LOGAN — An historic era of basketball has ended. Does a new one begin?
We’ll begin to find out starting Tuesday night.
With their top six players having graduated after a second-consecutive thrilling season, the 2019-20 Logan Chieftains will bear little resemblance to their immediate predecessors.
A team that belonged to the now-graduated Bo Myers, Caleb and Coby Bell, Layton Cassady, Wes Brooks and Landon Little is now in the hands of Justin Wolfe, Tegan Myers and a host of newcomers.
When they open their season with a home game against Lancaster Tuesday evening in Jim Myers Gymnasium, the Chiefs will basically be putting most of last season’s junior varsity squad on the floor.
“In the overall big picture, we have new guys who are learning to play (after) playing JV,” said fourth-year head coach Chris Rider. “As a coaching staff, we’re trying to make up for the lack of varsity experience. We have to coach them up every day, stress the fundamentals and try to develop some chemistry.
“With an inexperienced team,” he added, “those things are crucial.”
It’s no secret the Chieftains have their work cut out for them as they try to follow up on what those six graduated seniors meant not only to the Logan basketball program but to the school and an entire community.
Of course, Myers — who received consideration in voting for Mr. Basketball, the state’s most-prestigious prep basketball honor — became Logan’s all-time leading boys scorer and the school’s first-ever first-team All-Ohioan in boys basketball. He, along with the Bell twins, Cassady, Brooks and Little (and, in 2017-18, Caiden Landis), led the Purple & White to a 39-7 record their junior and senior seasons.
They took a whopping 20 years’ worth of varsity letters (four each for Myers, Caleb Bell, Coby Bell and Brooks) with them… and with the graduation losses of Tyler Cummin and Dawson Libben, that number balloons to an even two dozen.
Filling their shoes will be, without a doubt, a monumental task.
Rider and his coaching staff are building around Wolfe, a 6-foot-6 senior forward/center, and Tegan Myers, a 6-0 sophomore guard, who are the lone returning lettermen.
Those graduated seniors accounted for 95 percent (1,183 of 1,245) of Logan’s points, 93 percent of the team’s rebounding and 97 percent of the team’s assists.
You get the picture.
While those seniors (with Wolfe and Tegan Myers getting spot minutes here and there) were squaring off with such competition as Pickerington North, Gahanna, Chillicothe, Mount Vernon, Columbus St. Charles, Parkersburg South, Vinton County, Sheridan and Bishop Hartley, just to name a few, Colton and Conner Ruff, Nolan Robinette, Colten Castle, Ian Frasure and Myers (another full-time JV player, Charlie Kline, has since transferred out of the school district) were taking on their reserve teams.
And they did okay, forging a 12-7 JV record, but for the most part Logan was playing mostly juniors against teams made up primarily of sophomores.
That sneaker will be on the other foot this season… maybe not in school grade, but in varsity experience.
“They’ve all played the Pick Norths and Gahannas. They know what they have to do,” Rider noted. “This year’s squad really needs to prepare to just play the game (and not) worry about what we’ve done the last two or three years. This is a new year.
“There are some pieces here,” he continued. “We just have to find the best fit for our team. It’s a process and you can’t put a time frame on it. We’d like to win (every game), no doubt about that, but it’s our job (as coaches) to teach and coach them up and try to get better every game.”
Wolfe averaged 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game with spot minutes in the post and Tegan Myers, the son of former head coach and LHS Athletic Hall of Famer Keith Myers, averaged 1.5 points per game.
In past years, there are some seasons in which those two likely would have started as a junior and freshman, respectively, but there was no breaking into the lineup last year.
Wolfe will be depended upon to give Logan a presence down low.
“You won’t see too many better guys defensively in the middle than Wolfie,” Rider praised. “He changes some shots and he can rebound. The biggest thing with him is we have to keep him out of foul trouble.”
If he does, the Chiefs don’t have a lot of size to bring in for him. Freshman Caden Alford is 6-5, but no one else on the varsity roster is listed as any taller than 6-1.
“Sometimes it takes big kids a little longer to develop with footwork and technique around the bucket,” Rider pointed out. “I think Wolfie really improved himself last spring athletically with coach (Greg) Jones and Coy (Blair) throwing the discus and shot (during track and field season). That helped his coordination and made him stronger. He’s looked good.
“Caden Alford is just a freshman (and) needs court time against bigger people,” he added. “He needs to play against some older, bigger kids and develop in that way and learn how to use his body and work on the fundamental aspect. We have the Ruffs, Wolfie, Alford and Nolan Robinette and maybe getting (sophomore) Traten Poling, a real good athlete, in there.”
