When the Buckeye Prep Pre-Season Shootout tips off this Friday in Columbus, there promises to be wall to wall competition in both of the 2 divisions (2031 & 2032). Because so many top teams and players are participating this weekend, this year’s event will give us a head start on our team rankings and All-COBA Team selections. In terms of talent, the 5th grade division, the event will feature the top 4 teams in Central Ohio (Gahanna, Pickerington, Olentangy Blue & Worthington Red), as well as 3 of the top Cleveland-area teams in Norwalk, Riverside & Mayfield. In the 4th grade division the area’s top 5 teams (Dublin Green, Pickerington, Big Walnut, Gahanna & Reynoldsburg) will slug it out for the title.
5th Grade Division
The following is a pool-by-pool look at the teams and favorites. Pool A is a 3-team pool with Gahanna, Riverside and Olentangy Berlin. As the #1 ranked team in our final team rankings last year, Gahanna is the favorite to advance as the #1 seed. In addition, Gahanna defeated Riverside in a late season tournament last year by double digits. Blessed with solid guard play, size and athleticism, Gahanna is powered by 3 kids who played extensive AAU ball last summer and 4 All-COBA standouts from last year in Derrick Perryman, Jordan Taylor (2032), Mason Vines and Landon Geist. Because Riverside was undefeated going into their last tournament last year, they are the other favorite to advance to Gold Bracket play out of Pool A, and will go to war with a trio of ranked players in Jonathon “JJ” Moore Jr., Cam Rauch and Brayden Owens. Although Olentangy Berlin was a solid squad last year, with the addition of Jaden Tonyemba, a top 10 player in the state, and Uriah Hill, who was selected 4th Team All-COBA and played for Olentangy Orange last year, Berlin could pull an upset this weekend and make a run on Sunday. In the final analysis, Pool A is going to be tough!
Pool B is headlined by Olentangy Blue and Worthington Red, as well as Big Walnut and Lancaster. Although Olentangy Blue is this event’s defending champion, and was the best team in the area for most of last season, they will be without the services of Jack Shaker, an All-COBA performer and top 5 ranked player, who suffered a recent leg injury. With that being said, Olentangy still has Jordan Davies and AJ Gast, both of whom were All-COBA selections last year. Based on the loss of Jack Shaker, we’re giving the edge to Worthington Red to advance as the #1 seed, as the team will return their top 3 players in Robert and John Sumner,and David Johnson III (2032). All-3 players made All-COBA teams and are ranked statewide in their respective classes. Lancaster finished 9th in our final team rankings last year so we know they can compete. Kyle Darfis, an All-COBA selectee, and Anderson Swartz (2032) are the headliners and will both need to have standout performances this weekend in order for their team to have a chance.
Arguably, Pool C is the most competitive of the three pools, with the likes of Pickerington, Norwalk, Olentangy Orange and Mayfield. We think it’s a tossup between Pickerington and Norwalk for the #1 seed. Pickerington is tough, and is the defending COBA champion from last season. Studs on that team include Chris Blalock, Logan Green, Ryan Parsons and Zack Robinson, all of whom made All-COBA Teams last year. That Norwalk team is also a problem, as they are well constructed, well coached, and have their own pair of studs in Maddox Gamble and Wes Pittenger, both of whom are ranked among the best in the state. Olentangy will more than compete and will go as far as Ross Wilson takes them. Wilson was selected 2nd Team All-COBA last year and was easily his team’s best player. Kallen Parker, another All-COBA performer, can get hot as well. What we know about Mayfield is that they finished 2nd in their local community league last season and their best player is Duhwan “DJ” Bird Jr., a 4th grader, who is also a top 30 ranked player in his class. In order to make some noise this weekend, Bird will rely on help from Alex Nemic and Jake Pinto.
4th Grade Division
Although smaller in numbers, the 4th grade division is stacked and will be super competitive. Pool D is made up of Dublin Green, Pickerington and Lancaster. Because Dublin was the top team last season, we’re giving them the edge to finish as the top seed from that pool. Dublin is young (three 3rd graders), but talented, with guys like Julian Winner (2032), Beckett Conrad (2032), Archie Decker (2033), Lane Bollie (2033), Kam “Bip” Betts (2032) and Ty Moore (2033). It should be noted that Winner, Conrad, Decker and Bollie all made All-COBA Teams last season. With that being said, Pickerington is COBA’s defending champion and was one of the top Columbus-based teams last season. Although Alec Moore is a stud and was a 1st Team All-COBA performer last year, he will need some support from Tito Reynolds and others in order to contend for a chip. We’re not sure if Lancaster has upgraded their roster or not, but if Anderson Swartz, Adam Kennedy and Camden Kern have continued to develop over the off season, Lancaster may have a puncher’s chance to compete and make a run on Sunday.
Pool E should be the most competitive of the two pools with Big Walnut, Reynoldsburg and Gahanna. Based on Big Walnut’s success last season, they should be the favorite for the #1 seed. Big Walnut is a well built and well coached team with a stud in Rhett Bradley and a solid sporting cast that includes: Eli Brockman and Alder Zipfel. Bradley received 1st Team All-COBA honors last season and is a top 10 player in his class, while Brockman and Zipfel also made All-COBA Teams. Although Reynoldsburg is a first-year team, they have a roster that has some potential. Jedi Haynes Lee, Zion Lancaster, Carter Watson and Jace Owens are all experienced and have played a lot of AAU basketball. In all likelihood, this matchup will come down to coaching stratigy and execution. Although Gahanna competed in the C League last season, they proved to be one of the better teams in the area. With the addition of Tony Jones Jr, a top 10 player in the state, who played with the 2031 Reynoldsburg team last year, Gahanna could surprise some teams this year! As a matter of fact, Gahanna edged out Pickerington in a pre-season match-up last week, which gives them instant credibility.
In closing, there are multiple teams in each division that have a chance to win a title. In some cases, teams are evenly matched, and victory will come down to overall team play. Also, although we’ve made a few predictions as part of this article, it’s all in fun, and certainly not meant as any disrespect. We appreciate the fact that coaches are seeking out the best competition they can find early, and are willing to put it all on the line for the sake player development. Finally, stay tuned for our daily reports as we seek to provide the maximum possible exposure for both teams and players!