Prep basketball: Ross bolstered by seniors, balance in strong start

ROSS TWP. — The players on the Ross High School boys basketball team knew there were some doubts about where the scoring would come from after the graduation of 2017-18 Southwest Ohio Conference Player of the Year Landen Angel.

The Rams had no concerns.

With nine seniors and a different approach, Ross (4-1) has picked up where it left a year ago when the Rams ended a run of four straight losing seasons with a 15-8 finish that included wins in 11 of the last 13 regular-season games.

Instead of relying on one dominant scorer, Ross is playing a more balanced offense this season and six guys are averaging 5.6 points per game or more, including two in double digits, to help the team to a fast start. Ben Yeager leads with 12.6 points per game, and Cooper Shields adds 10.2 points.


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Angel finished with 20.2 points per game last year, and no one else had even half that.

“There was always the wonder of who would step up and start knocking down points, but we’ve felt there would be multiple ones that could step up and maybe not average 20 points, but just get the job done,” Shields said. “A lot of us have been playing together since third grade, so we have very good chemistry and we’ve been working on the offense all summer, so it’s been pretty smooth.”

The Rams opened with three straight wins before dropping a 52-48 decision to Harrison in the SWOC opener Friday, but they bounced back with an overtime win over East Central (Ind.) on Saturday.

The stretch of five games in eight days was a good early test as Ross continues to settle into David Lane’s system in his second season as head coach. Lane said the players have adapted well to what he’s teaching them, and he wasn’t worried about potentially seeing the progress made last year wiped away because of one player graduating.

“You’ve got to give all the credit to the kids,” Lane said. “We had a really good group of kids last year and it’s the same this year. Sometimes they make silly mistakes, but I never question their effort. It’s a good group that works really hard, and this group has won. They know how to win games. Every year freshman to junior varsity to now, they’ve won 15 games a year so they know how to battle, and they are a scrappy bunch.”

Lane feels like he has eight or nine players that can score on any given night and likes that there isn’t pressure on one player to step up.

Yeager, who averaged 7.9 points last year, and Shields, who added 3.8 points in 2017-18, are the two guys Ross would look to first if it needed guys to score as both have taken their game up a notch after a good summer and preseason preparing for a bigger role.

However, Dylan Zimmerman, Cody Geers, Cole Gronas and Matt Stepaniak also are adding between five and nine points per game and are capable of scoring more on any given night. And others like Sean Lange contribute in other ways that don’t always get recognized so easily.

Lane hasn’t changed anything about the way the Rams are playing. They just have a more team-oriented mentality.

“Last year was my first year, so it took a little while to implement the way we wanted to play. But a year under our belt with these kids running things, we’re doing a little better, and I would say the intensity on defense is what separates us right now,” Lane said. “We’ve got a lot of energy on defense, we get steals, and get the tempo playing the way we want. It’s intensity and attention to detail.”

It’s still early in the season, though, and Ross has plenty of room to improve. Lane said the biggest areas of emphasis are putting together complete games, taking care of the ball and knocking down free throws, which are all things the Rams have struggled with so far.

Ross averages 14.8 turnovers per game and is shooting just 56.3 percent on free throws.

Shields said the team is anxious to keep growing and building off the strong start so far.

“Our theme is ‘no excuses,’ ” Shields said. “We just need to get the job done. Coach brought that saying in last year, that was his thing to change the culture, and I feel we’ve embodied that well.”

The Rams will travel to Reading on Saturday night.

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