Caleb Bell proved to be one of the most-dependable Chieftain players in recent history when it came to handling the ball and running the offense. The point guard averaged less than a turnover a game last season while running the show.
Guard play “could be by committee,” Rider said. “Sophomore Mason Frasure worked hard in the off-season. He’s a good player and he’ll be going against some experienced men out there. Ian Frasure is pretty good at handling the ball and is a pretty good offensive player who understands the game.
“Of course, Tegan Myers will have the handle the ball some,” he added. So will “Colten Castle, and (sophomore Ashton) Mahaffey can really shoot it.”
Being young and limited in size and varsity experience, Rider said this group will need to rely on smarts and being physical to survive.
“They’re a smart group,” Rider revealed. “It’s no secret the kids who graduated were a bunch of smart kids, and these guys are too. We have to use that to our advantage and be able to cut down our mental mistakes.
“Even though our guards are young, I think you’re going to see them get better as they get used to the speed of the varsity game,” he added. “We have some guys who can drive it (and) we have some guys who can shoot it, and once they adapt to the speed of the varsity game I think you’ll see our guard play be really solid.
As Rider pointed out, being physical is another adaptation.
“In speed and physical-ness, from ninth grade to JV is different and from JV to varsity it’s different,” said Rider, who has won 377 games in his 28-year coaching career at Logan, Reynoldsburg and Maysville. “So for young, inexperienced guys, it’s keeping their composure and just playing the game. That’s where we’ve really been trying to work with them. I think they’ll adjust to everything else.”
Even with the loss of those eight seniors, there’s one thing that didn’t change: the schedule. They certainly didn’t downgrade it in the off-season.
With a slate that includes Division I foes Lancaster, Teays Valley, Canal Winchester, Watkins Memorial, Westerville South, Hartley, Pickerington North, St. Charles, Gahanna and Westerville North; solid local competition in Unioto, Logan Elm, Washington Court House, Bloom-Carroll, Sheridan, Gallia Academy, Chillicothe, Athens, Warren and Vinton County, and tough West Virginia opponents in the form of Parkersburg and Parkersburg South, no one can say the Chiefs shy away from competition.
Being a Division I school from the Southeast District forced to compete in the rugged Central District, that schedule is a necessity.
“We’ve worked hard the last couple of years to truly become a Division I team with our schedule, with the way we’ve played and with the program in general,” Rider noted. “We’ve kept the schedule the same — even though we will be inexperienced — because that’s where we want to be. We know we’re a Division I program. These guys have to buy in and realize it’s a process.”
The schedule includes Logan’s second-ever regular-season tilt with LHS graduate Doug Stiverson’s Logan Elm Braves; a game against Westerville South (which knocked Logan out of the 2017-18 district tournament) at Otterbein University; home games against OCC powers Pickerington North, Gahanna and Westerville North; the return of longtime basketball foe Bloom-Carroll after a one-year hiatus, and matchups against former Southeastern Ohio Athletic League rivals Gallia Academy, Chillicothe, Athens and Warren.
(One thing it doesn’t include, however, is the neutral-site West Muskingum Route 40 Classic, where Logan only managed to play one of four scheduled games over the previous two seasons due to mid-January weather issues).
When the Chiefs make their first-ever regular-season varsity basketball visit to Logan Elm (they have scrimmaged a number of times over the years) on Friday, Jan. 3, it will be only the second-ever meeting between the two schools. The only time they’ve played was Jan. 7, 2006, when the Braves beat the Chieftains 61-46 in the Ohio University Convocation Center.
An unfortunate by-product of not being in a league means the Purple & White will only play five Friday night games — just one after they play at Logan Elm — with the majority of their games being played on Saturdays (nine) and Tuesdays (eight).
But the Chieftains have all intentions of making each and every game meaningful.
“We’ve kind of looked at it the same as we did with the (preceding) group: For us, without being in a league, we have 22 league games and we approach each game the same,” Rider stated. “We try to be ready mentally the same way every game and try not to get too high or too down” from game to game.
“We approach it in the manner that ‘we’re playing this (particular) team tonight so we have to get ready to go,” he added.
Admittedly, posting a final record like last season’s 17-4 or the previous year’s 22-3 is probably beyond the realm of expectation... but this team does have the potential to be a solid one.
The Chiefs are a work in progress and, no matter what, will be so until the season concludes.
As Rider noted, “coaches make mistakes and players make mistakes, but we’re going to try to get everything worked out and be the best team we can be.”