The Cleveland Heights Tigers look to reload after a 17-5 season ended in the district semifinals with a 43-33 loss to Garfield Heights. Cleveland Heights will miss the services of Tyree Gaiter — who is averaging 12.5 points at Notre Dame College — and Najeeb Johnson — who attended UW Platteville, a strong Division III program.
“We lost a lot of talent,” coach Andy Suttell said. “But at the same time we’re still a very deep basketball team. I think we have some guys who are really going to have some breakout years.”
The Tigers two returning starters, who will likely take on more responsibility, are Marcus Bagley and Antonio Harper. Bagley, 6-foot-0 junior, was the second leading scorer averaging 13 points a game. Harper, a 6-7 senior, led the team in rebounding and provided the Tigers with a strong interior presence.
Delaunte Davis will assume the role of point guard after seeing valuable time off the bench during his sophomore season. Davis combined with Johnson to score 13 points in a 56-53 victory against Bedford in the sectional championship and the coach didn’t seem too worried about Davis’ ability to handle the added responsibility.
“There were a lot of times last year where I felt we were at our best when (Davis) was on the floor,” Suttell said. “He’s a very solid point guard, and we expect him to step up and score a little bit more for us and overall be a lead with the ball in his hands most of the time.”
Camerin Cross, a 6-2 senior, brings a versatile defensive presence as he can guard both guards and post players without struggling. Against Garfield Heights, Cross held Tony Farmer — who was averaging about 20 points a game — to less than 10.
“He’s always the best athlete on the floor,” Suttell said. “He is an incredible leaper, very fast strong kid.”
That kind of versatility is what coach Suttell believes is the strength of this Tigers team.
“We’re going to be able to cause some mismatch problems,” Suttell said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to wear some teams down by running guys at people and pressing.
“I think towards the end of the season we were as good as any team in the state. We played that tournament game without our two leading scorers and still gave Garfield Heights a game. We feel like we can compete with anyone. We’re going in as a bit of an unknown, but we have some expectations that we’ll create names for ourselves and that people will be talking about Cleveland Heights basketball toward the end of the year.”
Young Talent Poised to Shine for Bison
An influx of young talent could have Beachwood boys basketball in position to make deep tournament runs for the next few seasons, headlined by one of the state’s top freshmen 6-foot-3 forward Ronald Jones.
Jones and fellow freshmen Jalen Davis and Dassan Rhodes were focal points on their middle school teams that went a combined 33-0 in seventh and eighth grade. Davis will split time between varsity and JV while Rhodes could work his way onto varsity some point in the season.
Jalen’s older brother, junior John Davis III, will continue be the focal point of the Bison. Davis is getting a lot of Division I looks and was critical to Beachwood’s 14-9 season that ended in a 69-67 double overtime loss against St. Peter Chanel in the Bison’s first trip to the district final.
“He’s the man,” Beachwood athletic director Ryan Peters said. “He’s grown a lot, both physically and mentally. He’s the backbone of the team and all the kids look up to him. He’s really stepped it up, becoming much more of a vocal leader. He’s always in the gym shooting when he’s not in class.”
Beachwood retains a wealth of experience from its district final team. Senior forward Jordan Richardson and senior guard Jon Tramer along with junior guards Trey Sanders and Julio Stevens should round out the starting five with Jones seeing significant minutes off the bench.
But if perfection at the middle school level is any indication, Jones and his fellow classmates should help ease the loss of seniors Ellis Cohen, Jared Moss, Anthony Valentine and Alex Hohl and keep the Bison on the right track to a district title.
New Conference No Problem For Red Raiders
Shaker Heights took a little something with them as it departed for the Northeast Ohio Conference: a Lake Erie League championship. The Red Raiders are coming off a 21-3 season where they finished 9-1 in the LEL and locked up a district title before falling in the Regional Semifinals to St. Edward 79-70.
Coach Danny Young doesn’t expect any problems adjusting to the NOC and re-uniting with former LEL rival Mentor.
“We’ve played a lot of those teams last year,” Young said. “It probably won’t be as up and down as the LEL. These teams are going to be more methodical and shorten possessions. It’s nothing that we’re not used to because I try to schedule a lot of games and scrimmages where we see a variety of styles.”
Esa Ahmad should be the focal point of the Red Raiders, the 6-foot-7 sophomore averaged nine points, five rebounds and two blocks last season and with more responsibility on his shoulders coach Young expects those numbers only to rise.
“He’s a stud,” Young said. “He can do it all. He can shoot the three, play down in the low post and bring the ball up the floor in transition. He’s going to be our go-to guy.”
Complimenting him will be 6-5 senior forward Kash Blackwell, who is primarily a slasher with a nice outside shot and good rebounding skills. Rosel Hurley is likely to occupy one of the guard spots, with 11 Division I offers. Young praised his ability to work in the open floor — especially his ability to score in a variety of ways — but is working to improve his rebounding going into the season.
Mel Leach brings a wealth of experience at the point guard position, he’s also a quarterback on the Red Raiders football team. Which is critical given Shaker Heights lost Louisville commit Terry Rozier to graduation. Rozier is currently playing junior college basketball at the Hargrave Military Academy, but just committed to Louisville on Nov. 14.
But a kid to watch is Keith Griffin, a freshman point guard who Young expects to evolve into a strong option as the season progresses.
“He’s tough as nails and quick as I don’t know what,” Young said. “He’s very happy at playing the role of just getting everyone involved. It’s going take him some time to learn the system, but he’s going to be a very special talent down the road.”
Ultimately, the key for the Red Raiders to build on their success from last season will be how they grow as a team throughout the season.
“We have a chance to be pretty good,” Young said. “We need to build team chemistry and understand that if we play through Esa Ahmad, everything else will open up for us. We have to pay attention to details as far as far as accepting the responsibility of doing things the right way.”