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Who is No. 1? Presenting the 2020-21 cleveland.com preseason boys basketball Top 25

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 11/27/2020 Matt Goul, cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Eight area teams had their quest for a 2020 state championship end without a defeat.

Many of those programs return with hopes to finish in 2021 what they started earlier this year.

Graduation will make that a tougher challenge for St. Edward, Holy Name and Shaker Heights, but St. Vincent-St. Mary, Lutheran East, Mentor, Richmond Heights and Warrensville Heights remain loaded for the season ahead — whatever that could look like.

Most Cuyahoga County schools have their seasons on hold, complying with board of health stay-at-home advisory during a coronavirus pandemic that began in March. Other parts of the area and state have followed suit, despite the Ohio High School Athletic Association moving ahead this week with the boys basketball season.

Some are playing. Many are not.

Despite the uncertainty ahead, cleveland.com presents a breakdown of the top 25 area teams at the OHSAA’s official starting point. Schedules are being omitted because of the uncertainty through December, as Gov. Mike DeWine requested fans not be permitted during that time with an exception for parents.

With a hope this season is played fully for all teams, let the countdown begin:

25. HUDSON EXPLORERS

Coach: Jeff Brink (14th season)

2019-20 record: 16-8, 10-4 Suburban League National Division (Division I Twinsburg Sectional finalist)

Returning starters: David Gentry (6-6, Sr., F, 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds), Tyler Miller (6-4, Sr., F, 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds)

In the rotation: J.D. Taylor (Sr., G), Michael Klein (Sr., F), Jack Whitman (Sr., G), Aiden Lal (Jr., G), Carter Buzzelli (Jr., G), Ryan Evans (Jr., F)

Outlook: Hudson emerged last season, helping Brink pick up his 300th boys coaching victory late in the regular season. This squad should challenge defending Suburban League National Division champ North Royalton among a field with Stow, Twinsburg and Brecksville also in the chase. What separates Hudson? It has size, led by Gentry and Miller. Gentry could separate himself this season as one of the Suburban League’s top players, which includes North Royalton’s Omar Abuhamdeh and Brecksville’s Tyler Ganley. Both of them are guards. Gentry is a forward with a motor. So many teams are dependent on guard play that Hudson’s strength up front with some athletic, but inexperienced, guards should make them tough to beat.

24. UNIVERSITY SCHOOL PREPPERS

Coach: Sean McDonnell (fifth season)

2019-20 record: 18-7 (Division I Euclid District semifinalist)

Returning starters: Faris Dahman (5-11, Sr., G, 15.0 points, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals), Sean Scadlock (6-0, Sr., G, 4.0 points, 2.0 steals), Cam Smith (6-2, Sr., G, 13.0 points, 2.0 steals), Asaan Snipes-Rea (6-2, Sr., G, 8.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals), Ricky Radtke (6-7, Sr., F, 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks)

In the rotation: Nelson Johnson (6-8, Jr., F, 5.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks), Zion Durden (6-7, Sr., F)

Outlook: The Preppers emerged last season with a stretch of victories that included Gilmour, an eventual district finalist in Walsh Jesuit and Massillon Jackson. They have depth and all five starters back from last season’s run, which ended with a loss to Mentor in the district semifinals. McDonnell’s squad likes to run with full-court, pressure defense to pick up the pace.

23. BENEDICTINE BENGALS

Coach: Rob Stircula (12th season)

2019-20 record: 13-11 (Division I Euclid Sectional finalist)

Returning starters: Detric Hearst (6-3, Jr., G/F), London Maiden (6-7, Jr., F)

In the rotation: Jalen Brown (5-9, Jr., G), Ju’Waun Howard (5-9, Jr., G), Marvin-Christ Conkle (6-1, Jr., G), Jyles Brandon (5-10, So., G), Mike Wilson (5-8, Sr., G), Santana Bugg (5-9, Jr., G), Joe Nealon (6-1, Sr., G/F), Sam Brown (6-5, So., F), John Hannan (6-0, Sr., G)

Outlook: Heart provides the energy that should make Benedictine go. Along with Maiden, a premier shot blocker, opposing teams will struggle to keep up with Benedictine on the glass. The backcourt lost experienced guards Jashun Cobb and Eric Buckner, but Howard and Co. should be able to pick up the pace for one the area’s most consistently tough programs.

