EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventh in a series of articles on the second annual Ohio Valley Hoops Classic, Nov. 27-28 at Wilmington College’s Fred Raizk Arena. Twenty teams from around the area will converge on the WC campus to compete in this year’s event.
Wilmington vs Cleveland Heights, Friday, 8 p.m.
Coach Mike Noszka’s Wilmington Hurricane is coming off an historic season in which they won 24 games while losing only two. Last year’s team had some major victories including regular season wins over Cincinnati Moeller, Lexington Catholic, New Albany, Taylor Co., Ky., and eventual state champion Huber Heights Wayne.
But, the season’s second loss, (46-43 in the district finals to Moeller) stopped the Hurricane from reaching their goal of a state tournament berth.
For the first time in four years, Wilmington will take the floor without Jaevin Cumberland, the all-time leading scorer in Wilmington basketball history, a first-team All-Ohio player from a year ago and current freshman at Oakland University. But the Hurricane appears primed for another outstanding season and a possible deep run in March.
Much of that optimism is due to the return of Jaevin’s cousin, Jarron Cumberland. Jarron was a second-team All-Ohio performer from a year ago and recently signed to play for Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats. On national signing day Cronin called the 6-5 senior “The best player in Ohio.”
It won’t take long for Wilmington fans to get a feel for just how good this year’s version of the Hurricane can be. When WHS hits the floor at Hermann Court for the 8 p.m. nightcap for the Friday session of the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic, they will be facing a Cleveland Heights team that has some elite level talent capable of making a long tournament run as well.
For fans who attended last year’s Ohio Valley Hoops Classic, Cleveland Heights could be this year’s version of Lorain on several levels. Lorain, entered last year’s event with a 12-12 record from the previous year, but a supremely athletic team that ended the regular season undefeated on the way to a 26-1 record. Cleveland Heights was 8-15 last year, but make no mistake, the Tigers have elite athletes.
Senior Malik Smith, a 6-6 wing, has signed to play for UNC-Ashville next season. Junior Jaylen Harris, 6-6 wing, is rated the No. 6 player in his class by Prep Hoops Ohio. He holds football scholarship offers from Ohio State, Alabama and numerous other programs. Mike Petit, a 6-5 senior and also a football standout, brings inside muscle for the Tigers.
But, it is his sophomore class that has coach Jeremy Holmes excited.
“I would put my sophomore class up against any group of sophomores in the state. I think we have four guys with D-I potential,” said the first year Tiger boss.
Those four are point guard Yahil Hill, fellow guard Chaz Hardin, wing Grayson Green, and 6-4 forward Tyreke Smith.
Holmes knows a little about Division I talent. The Cleveland Heights alum was a high school teammate of former OSU star Damon Stringer. Holmes himself played four years for the Pitt Panthers, and he coached Cleveland Central Catholic to the finals of the Ohio Div. II tournament last season before returning to take the reins at his alma mater this year.
So, if you think coach Noszka and his team may be intimidated, you may want to think again.
“This is a perfect game to start the season. It will let us know right away how good we can be,” said the Hurricane mentor.
The Cane has other weapons returning in addition to Cumberland. Sophomore Dylan Beaugard started as a freshman. The dogged defender from a year ago will be counted on to score more this year. Cam Stewart was a part-time starter last year also and the 5-9 senior is a very good all-around player.
Chris Wolary, a 6-6 junior, and Alex Miller, a 6-4 senior, give the ’Cane some size, though Miller may miss a number of games while recovering from an elbow injury suffered in football season.
Matt Creditt, the starting QB for the football team, will return to the hardwood for his senior season after sitting out last year. Jeffrey Mansfield, a 6-3 sophomore, will add some athleticism and depth to the front line.
This game is an intriguing matchup. Cumberland is likely to be the best player on the court. But, he may be the only individual matchup advantage the ’Cane will have.
To win, Wilmington will have to rely on their trademark relentless defense and they will need to have a couple other guys step up offensively to help take some pressure off Cumberland.
And, it wouldn’t hurt to have a similar crowd atmosphere as the Hurricane fans provided last season when Wilmington knocked off Wayne at Fred Summers Court.
It should be a dandy. In fact it could even be one that would be repeated in Columbus in March.