Boys basketball: Johnson leads Lakota East to unbeaten start

Lakota East’s Nate Johnson jumps up to make a pass during their basketball game against Middletown Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at Middletown High School’s Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. Lakota East won 61-47. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Lakota East’s Nate Johnson jumps up to make a pass during their basketball game against Middletown Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at Middletown High School’s Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. Lakota East won 61-47. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Lakota East boys basketball team is 4-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

With a strong defensive effort, Thunderhawks coach Clint Adkins likes the team’s direction entering mid-December.

Lakota East is also hopeful to have senior 6-foot-3-inch guard Kaden Fuhrmann back from a hip injury next week. Fuhrmann is expected to be one of the team’s top scorers this season.

Junior guard Nate Johnson scored 16 points and had seven steals, five assists and three rebounds in Lakota East’s 44-40 win over visiting Mason Tuesday night.

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“Nate Johnson has been phenomenal,” Adkins said.

Johnson averages 26.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.0 steals. Johnson, who has scholarship offers that include Kent State, Ohio University, Miami University and Youngstown State, is shooting 67.3 percent from the field (37 of 55).

“He’s playing great,” Adkins said. “He’s just grown up as a basketball player. He’s been real special these first four games.”

Adkins said Johnson has emerged from a facilitator role last season to playing with the most confidence he’s ever had in high school in the motion offense.

A slasher who can finish at the rim, Johnson has really developed his outside game after he didn’t make a 3-pointer (0-for-7) last season. Johnson is very effective at shooting off the dribble.

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“His mid-range is really special,” Adkins said. “It’s very high level.”

The Thunderhawks, who have defeated Taft, St. Xavier, Mason and Princeton, have also received significant contributions from senior guard Trevor Howard, who averages 7.3 points per game.

“He plays so hard,” Adkins said. “He’s knocked down some big shots for us. He just gives us so much energy defensively and really competes hard.”

Seniors Alex Mangold (7.0 ppg., 4.5 rpg.), Jared McCorkle (6.0 ppg.) and sophomore Kobe Peck (6.0 ppg.) are among others who’ve stepped up.

“Honestly, it’s been a really good team effort,” Adkins said.

Lakota East (4-0, 2-0 GMC) plays host to Colerain (0-2, 0-2) Friday night.

Excellent start

Lakota West continues to make strides early this season as the Firebirds defeated visiting Princeton 81-76 Tuesday night.

“I’m just so happy our kids because our confidence is building,” Lakota West coach Jim Leon said .

Lakota West has back-to-back wins entering Friday’s game against visiting Middletown.

Senior 6-foot-3-inch guard Julian Mackey had a season-high 27 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks to lead the Firebirds. Senior Carter Combs, a 6-2 guard, added a season-high 19 points and three rebounds.

“Julian and Carter stepped up big and made big shots,” Leon said. “Just an overall team effort.”

Mackey, who averages 24.7 points and 5.3 rebounds, returned to Lakota West last school year after his family had moved to the Atlanta area the summer after his sophomore year. While Mackey wasn’t eligible last season, he didn’t miss a practice, Leon said.

“I was so impressed with his maturity,” Leon said. “I thought this kid could be something special.”

Mackey plays on the perimeter and attacks well off the dribble and can score in the post. Leon believes Mackey isn’t finished growing yet.

“He is a leader,” Leon said. “He shows great leadership on the floor. I am so impressed with his personality.”

Leon stopped short of comparing Mackey to former Woodward 6-foot-5-inch standout and McDonald’s All-American Damon Flint, but he did say the skill level is reminiscent because Mackey is capable of doing a little bit of everything on the court.

“Some [college program] is going to get a steal,” Leon said. “He’s a real sleeper.”

Leon, a veteran high school area head basketball coach, is in his second season leading the Firebirds. Leon admits the Firebirds were “embarrassed” when Princeton defeated visiting Lakota West 70-36 in January — a game in which he was tossed. Tuesday night was certainly different.

“I just felt like we played well as a team and we played well together,” Mackey said. “We controlled the tempo of the game and never let the other team speed us up too much.”

The Firebirds (2-1, 2-0 GMC) play host to Middletown (1-2, 0-2) Friday night.

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