22. REVERE MINUTEMEN

Coach: Dean Rahas (19th season)

2019-20 record: 21-3, 11-1 Suburban League American Division (Division II Stow District finalist)

Returning starters: Jimmy Salamone (6-9, Sr., G, 20.0 points), Andrew Rinn (6-4, Sr., G, 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds)

In the rotation: Ben Christman (6-5, Sr., C), Aiden Palmer (6-4, Jr., F), Nolan Williams (5-8, Jr., G), Michael Novosel (6-4, Jr., F)

Outlook: Salamone is an electric scoring guard, entering his third season as a premier playmaker for the Minutemen. They graduated size in 6-7 Hunter Drenth, but can make up for it with guard play and pressure defense. Revere’s only loss in the Suburban League’s American Division last season came against Copley, which should provide one of the area’s better rivalries. Revere should also have one of the area’s better — at least brand-new — gyms.

21. NORTH ROYALTON BEARS

Coach: Nick Laspevich (sixth season)

2019-20 record: 19-6, 12-2 Suburban League National Division (Lakewood District semifinalist)

Returning starters: Omar Abuhamdeh (5-11, Sr., PG, 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists), Killian O’Callahan (5-10, Sr., G), Ethan Toppin (6-3, Sr., F, 11.0 points)

In the rotation: Justin Penkalski (6-4, Jr., F), Nate Sprecher (6-1, Sr., G)

Outlook: Abuhamdeh has North Royalton favored to defend its Suburban League crown, as the fourth-year starting point guard has the Bears enjoying their best stretch of basketball since Omari Spellman played at the school. He has experience back around him with Toppin and O’Callahan, who played a sixth-man role for much of the season with some spot stars. Pankalski and Sprecher should see increased roles after coming off the bench last season, as Laspevich’s squad will look to space the floor and take advantage of its shooting. The Bears made 228 shots beyond the 3-point arc last season.

20. GREEN BULLDOGS

Coach: Mark Kinsley (24th season)

2019-20 record: 22-3, 11-1 Federal League (Division I Canton District finalist)

Returning starters: Zack Oddo (6-5, Jr., G)

In the rotation: Trey Martin (6-2, Jr., G), Nathan Smith (6-5, Sr., F), Quinn Simmer (5-11, Jr., G), B.J. Glass (6-2, Sr., G), Jameson Pine (6-4, Jr., F)

Outlook: Garrison Keeslar (now at Walsh University) and an experienced senior class graduated for Green, but Oddo emerged last season as a leading scorer in Keeslar’s absence early in the year. That experience could pay dividends for one of the area’s top programs, located near the southern edge of Summit County. Martin earned time as a freshman on Green’s 2019 regional finalist squad. The Bulldogs’ challenge will be Federal League rival Canton McKinley, a favorite to reach Columbus from the Cleveland State region.

19. COPLEY INDIANS

Coach: Mark Dente (12th season)

2019-20 record: 10-13, 7-4 Suburban League American Division (Division II Canton District semifinalist)

Returning starters: Khoi Thurmon (5-11, So., G), Amire Robinson (6-3, So., G), Matthew Dente (6-0, Sr., G), Caleb Laurich (6-5, Jr., F)

In the rotation:  Preston Taylor (5-10, Jr., G)

Outlook: Copley is one of the younger exciting teams in Northeast Ohio with Thurmon and Robinson, who made waves as freshmen. Laurich should provide strength inside to complement the guards that push this squad.

18. BEDFORD BEARCATS

Coach: Pete Priola (eighth season)

2019-20 record: 10-13, 5-7 Lake Erie League (Division I Twinsburg Sectional finalist)

Returning starters: Tre Miller (5-8, Sr., PG), Jaylon Clark (5-9, Jr., G, 9.0 points, 5.0 rebounds), Chaze Harris (6-3, Sr., G, 22.0 points), Malik Simmons (6-4, Sr., F, 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds)

In the rotation: Raymell Hester (5-11, Jr., G), Sean Conway (5-10, Jr., G), Joe Stokes (6-4, Jr., F), Malik Baker (6-2, Jr., F)

Outlook: Like all of the LEL, Bedford will not begin this season at its original start date. The Bearcats are sitting with an indefinite suspension of winter sports and a talented squad eager to return to the floor. Harris is an athletic guard leading the way and on pace to reach 1,000 career points within his first few games this season. Clark, Simmons and Hester are coming off a football season with Simmons providing toughness inside. Bedford must improve its 3-point shooting to make another step into league and postseason contention.

