When the season began, the Columbia Raiders looked to be a legitimate threat not just in the Patriot Athletic Conference but in the postseason as well.
With their run-and-gun style and commitment to scoring, the high-flying Raiders provided their fans with plenty of thrills last season.
As expected, they’ve continued that trend while adding something they lacked at times a year ago – defense.
When coach Larry Babics, the girls coach the past six years, unexpectedly took over the boys team two days before practice started when Matt Sheets was placed on administrative leave and subsequently resigned, eyebrows were raised. Could Babics, known for his defense, adjust his style of play? Or would the players have to adjust theirs?
After 10 games, it appears to be a little of both.
The unbeaten Raiders are still scoring lots of points, but it’s their defense that has the players talking about a conference championship and possible deep run in the tournament.
“Our defense is the difference-maker this year,” junior guard Brandon Severo said. “Coach Babics has really shown us how important defense is. If we want to win conference and have a long tournament run, we’ll need to play defense. Once he sat us down and talked about it, we bought into it.
“It’s made us a better team.”
It also helped that the team knew Babics enough to trust him immediately.
“Coach has been around us even though he wasn’t our coach,” said senior Jacob Simon. “He had been at our practices, talked to our coaches and been to our games. It wasn’t like he was some guy off the street. He’s a basketball coach and he knows what he’s talking about.
“I think all of it made it a lot easier to buy into what he was saying.”
So far, it appears to be a match made in heaven. However, the move from the girls bench to the boys wasn’t easy for Babics.
“Without a doubt, it was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make,” Babics said. “We had four seniors and the whole team back for the girls. Our eighth grade team was looking good and I felt we were positioned to be real good this year and beyond.
“I was looking forward to see what we could accomplish.”
But after Babics took the boys job, he knew almost immediately he made the correct call.
“Once I sat down with the team, I knew I had made the right choice,” he said. “I think they felt relieved someone was coming in that they knew. Then we started talking about what we wanted to accomplish and how we could do it. I think a light went off in everyone’s head that if we put in the work on defense, then we could make everything come together.
“To everyone’s credit, they bought into my defense and I believed in their offense. I think it’s worked out pretty good so far.”
Dylan Kidd, Dylan Weidrick and Dave Clark lead Wellington in scoring, but the Dukes’ Tim Young might be the team’s biggest asset.
The senior doesn’t lead the team in any statistical category, but according to Wellington coach Dan Gundert, he’s an integral part of the game plan and will play a large part in any success they experience.
“We call him the Junkyard Kid for a reason,” Gundert said. “He does all the little things that don’t show up in the box score such as taking charges, diving after loose balls and providing our team with energy.
“A lot of times we get baskets on the offensive end or stops on the defensive end because of what Tim does.”
Gundert said Young will often come out of practice with bloody knees and elbows because he plays as hard in practice as he does in games.
“He’s just relentless when he’s on the floor,” Gundert said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s guarding a teammate or an opponent. He leaves everything out there. He’s one of the first ones in the gym and one of the last ones to leave.
“He’s one of those kids you always want to have as a coach because you know you’re always going to get his best.”
Gundert said Young’s versatility allows the Dukes to change their style and tempo during games. Young can run the floor on the offensive end or get down and dirty on the defensive side.
“A lot of times we change our game plan simply because Tim is in the game,” Gundert said. “He gives us that ability. I think he gets overlooked because of some of the other players on the team. But a lot of their success can be directly attributed to what Tim does out there for us.”
According to Young, it’s just how he plays the game.
“I just love playing basketball,” Young said. “I really don’t care how many points I score. I’d rather grab the rebound that starts a fast break or take a charge that gives us the ball back. We have players on this team that can score and they do. It’s my job out there to help our team win any way I can.
“That’s all that really matters to me.”
Elyria senior Kody Bender needs just four points tonight to join the career 1,000-point club when the Pioneers host Parma.
Bender is seventh on Elyria’s all-time scoring list. With 12 regular-season games left and tournaments, Bender should make his way up the list and could end up in third behind Brett Larrick (1,351 points), his coach, and Louis Tumblin (1,419).
“We knew he was a competitor, a great shooter and thought he could be successful,” Larrick said of Bender. “But he’s really worked to expand his game every year, including this year moving to point guard and having to take a lot more responsibility other than just shooting and scoring the ball.”
Player of the week
Louis Cheers, Lorain
- Year: Senior
- Position: Forward
- Last week: Hit 9 of 10 shots from the field and 7 of 10 free throws in a 61-57 win over Euclid. Also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out three assists and had three steals. The next night, he finished with 17 points while shooting 8-of-9 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line as the Titans beat Warren G. Harding 68-43. Also had nine rebound and four steals. Averages 16.1 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 64 percent from the field (57-of-89) and 63 percent from the line (31-49).
- BIO: Has played AAU basketball for TNBA out of Cleveland the past two years. Enjoys playing NBA 2K13 and hanging with his friends. His favorite NBA team is the Miami Heat and his favorite player is Lebron James.
- Future plans: Undecided on a college at this point but wants to pursue a degree in criminal justice while continuing his basketball career.
- Parents: Louis Caddell and Linda Cheers
Contact Hans Schneider at email@example.com with player of the week nominations or to submit items of interest. Submissions need to be sent by Wednesday at 8 a.m.