County boys hoops set to start

By Justin Miller -

Urbana’s Kalen Howell (left) and West Liberty-Salem’s Dillon Callicoat will be two of the top returning letterwinners in the county this season.

Urbana’s Kalen Howell (left) and West Liberty-Salem’s Dillon Callicoat will be two of the top returning letterwinners in the county this season.

The prep boys basketball season is slated to begin this weekend, with a couple of local teams looking very dangerous.

At Urbana, the Hillclimbers will again use a difficult regular season schedule to prepare for the postseason.

“We’ve got a very challenging schedule, so we just want to be better the next week than the week before. We’ve got some big challenges ahead,” UHS Coach Jeremy Dixon said.

The Hillclimbers will have some big bodies, too. That size and experience should pay dividends for Urbana.

“We like to think we’ve got several guys that can score. The guys buy into the fact that it doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” Dixon said. “We might have a little more inside scoring than we’ve had in years past. we’re as long as we’ve ever been.”

Kalen Howell, Riley Emmons, Jace Underwood and Levi Boettcher will return, with Logan Rooney, Reid Taylor, Brandon Vogel and Dakota Hower moving into varsity roles.

“We definitely have a good core returning,” Dixon said.

That’s important, since the Hillclimbers move up to the Kenton Trail Division with the bigger schools this season.

“Our first goal every year is to win the CBC. We’ve competed and beaten those schools the last few years, but now those games count. We have nine games before New Year’s, and they’re all league games or challenging non-league games,” Dixon said.

Urbana tips off this Friday at home versus Hilliard Davidson.

At Graham, first-year coach Julian Grasso will take over the program after being an assistant at Fairmont for eight seasons.

“Our expectations are that we will always have the correct attitude and effort. Attitude and effort are non-negotiable in our program,” Grasso said. “We talk all the time about how positivity, energy and enthusiasm are more important than talent or ability level.

“Our number one goal as a program this year is for our players to care for each other and play for each other at the practice and in the games. We have several measurable goals for the year but our togetherness is the most important thing for us.”

Andrew Ford, Ian Lokai, Daniel Newport, Matt Goddard, Tristen Henry, Tyler Powell and Jimmy Stickley will lead the program as upperclassmen. Chase Adams and Brevan King will make the roster as sophomores.

“We are lucky to have inherited unselfish players who treat their teammates the right way. I’m really excited about coaching the Falcons this year. It’s a tremendous school district with a tradition of excellence in several sports. More importantly, it’s a district built on hard work as well as caring for the students,” Grasso said. “The previous coaches at Graham have done a tremendous job here. I’m very excited to build on the excellent tradition here in St. Paris.”

At West Liberty-Salem, the Tigers get back plenty of perimeter players.

Kannon Stillings, Dillon Callicoat, Tyler Louden, Neil Markin and Max Eggleston all return.

The size is all new, though. Trevor Burden and Adam Schultz will share the load inside, while Braden Miller and Cody King will also join the program.

“The two big guys I think will be able to back each other up and provide that rebounding we lost,” WL-S Coach Darrin Leichty said. “I don’t see any reason to drop off. Those guys are all winners. I think we’ve got the same kind of team that we did last year.”

That team was solid in crunch time against tough opponents, with Stillings taking over games and providing a spark when the Tigers needed one.

While Stillings wasn’t necessarily a focus, Leichty pointed out, his team’s multi-faceted players make defending just a couple of Tigers nearly impossible. And that versatility could lead the Tigers to new heights.

“We’ve rebounded better than I thought we were going to. We’ve been a little inconsistent so far scoring-wise, but that’s something that will get better as we go,” Leichty said. “We want to repeat as OHC champs. And we want to win a sectional and get to (University of Dayton Arena). The guys really want to play at UD if that opportunity presents itself.”

At Triad, former girls coach Jason Malone takes over for Matt McCurdy.

“I had intended to take at least a year or two off. I felt like the girls program needed a new direction. I didn’t anticipate the guys position becoming open,” Malone said. “I had to think about it and talk to my wife, but I knew they were good students and good kids. I’m going to be working with kids that are committed to basketball and they’re just good people.”

Star guards Ryan Boyd and Colby Watson are gone to graduation and transfer, respectively, but the Cardinals could still make some noise behind junior Hadley LeVan and seniors Thomas O’Neal, Alec Ober and Noah Unger.

“The kids that are seniors now – they were a part of a championship team in 2015. They know and have some background on what it’s like to compete in our league,” Malone said. “I’m stepping into a situation where things are pretty good. We don’t have everything together yet, but we’re pretty close.”

Austin Bails, Nate Culp, Austin Deere, Jevin Edley, Jacob Greve, Chris Tomlin, Kobe Endicott and Cameron Boes are all on the roster and will be expected to contribute. Edley, Greve and Bails, especially, should add some versatility to the squad.

“They’re just super hard workers and they’re going to add an element of athleticism that we haven’t had,” Malone said.

The Cardinals would like to win the OHC and post 20 wins this year, along with making some noise in the tournament.

Triad opens the season Friday at the Benjamin Logan Invitational against North Union at 6 p.m. The Cardinals will play either Riverside or Benjamin Logan on Saturday, depending on who wins and loses.

At Mechanicsburg, Tyler Craig takes the helm with an inexperienced team that could see some growing pains.

Chris Taylor will be back, but Bryce Waring tore up his knee and will be out for the season. Joey Mascadri, Logan Hurst and Mack DeLong will fill varsity spots.

“We’re going to be young this year. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to be expected to contribute,” Craig said. “Just getting those guys back from football has been an obstacle, but all these kids are hard-working.”

The long football season did put a dent in basketball practice, but Craig will adjust on the run.

“All my kids are great. My expectations this year are to learn how to approach a varsity basketball season. We want to learn to prepare, learn to compete with good effort – all those things that good basketball teams do,” he said. “We’re just worried about where our effort is and the things we can control. Right now, it’s pretty much a learning process. I’m looking forward to it.”

Craig added that the boys have displayed willingness to be coached and pushed, and have exhibited a team-oriented attitude.

“They want to compete and be a team that other teams have to prepare for. Last year, that was not really the case. They kind of want to change that and set the bar. That may not mean winning every game, but setting the standard for the young guys will help,” Craig said.

The Indians tip off on the road Dec. 9 at Catholic Central before hosting Ansonia the next day.

Urbana’s Kalen Howell (left) and West Liberty-Salem’s Dillon Callicoat will be two of the top returning letterwinners in the county this season.’s Kalen Howell (left) and West Liberty-Salem’s Dillon Callicoat will be two of the top returning letterwinners in the county this season.

By Justin Miller

Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.

Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.