17. SHAKER HEIGHTS RED RAIDERS

Coach: Danny Young (13th season)

2019-20 record: 21-5, 11-3 Greater Cleveland Conference (Division I Cleveland State Regional finalist)

Returning starters: Danny Young Jr. (6-1, Jr., G, 14.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists), Alex Benson (6-4, Sr., G/F, 10.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists)

In the rotation: Jahdae Walker (6-4, Sr., G, 8.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists), Deandre Hall (5-9, Sr., G, 5.5 points), Toreeq Roper (5-9, Sr., G, 3.4 points), Cody Head (6-2, So., G), Kellon Smith (6-3, So., G), Ayden King (6-4, Jr., F), Greg Gilbert (6-3, Sr., F)

Outlook: Now in the Lake Erie League, Shaker gets to renew rivalries — once a season is cleared by those schools, as it is complying with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health advisory to not play through Dec. 17. The Raiders are among the area’s top teams to have their season stopped last season without a loss during the pandemic. They were set to face Mentor in the regional finals at CSU. Standouts Dakota Cochran (now at Central Michigan for football), Shammah Scott, Eric Mudd and Dante Benjamin are among the losses to graduation. Young and Benson return with a talented sophomore class that should give this team a new look. Young is already just 291 points shy of 1,000 for his career. He is one of the area’s most dependable free-throw shooters with deep range, holding offers from Akron and Cleveland State. Rebounding will be a question mark, particularly without Cochran, Mudd and Benjamin. The transition game is where Shaker can thrive. Coach Danny Young’s program has six district titles in the last eight years. It has proven to bounce back time and time again.

16. BRUNSWICK BLUE DEVILS

Coach: Joe Mackey (25th season)

2019-20 record: 13-11, 7-7 Greater Cleveland Conference (Lakewood Sectional finalist)

Returning starters: Marquis Barnett (6-3, Sr., G), Tre Massey (6-2, Sr., G), Landon Kistler (6-3, Sr., F)

In the rotation: Zach Eyssen (6-2, Jr., G), Cam Cruz (5-11, Jr., G)

Outlook: Barnett and Massey are among the area’s best returning one-two punches. Expect Barnett to be one of the most-improved players in the area, according to several area coaches and scouts who say they are impressed with the point guard. Massey has established himself the last two years as one of the top 3-point marksmen in Northeast Ohio with range well beyond the arc. Guard play will be a strength, size inside is a concern, but that is common for many teams.

15. BUCHTEL GRIFFINS

Coach: Rayshon Dent (first season)

2019-20 record: 12-13, 7-4 Akron City Series (Division II Canton District semifinalist)

Returning starters: Chris Livingston (6-7, Jr., G), Vernon Smith (6-8, Jr., F)

In the rotation: Noah Peoples (6-2, Sr., F/G), Cordell Livingston (5-10, Jr., PG), Michael Boyce Jr. (6-0, So., G), Martel Perkins (5-9, Sr., G), Tahj Poole (6-3, So., G)

Outlook: Few teams have ridden a rollercoaster in the last two years like Buchtel, which reached the Division II state semifinals in 2019 and won 20 games with Chris Livingston leading the way as a freshman. Livingston transferred to Western Reserve Academy with brother Cordell at the beginning of their sophomore seasons, but returned earlier this year. Coach Matt Futch left for Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy and standout senior guard Ronnell Perie transferred to Canton McKinley. Guard Martavien Johnson transferred earlier this year to Massillon Washington. Dent takes over for Futch as another Buchtel graduate who previously served as an assistant at Shaker Heights. Akron City Series teams are not leaving Summit County for at least the start of their season.

14. ARCHBISHOP HOBAN KNIGHTS

Coach: T.K. Griffith (28th season)

2019-20 record: 14-11 (Division I Copley District semifinalist)

Returning starters: Isaiah Young (5-9, Sr., PG), Logan Vowles (5-11, So., G), Thomas Crowe (6-5, Sr., F)

In the rotation: Jonas Nichols (6-2, Fr., G)

Outlook: Guard play will guide Hoban, which returns its leading scorer in Young and two of the better sophomore and freshman guards in Northeast Ohio. Vowles’ shooting earned him a spot on last season’s varsity team, becoming a starter for the Knights. Young could reach Hoban’s top five, all-time in scoring, while Nichols is expected to compete for a starting spot. The question mark will be inside with no true post presence. Peterson is committed to Wisconsin for football, and does not plan to play to play this season, a decision being made by many of the area’s top football recruits during an unpredictable 2020-21 school year. Hoban plays one of the stiffest schedules in Northeast Ohio, maintaining most former North Coast League rivals with additional nonconference foes Brunswick, Copley and Green.

