IN THE NEWS: NEW CAST EAGER TO STEP UP FOR WORTHINGTON CHRISTIAN WARRIORS
By Jarrod Ulrey, firstname.lastname@example.org
Of the five appearances the Worthington Christian boys basketball team has made at the state tournament, coach Kevin Weakley has been directly involved in three of them.
The group that helped the Warriors leave last year’s Division III state tournament with a runner-up finish sticks out to Weakley, not just for its talent but because of some of the intangibles it possessed.
“Anytime you have a season like we did last year, you’re going to have great memories,” Weakley said. “I have great memories from seasons when we didn’t win like that. One thing I’ve realized in coaching is that it’s about the kids, and last year we got the combination of really good kids and families with a good season in terms of wins and losses. It was fun for sure, and to play 30 games was pretty spectacular and draining at the same time considering the circumstances.”
Weakley, who is in his 22nd season as coach, was a player in 1994 when the Warriors were state runners-up. He also guided the team to a state runner-up finish in 2008.
With Weakley finishing up his college playing career at Otterbein in 1999, Worthington Christian won the Division IV state title under former coach Ray Slagle for its only championship. The Warriors then were state runners-up in 2000 when Weakley was serving as the school’s seventh-grade coach.
He took over the program as a 24-year-old for the 2000-01 season and entered this year with a career mark of 371-150.
While much of central Ohio played a limited schedule in December 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Warriors got in 10 games and went on to go 21-1 during the regular season, which included beating Whitehall 58-48 for the MSL-Ohio Division tournament title.
With a six-player senior class and standout guard D.J. Moore leading the way, the Warriors earned the No. 1 seed for the district tournament and lost 61-56 to Cleveland Heights Lutheran East in the state final to finish 28-2.
Moore was a junior but announced shortly after the state tournament that he was graduating a year early to begin his college career at Liberty. He finished with 1,333 career points to rank fifth in program history and 382 assists to finish third.
The talent provided by Moore and others in the 2021 class, including guard Tyler Kindberg and forwards Kobe Buford and Isaiah Hazelwood, is only part of the legacy they left behind, according to sophomore forward Sam Johnson.
“One of the biggest takeaways is the leadership the older guys showed me as a freshman,” Johnson said. “They showed me how to lead and what to do on the court and off the court.”
Johnson is among the few returnees who saw extended action last season, but senior guard Tommy Anthony and sophomore point guard Jonah Lewis help give the Warriors a trio of talented, albeit inexperienced, players around which to build.
Worthington Christian trailed the entire state final but cut it to 57-55 with 55.7 seconds to play when Anthony stole the ball and made his only basket of the game.
Johnson and Lewis will get extensive time together again this winter after helping the middle school team go a combined 40-0 in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
“A lot of people aren’t going to expect us to do as well as we’re going to this year,” Johnson said. “We’ve really got the pieces, with real hungry guys who are excited to play at the varsity level.”
Anthony is considered a combo guard who should fit well alongside Lewis in the backcourt, with junior forward Correll Amsbaugh and senior forward JaVaun Robinson also playing bigger roles.
Anthony hopes this year’s group can build on last season’s success.
“I was kind of the sixth or seventh man (last year),” Anthony said. “(Last season) definitely developed our experience and maturity. As leaders stepping into that role, it showed us how to lead a team and how to take a team to that championship level. We have a bunch of guys who are stepping up in that role and a lot of hidden pieces that people don’t know about.”