribute and added that possibly a couple of freshmen could see some court time as early as this weekend.
“The talent is there with the young guys but the experience is not,” Triplett said. “They kind of need to get their feet wet to see if they can swim.”
The Indians will have to fill the scoring void left by last year’s leading scorer Sean McDonald.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter at @JoseNogueras1