13. BRUSH ARCS

Coach: Chet Mason (sixth season)

2019-20 record: 19-6, 14-0 Western Reserve Conference (Division I Euclid District finalist)

Returning starters: Andrew Jones (6-1, Jr., G), Elmore James IV (6-2, Jr., G, 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals), Antwone Woolfolk (6-8, Jr., F, 5.6 points, 4.0 rebounds)

In the rotation: Tyler Williams (6-8, So., F), Trace Bishko (5-10, Jr., G), Elias Johnson (5-11, Jr., G)

Outlook: Brush has a tall order in replacing four-year starter John Hugley, who is now at Pittsburgh. However, the Arcs still have plenty of size, rebounding and shot blocking with Williams and Woolfolk in the post. James steps into a leading role in his third year as a major part of Mason’s rotation. A lock-down defender, James has offers from his coach’s alma mater, Miami (Ohio), Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Bryant and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The roster took a hit this fall with 6-6 sophomore guard Marlon Barnes transferring to Ypsi Prep with Emoni Bates, the country’s top-ranked player in the Class of 2022. Barnes averaged 10 points in half of a season and has offers from Cleveland State, Miami and Pittsburgh. There are no seniors on the roster, and Jones — an Ohio State baseball commit — runs the point for a desired up-tempo offense.

12. ST. EDWARD EAGLES

Coach: Eric Flannery (25th season)

2019-20 record: 25-1 (Division I Toledo Regional finalist)

Returning starters: None

In the rotation: Michael Bova (6-0, Jr., G), Shane Macalla (5-11, Sr., G), Zoltan Nagy (6-5, Sr., F), Mason Lerch (5-11, Sr., G), Zyion Freer-Brown (5-10, Jr., G), Jair Knight (6-2, Jr., G/F)

Outlook: St. Edward’s season ended awaiting a regional final in Toledo in pursuit of its third state final four appearance in four seasons with a trio of fourth-year standouts in Grant Huffman, Devontae Blanton and Montorie Foster. Huffman is now at Davidson, Blanton at Eastern Kentucky and Foster a receiver at Michigan State on the football team. Flannery has no returning starters, but he has one of the area’s better guards in Bova. Along with Macalla and Nagy, Bova sparked the Eagles last season off the bench and has a scholarship offer from Youngstown State. Flannery expects guard play to remain a strength and will rely on depth with perimeter shooting.

11. ST. IGNATIUS WILDCATS

Coach: Cam Joyce (second season)

2019-20 record: 15-9 (Division I Lakewood District semifinalist)

Returning starters: Henry Raynor (6-7, Sr., F, 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), C.J. Yarian (6-9, Jr., F, 6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks)

In the rotation: Jon Effertz (6-0, Jr., G, 10.0 points, 2.0 assists, 1.0 rebounds), Will Yontek (6-7, Sr., F, 6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds), Mike Mattimore (6-1, Sr., G, 4.0 points), Shondo Green (6-4, Jr., F), Bradyn Sczepaniak (6-4, So., G)

Outlook: Raynor is one of the area’s most athletic big forwards and a Hillsdale College commit. He has company in the Wildcats’ frontcourt with Yarian and Yontek. Effertz adds perimeter scoring with a strong shooting touch, entering his third year on the varsity roster. The challenge for Joyce will be brining along the guards with Effertz, who is their only experienced player in the backcourt.

