Hooray for Hoops!
By Shayne Combs
Finally, basketball is in the air.
A special time for us to share.
Electric atmospheres with pep bands loud,
and student sections in the crowd.

Fall is fine, but it is so well-known.
The titles are dynasties to own.
Like volleyball in Frankfort…simply enough said,
and Unioto golfers finishing way ahead.
Like Hatfield and Ross running way out alone,
It seems like results are set in stone.

Winter has favorites that many will pick,
but it has upsets that make big-dogs sick.
Will Legg and the Streaks become the league’s best?
Will the Lady Tanks stay ahead of the rest?
The two-shade ladies will have a say about this,
and counting out ZT could leave you feeling remiss.

Winter is buzzer-beaters, fast breaks, and more.
It is no-look passes and players diving on the floor.
It is low crossover dribbles to drive to the hole.
It is finishing with contact for an “and-one� goal.
It is standing your ground to take a charge.
It is a role player in the clutch coming up large.
It is an official’s whistle being both good and bad
with one side of the gym happy and the other side mad.
It is continuity on offense and intense pressure on “D.
It is penetrating and kicking for a purely shot three.
It is coaches drawing up a last-second play,
or a great call from Mike on WKKJ.

So just close your eyes and make a basketball wish.
You’ll hear the bouncing ball and the net saying â
For your wait is almost over, the season is here.
Your first trip to the gym is drawing near.
You’d be hard pressed to find a sport I don’t
but the gym in the winter – that’s a gift from
A gift I cherish in a very special way –
Hoop season is here and I say “hooray.�
My overall opinion of this year’s league is that the overall talent level
is down a little. I do not say this to diminish the excitement for this yearâ
€™s league; I say this as an honest opinion and as an observation that
you could kind of see coming over the last couple of years. The SVC was
really good two years ago, was still fairly good last year, and like
individual programs sometimes have to do, this year’s league is a
rebuilding year for the SVC.

The league is not lacking size and athleticism, but it is lacking solid guard
play and pure shooters which can lead to some ugly play at times. With
that said, Piketon is a nice team who has to be considered a huge favorite
entering the season, and beyond them, the SVC should have great parity
which will make for some very competitive games. This year’s league
has some solid individual talent, but as we make our way through the
preseason discussion, it becomes clear why good guard play will often
times win-out when being compared to elite post players.

As mentioned before, this year’s discussion has to start with Piketon.
Piketon, led by the league’s most talented player in Evan Legg,
returns a lot of experience and a great mixture of size, talent, and
athleticism. Legg, who averaged just less than 21 ppg. a year ago, will
become the league’s 78th member to score 1,000 career points
sometime in the early going this season. Legg is an outstanding talent who
can score in a variety of ways. He is dominating in the lost-art of the
midrange game, and he is a great free throw shooter which makes him a
great closer in tight games. When I mentioned that this year’s league
does not rank high in terms of overall history, this did not apply to Legg
at all. The Piketon senior will most likely end his career in the SVC top-
10 of all-time scoring, and a second league championship on his resume
would definitely put him in the elite all-time guards in league history.

Legg is surrounded by a nice supporting cast. Several complementary
guards such as Jared Vulgamore, Jamie Helton, and Craigen Moore are all
solid ball handlers and can all score as well. Inside, senior Keenan Brush
anchors the Piketon defense as a great shot blocker and a much improved
rebounder. The roster is now topped off by 6-4 sophomore Zach Farmer â
€“ a player who showed an incredible skill set Friday night. The lefty
knocked down multiple triples and was able to score on the drive as well.
Put all this together, and it appears Piketon is the obvious favorite to win
the league.

Two other individuals returning off of last year’s first-team all-league
squad are a pair of post players in Westfall’s Zak Smith and
Huntington’s Dylan Gragg. Smith was the only league player to
average a double-double for the entire season a year ago. The Westfall
center did so in points and rebounds, and I see no reason why he can’t
lead the league in rebounding once again. Smith did not play in Fridayâ
€™s preview. As for Gragg, the Huntington junior looked very good
Friday night. Gragg, who averaged 16.9 ppg. and 9.3 rebounds as a
sophomore, will in my opinion once again put up first-team type
numbers. Despite the solid individual numbers for Smith and Gragg, life is
going to be tougher on these two elite post players. Both are playing with
less experienced guards than a year ago, and both are going to attract a lot
of attention in the paint from opposing defenses.

Westfall once again has great athleticism and will be one of the leagueâ
€™s biggest teams. Smith is joined on the frontline by 6-5 sophomore
Alek Stonerock - a player who shows great potential. If they can get some
solid decision-making and scoring from their perimeter, they still have a
chance to be the sleeper in this year’s league. Derek Robertson is a 6-
3 junior who shows some ability to give the Mustangs this type of

As for Huntington, I see a few future pieces I like such as freshman Brian
Hall and sophomore Brice Vickers, but I am not sure they are ready to
really impact statistically at the varsity level. Over the course of 14 league
games, I see Huntington struggling in the standings, but keep these things
in mind. Coach Uhrig’s teams very rarely get outworked and they
usually are well schooled in what tempo they need to play. You combine
this with an elite player in Gragg, and I do think Huntington is a team that
will cost one of the top teams in some way.

Other returning all-league players take my attention to Southeastern.
Michael Brown and Tyler Osborne give Southeastern two of the top-10
players in the league in my opinion, but I am not sure how the rest of the
rotation is going to perform. Brown and Osborne will miss some time in
the early going for various reasons, and even though this could make life
rough on the Panthers, it will help head coach Kyle Uhrig learn a lot about
his squad. One bright spot I saw Friday night for the Panthers was guard
Steven Hall. Hall has always been plenty athletic enough to impact the
varsity level, but this year he appears a little more under control in his
decision-making. Once Osborne returns this will only make life easier on
Hall in terms of handling the ball.

