Fairfield coach on 4-0 start: ‘We picked up a little bit where we left off’

Fairfield's Deshawne Crim puts up a shot during their basketball game against Lakota West Friday, February 12, 2021 at Lakota West High School in West Chester Township. Fairfield won 81-76. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Fairfield's Deshawne Crim puts up a shot during their basketball game against Lakota West Friday, February 12, 2021 at Lakota West High School in West Chester Township. Fairfield won 81-76. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Indians won GMC title last season for first time in seven years

The Fairfield High School basketball team celebrated its first conference title in seven years last season, but was disappointed not to make it past one tournament game.

With the bulk of the starting lineup back and the addition of KEBA Prep transfer Kollin Tolbert, the Indians are poised to take that next step this season. They’re off to a 4-0 start, including two wins in the Greater Miami Conference, and coach D.J. Wyrick sees promise in a more experienced roster.

Fairfield, coming off a big win against Hamilton, hosts Princeton on Friday.

“I think we picked up a little bit where we left off,” Wyrick said. “We put a lot of time in in the offseason, and these kids are good kids and hard workers and they care about basketball and getting better. They’ve done a really good job individually improving. They spent a lot of time together and improved as a team.”

First-team All-GMC players Deshawne Crim and Logan Woods are back among the top scorers and still averaging 15-16 points a game like last year, but now Tolbert adds firepower also contributing to that level.

Tolbert was the Southwest Ohio Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore at Mount Healthy, where he spent his first two years of high school. After a season at KEBA, a boarding prep school for elite athletes, he is finishing up at Fairfield and fitting right into the group.

“He’s a really good player, talented kid, high-character good student,” Wyrick said of Tolbert. “He does a lot from a leadership standpoint, and he’s a good kid who does the right things and fits in well with our kids because of that.”

Fairfield graduated four players last year, two that played a lot of minutes with Logan Murphy starting most games and Merlin Pope used a lot off the bench. Woods, Tolbert, Michael Swanson and Owen Bronston are the seniors contributing a lot this season, while second-team All-GMC player Amir Rodgers, Ray Coney and Crim return as juniors.

Wyrick has been impressed with the improvement of several role players from last year as well, including Swanson and Bronston, who are playing more minutes this season. Junior Ty Cunningham is filling some of the void left by Murphy as a tough defender, and sophomore Mason King is averaging about 10.5 minutes a game after growing to 6-foot-5, 200 pounds.

“Our guys have gotten bigger, more mature, and guys getting better individually is the key,” Wyrick said. “They are shooting better, guys improved individually, working on weaknesses. Guys that struggled shooting outside are shooting much better, guys that struggled attacking the basket are doing better. They’re doing a better job sharing the ball. The experience in the offense especially is showing because they’ve been playing together for a while, and they have the basics down so we can be more creative with it. That’s allowed us to do more just with guys being more mature and experienced in our system.”

Wyrick said as strong as the team was last year, it’s clear the players are locked into achieving bigger goals in 2021-22. The Indians lost to Lakota West in the second round of the tournament last year after having a first-round bye, and the early exit stung.

“We talked a lot last year just about winning the GMC, and the goal this year is advancing more in the tournament,” Wyrick said. “The biggest key to making that next step is continued improvement. How much better can we get from right now to tournament time in February? Typically the teams that advance get much better Week 1 to the tournament. Our league is so tough, you hope it prepares you for that. We’ve also challenged ourselves with our non-conference schedule. We’ve scheduled some tough teams and hope that helps us moving forward, but guys are buying into roles, buying into the system and hopefully we keep competing night in and night out.”

Fairfield would like to repeat as GMC champions as well, but Wyrick said the team hasn’t talked about that as much because the conference is so tough that several teams could be in hunt for that title. He mentioned Sycamore, Princeton, Lakota East and Lakota West as the top teams to watch in the GMC this year, as all have either Division I talent or tremendous depth, or both.

Advancing in the postseason is something the Indians can better control.

“Winning the league was a big deal for us last year, and where we were trying to go with the program, that was the first step to be able to do that,” Wyrick said. “Year by year we want to continue to build on that success -- sustain it and build on it. That’s where we’re at as a program.”

AREA PLAYERS TO WATCH

Caleb Allen, Edgewood senior guard

Nathan Dudukovich, Lakota West junior guard

Elijah Givens, Hamilton senior guard

Tywan Hall, Middletown senior guard

Logan Neu, Badin senior forward

Nate Paarlberg, Franklin senior forward

Kobe Peck, Lakota East senior guard

Dontai Pendelton, Madison senior forward

Kellen Reid, Ross junior guard

Jay Reynolds, Talawanda sophomore forward

Noah Rich, Franklin senior forward

Sage Tolentino, Hamilton senior forward

Kollin Tolbert, Fairfield senior guard

Logan Woods, Fairfield senior guard