10. RICHMOND HEIGHTS SPARTANS

Coach: Quentin Rogers (third season)

2019-20 record: 22-4, 16-0 Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division (Division IV Canton Regional finalist)

Returning starters: Jamarr Talbert (6-2, Sr., G, 12.2 points, 6.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 steals), Josiah Harris (6-7, Jr., F, 20.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks)

In the rotation: Ibn Edwards (5-11, Sr., PG), Malikee Sonie (6-1, Sr., G), Amarion Dickerson (6-5, Sr., F, 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 blocks at Rhodes), Jaiden Cox-Holloway (6-4, Sr., F, 13.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks at Euclid), Priest Ryan (6-5, Jr., F)

Outlook: Last season’s favorite to win the Division IV state title brings back one of the area’s top forwards in Harris, who holds scholarship offers from Ohio State, West Virginia, Kansas State and many more. The Spartans’ length is as good as any, even compared to Division I programs, as Harris is joined by a trio of transfers in Dickerson from Rhodes, Cox-Holloway from Euclid and Ryan from Kiski School in Pennsylvania.

9. LORAIN TITANS

Coach: John Rositano (eighth season)

2019-20 record: 17-9, 7-5 Lake Erie League (Division I Akron Regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: Seth Wilson (6-3, Sr., G, 13.5 points, 5.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds), DeVante Jackson (6-0, Sr., G), Aden Brown (6-5, Sr., F)

In the rotation: Jamir Billings (5-11, Sr., G), Kameron Thomas (6-4, Sr., F), Jaco Lee (5-9, Sr., G)

Outlook: Like many schools, Lorain is paused for now. It had no athletics this fall, but approved a plan for winter sports and is providing weekly COVID-19 tests in an effort to proceed with a season. The Titans have the talent to compete with any squad in the area after graduating talented guards, including three-year starter Jordan Jackson, Aaron Whitehead and Deonte Benejan. Wilson leads the way as a West Virginia recruit with the experience of playing in big games, including two state finals at St. Vincent-St. Mary.

8. GARFIELD HEIGHTS BULLDOGS

Coach: William “Sonny” Johnson (18th season)

2019-20 record: 18-6, 12-2 Lake Erie League (Division I Twinsburg District semifinalist)

Returning starters: Sonny Johnson (5-11, Jr., PG, 15.2, 7.0 assists), Tyler Jackson (6-5, Sr., G, 14.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists), Makail Cottingham (6-3, Sr., G, 13.1 points)

In the rotation: Tavian Tatum (6-6, Jr., F, 8.0 points, 5.0 rebounds), Tommie Benn (6-0, So., G), Joseph James (6-8, Jr., C), Xen Borden (6-4, Sr., F), Marcos Vazquez (6-0, Sr., G), Yanko Mansaray (6-3, Sr., G/F), Stephen Cornwell (5-8, So., G), Dylan Bartchak (5-11, Fr., G)

Outlook: Garfield Heights won 18 games and a share of the LEL title with Cleveland Heights despite missing point guard Sonny Johnson to a knee injury for the second half of the season. He is expected to return later this season. Additional expectations had risen with Demetrius “Meechie” Johnson Jr. transferring back to his home school for a senior year after rehabilitating with the International Sports Academy at Andrews Osborne. However, the 6-3 scoring guard reclassified and will graduate at the end of this semester so he can enroll early at Ohio State. The Bulldogs looked like a sure top five team with a Mr. Basketball candidate in the fold, but they still have a Penn State commit coming back in the younger Sonny with a nucleus that powered through last season. Jackson is committed to Lincoln Trail College in Chicago, and Cottingham is bound for Clarion in Pennsylvania next year. They are back for their senior season with a strong junior class that includes size up front, led by Tatum and the promising James. Garfield Heights must wait to put it all together. The school was one of the first to pause winter sports until January.

7. WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS TIGERS

Coach: Brian Swift (10th season)

2018-19 record: 15-12, 6-6 Lake Erie League (Division III Canton Regional finalist)

Returning starters: Ramelle Arnold (5-11, Sr., PG, 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists), DeAngelo Bell (6-0, Sr., F, 6.0 points, 5.0 rebounds)

In the rotation: Jaden Hameed (5-11, Sr., G, 24.4 points, 4.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds at Villa Angela-St. Joseph), Jamarion Johnson (5-8, Sr., G, 6.0 points), Tyishawn Smiley (6-4, Sr., F, 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds at Glenville), Maurice Tartt (6-3, Jr., F), Terrion Ellis (6-2, Sr., F)

Outlook: Warrensville Heights broke through a loaded district final four last season in Division III as Arnold powered the Tigers to overtime wins against Fairview and Elyria Catholic. Warrensville’s season ended following a win in the regional semifinals. An encore attempt comes with a move up to Division II, but with Arnold returning and having help in the form of Hameed, VASJ’s all-time leading 3-point shooter. Smiley also transferred in from Glenville as a result of Senate League schools not having athletics this school year. His addition with a rebounding enforcer in Bell, who is coming off another all-district football season, add to the Tigers’ toughness. Pairing Arnold, who holds an offer from Fairmont State, with Hameed gives Warrensville a backcourt that Swift thinks could be its best since Korey Spates and Joe Davis in 2005.