A team that is entering this season with great optimism is Unioto. The
Shermans have a senior class that has played a lot of varsity basketball. I
really like the game of Brick Davis. His performance not just in Fridayâ
€™s preview but the overall preseason has started to show signs of him
being a big time scorer. Davis gives Unioto a go-to player to build around,
and they are a team that definitely has pieces to complete the puzzle.
Senior Christian Dunkle returns with the ability to add some scoring
punch, and classmate Cody Strange returns as one of the league’s
premiere defenders. Junior point guard Cole Murray returns with more
experience under his belt. Unioto has fell on hard times this preseason in
terms of their inside game, but the return of 6-5 sophomore Chase
Detillion should help solve some of these problems. The ironic thing here
is that over the past two years it was Unioto’s inexperienced
backcourt not being able to get the ball inside to elite post players, and
now that the guard play is getting older and better, the Shermans are
having trouble solidifying their frontline play.

Paint Valley is arguably as good as any team in the league not named
Piketon in terms of their entire rotation. They have a 6-5 center in Logan
Markko who scored just less than 11 ppg. last season. They also have
one of the league’s elite athletes in Garett Tyree who can make a lot
of things happen defensively and in transition. Paint Valley has
experienced players in Aaron Claytor, Eli Barker, and Nathan Barker;
however, the key to this team could be Caleb Stratton. Stratton is a senior
who had a fast start to his junior season last year before being slowed by
injury. Stratton is a good athlete who can score and rebound.

I have a few concerns for the Bearcats. One, they still do not have a true,
prototypical point guard, but I think they overcome this because of their
overall experience and the fact that the league does not have great overall
guard play. Secondly – and more concerning – is the lack of size after
Markko. The league does have solid post play, and I believe foul trouble
could really put Paint Valley in some tough match-ups in the paint. I
definitely see reason for optimism. This is the most talented and most
athletic team Paint Valley has had since 2002. It is a shame this group of
seniors could not be in Division IV like PV was their freshman and
sophomore seasons, but even in Division III again this season, a
competitive regular season could give them a chance to compete for a
sectional title.

Zane Trace, the team who played Piketon in Friday’s preview, is an
interesting team. Even though they do not return a lot of impact players
from last year, they are still the defending champions. Joel Tripp is a
solid guard with good size and strength. Fellow senior Mike Moore also
gives the Pioneers some frontline size at 6-3. One junior who did play a
role on last year’s league championship squad was Colton
Whitehouse.  After that, fans are not familiar with the names, but fans
who are familiar with all levels of SVC basketball do know that the juniors
at Zane Trace have experienced success at all levels below the varsity
level. That does not always equate to varsity wins, but it does give reason
to be optimistic about this year’s Zane Trace team. These juniors,
who would have played some key roles on varsity at other schools over
the past few seasons, were waiting their turn behind the likes of Kirk
Maxwell and Gabe Haynes. Often times this experience of being on teams
that do a lot of winning can lead to success, but again, only time will tell.

The last team to look at is Adena. In watching them Friday night against
host Unioto, I definitely see an improved team. They are a year bigger,
stronger, and a few of their top players have added some things to their
game. I like Michael Bryant and his overall talent. Even though he is
undersized in the paint, he plays extremely hard and is able to impact the
game with hustle plays. Tyler Cory, who along with Bryant is a
sophomore as well, brings a lot of basketball IQ to the court. Adena also
has some juniors who will impact this year’s team. Auston Hottinger
is a player who can give some scoring punch, and Trevor Hauserman gives
the Warriors some size at 6-3. The Warriors also have some elite athletes
such as Reid Hutchison who SVC fans became quite familiar with during
the fall.

This year’s roster has no seniors. This is where Adena’s
optimism comes into play. Even though they will be picked at the bottom
of the league again, this team will be much more competitive than a year
ago. If they are able to improve over the next calendar year as much as
they have over the past year, this is a program that is on its way back.

The league gets underway on Tuesday, December 7th.  A few of the early
things to watch will be Zane Trace with a chance to pick-up a road win
against a Southeastern team who will be missing key ingredients. Also
intriguing will be Paint Valley trying to win a few league games in which
they will be favored which would help get the Bearcats off to a much
needed quick start to build on the preseason optimism. Another key
headline early in the year will be Legg pushing towards 1,000 career
points. The senior needs only 46 points. Following a non-league opener,
Piketon plays two home league games which means Legg should get to
reach the milestone at home. Finally, the early Unioto/Westfall match-up
is a key game – more so for Unioto because of the importance of
protecting the home court.

As far as predictions, it is tough to say after Piketon. If Piketon stays
healthy, they could win the league by three or four games. I say this for
two reasons. One, Piketon is by far the best team with the best player.
Two, the rest of the league has so much parity there will be a lot of â
€œbeating upâ€� on one another. I feel the second-place team will
struggle to get to double-digits in league wins, and a team as high as third
place could still have only a 7-7 record – that is how competitive I
expect the bottom half of the league to be this season. Two through seven
is going to be a toss-up, but if Unioto could survive the early going and
get their inside pieces back from injury and other issues they would
become the most complete team in terms of teams chasing Piketon.
After Redstreaks, league should
have great parity in race for second
Click here to see pictures from
Ken Farrar from Friday's action
at Unioto High School