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