6. SOLON COMETS

Coach: Tony DeCesare (seventh season)

2019-20 record: 18-7, 9-5 Greater Cleveland Conference (Division I Twinsburg District finalist)

Returning starters: Marcus Steele (6-0, Sr., PG, 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists), Rayquan Thompson (5-11, So., PG, 4.4 points, 2.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds), Sam Marbury (6-4, Jr., G/F, 9.7 points, 6.0 rebounds), Jimmie Williams (6-2, Sr., G/F, 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists), Dylan Vauss (6-2, Sr., F, 6.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists)

In the rotation: Noah Obert (6-0, Sr., G), Pat McQuaide (6-0, Sr., F)

Outlook: Solon brings back four starters, including a spot starter in Thompson, who picked up more playing time toward the end of last season and could be one of Northeast Ohio’s rising talents. Steele is a third-year starter, one of the area’s top defensive guards, and Marbury’s smooth play on the offensive side should help Solon improve offensively after playing some teams in grind-it-out fashion last season. DeCesare said he wants to use more full-court pressure with this group’s talents, which should kick up the scoring a notch. Size is the question mark for this team, which pushed Shaker Heights in a district final.

5. MEDINA BEES

Coach: Chris Hassinger (seventh season)

2019-20 record: 20-6, 12-2 Greater Cleveland Conference (Division I Cleveland State Regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: Corey Tripp (6-3, Sr., PG, 12.7 points), Brandon Geschke (6-0, Sr., G), Christian Howard (6-4, Sr., G/F)

In the rotation: Tre Hammond (6-6, Jr., G/F), Jajuan Jackson (5-9, Jr., G), Matt Spatny (6-3, Jr., F/C)

Outlook: Tripp leads a Medina team that took Mentor to overtime during last season’s regional semifinals, which turned out to be the area’s last game of the season. The Bees lost an All-Ohio guard to graduation in Kyle Szumski, a quiet leader who could score inside or out and a strong rebounder. Tripp checks all the boxes to take on that leadership role, both with his play on the court and demeanor. Mid-American Conference schools expressed interest in him. If given the chance this year, he could be a sleeper for the state’s Mr. Basketball award.

4. MENTOR CARDINALS

Coach: Bob Krizancic (28th season)

2019-20 record: 20-6, 12-2 Greater Cleveland Conference (Division I Cleveland State regional finalist)

Returning starters: Luke Chicone (5-10, Sr., PG, 19.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists), Kyle Culler (6-1, Sr., G, 5.1 points)

In the rotation: Jonah Waag (6-3, Sr., G, 15.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.3 assist at VASJ), Steven Key (6-2, Sr., G, 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists at Euclid), Cael Gray (5-11, Sr., G), Ian Kipp (6-3, Sr., F), Sean Collins (6-5, Jr., F), Sean Collins (6-5, Jr., G/F), Andrew Smith (6-5, Sr., G/F), John Sierputowski (6-2, Sr., G/F), Jeff Norwood (6-1, Sr., G/F), Antonio DiFranco (6-4, Sr., F), Matt Biddell (6-1, Fr.)

Outlook: Chicone took over down the stretch in Mentor’s last game, a 76-72 double overtime win vs. Medina in the regional semifinals. The Youngstown State scored 39 points that night. Could it be a regular occurrence for him this season? Mentor has plenty of firepower around him, despite graduating three-year standout Luke Floriea, adding Waag from Villa Angela-St. Joseph and Key from Euclid. Krizancic’s high-octane system should offer plenty of opportunities for all to get their offensive games going. Waag’s versatility can translate on the defensive end. If the Cardinals can click there, they could make another march toward Columbus.

3. CLEVELAND HEIGHTS TIGERS

Coach: J.R. Bremer (second season)

2019-20 record: 18-6, 12-2 Lake Erie League (Division I Euclid District semifinalist)

Returning starters: E.J. Farmer (6-4, Sr., G, 16.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals), Jaylen Davis (6-6, Sr., F, 3.8 points, 2.7 rebounds)

In the rotation: Jamal Sumlin (6-2, Jr., PG, 14.0 points, 7.0 assists, 6.0 rebounds at Rhodes), Keyshawn Hall (6-7, Sr., F, 14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists at Rhodes), Bryon Ottrix (5-10, Sr., G, 23.0 points, 4.0 assists at Glenville), Davon Smith-Johnson (6-5, Sr., F, 5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks), Mike Coyne (6-1, Jr., G), Ja’Marion Lanum (6-2, Jr., G), Cam Majors (6-4, Sr., G/F), Dushawn Hill (5-9, Jr., G), Rondelle Pollard (5-8, So., G)

Outlook: J.R. Bremer’s return last year to Cleveland Heights energized the program, which had its peaks and valleys from big showcase wins to nearly missing the postseason because of OHSAA sanctions that were overturned in court. The Tigers have no plans to leave the state this year. In fact, they are adding another showcase to their season-opening Great Lakes Classic with the J.R. Bremer Invitational in January. Farmer is back with Davis and Smith-Johnson, who should provide rebounding and versatility on defense. Offensively, Farmer has company with the arrivals of Sumlin, Ottrix and Hall this summer after learning the Cleveland Metropolitan School District would not have in-person classes or athletics this fall and winter. Can those Senate League all-stars mesh with Farmer and Co.? Bremer’s system, predicated on ball movement, is the vital ingredient to make it happen.

2. LUTHERAN EAST FALCONS

Coach: Sam Liggins (third season)

2019-20 record: 20-3 (Division II Canton Regional semifinalist)

Returning starters:  Sirr Hughes (5-11, Sr., G, 12.1 points, 7.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals), Collin Albert (6-0, Sr., G, 14.0 points, 3.0 assists, 3.0 steals), Jalen Knott (6-2, Sr., G), Jay Billingsley (6-8, Sr., F, 17.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 blocks)

In the rotation: Jared Lary (6-5, Sr., F), Jordan Cannon (6-2, Jr., G), B.J. Busbee (6-1, Sr., G), Malik Kennedy (6-3, Sr., F)

Outlook: Lutheran East ended last season ready for a rematch with STVM, which it beat in overtime late in the regular season. Leading scorer Nehemiah Benson graduated on to Rider, but Georgetown commit Billingsley is back with the area’s most experienced backcourt of Hughes and Albert. Add Knott, one of the area’s most tenacious defenders, and Lutheran East has a core entering its third season together at the varsity level. Lary, a transfer from Michigan, is expected to slot into the forward spot vacated by Benson. The Falcons made four straight final four appearances, including a Division IV state crown in 2017, going into last season. They are back in Division III after last season’s D-II run.

1. ST. VINCENT-ST. MARY FIGHTING IRISH

Coach: Dru Joyce (20th season)

2019-20 record: 20-4 (Division II Canton Regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: Darrian Lewis (5-10, Sr., G, 6.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists), Sencire Harris (6-4, Jr., G, 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.0 steals), Malaki Branham (6-5, Sr., G/F, 20.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists)

In the rotation: Ramar Pryor (6-2, Jr., G, 9.0 points, 2.0 rebounds), Austin Rayman (6-0, Sr., G), Dalen Burney (6-5, Sr., F), Lance Hayes (6-3, So., G), Kevin Hamilton (5-6, So., G), Darius Stratford (6-9, So., F/C)

Outlook: Primed for a state title run before last season, STVM enters this season with unfinished business. Ohio State commit Branham is back to lead an experienced and talented group for Joyce, who is 393-113 with five state championships through his first 19 seasons leading STVM. In addition to Branham, Harris (Wake Forest, Florida) and Pryor (Akron, Kent State, Cleveland State) have a slew of Division I scholarship offers. Lewis is a tough-nosed guard who starred at safety and receiver on the football team. Joyce is concerned about the inexperience in the post, but his guards can play fast and press just as he likes.

On the cusp: Bay, Brecksville, Cleveland Central Catholic, Harvey, Lakewood, Stow, Walsh Jesuit

Contact sports reporter Matt Goul on Twitter (@mgoul) or email (mgoul@cleveland.com).

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