Middletown’s Shandon Morris (2) and Hamilton’s D’Marco Howard (25) and Romello Diablo (23) battle for a rebound during their game Dec. 7 at Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. The host Middies won 64-56. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

GMC BASKETBALL: East voted No. 1, but no team appears to be dominant

Clint Adkins isn’t much of a believer when it comes to preseason polls, even when his team is No. 1.

His Lakota East High School boys basketball squad, seeking its first Greater Miami Conference championship since 2014-15, has taken the top spot in this year’s voting by the GMC coaches.

“In my opinion, polls don’t mean anything,” Adkins said. “All it means is, ‘Hey, we’ve got some potential.’ We’ve got some scholarship guys. I think people will know how good we could be, but we’re not even remotely close yet.”

BOYS BASKETBALL LEAGUE PREVIEWS

» GCLC CENTRAL: Purcell short-handed, but still voted No. 1

» SWBL BUCKEYE: Injuries aside, Madison favored to repeat

» SWOC: Northwest favored to make it five straight titles

» GCLC NORTH: Eagles earn preseason No. 1 position

» SWBL SW: Franklin, Brookville share preseason No. 1

Led by senior guard Bash Wieland, who’s committed to Bellarmine University, the Thunderhawks got five No. 1 votes. The last time they finished outside the top half of the conference was 2011-12.

Hamilton picked up four No. 1 votes, while defending champion Princeton got one.

HHS was second in the overall voting, followed (in order) by Princeton, Mason, Oak Hills, Fairfield, Colerain, Sycamore, Middletown and Lakota West.

Parity seems to be the buzzword in the GMC this year. Hamilton, under the direction of first-year coach Kevin Higgins, is off to an 0-3 start in conference play.

“I think there’s going to be four or five losses for the league winner,” Fairfield coach Jeff Sims said. “Every single night, I think you’re going to see some scores where you say, ‘That’s not surprising.’ ”

East’s Jalen Peck (44), Bash Wieland (22), Jackson See (4) and Jarrett Cox (right) battle Princeton’s Darweshi Hunter (24) and Gabriel O’Neal for a final rebound during a Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena on March 10, 2018. Princeton won 53-51. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

“The GMC is always very competitive, but probably this year more than any,” Adkins said. “You look at last year. Princeton was by far the most talented team in the league — it wasn’t even close. This year, honestly, I think anybody can beat anybody. I know it’s kind of a cliche, but I think it’s really true.”

East returns two starters, Wieland and 6-foot-6 junior center Alex Mangold. Sophomore guard Nate Johnson and Mangold are both drawing collegiate interest.

Adkins said the Thunderhawks haven’t looked like a No. 1 team in the early part of the season. He blamed himself for that.

“I haven’t necessarily let anything slide. I just maybe haven’t been as clear with some of the things that we’re trying to do,” Adkins said. “I’ve got to get better. I think when I do, we’ll start seeing improvements on the court.”

Hamilton has the most returning talent this year, returning four starters and two of the GMC’s top scorers in senior guards D’Marco Howard and Jaylen Robinson.

Elder’s Joe Royer (12) and Bryson Merz (23) battle for the ball with Fairfield’s Devin Turner (0) and Caleb Pryce (5) during their Nov. 30 game at the Fairfield Arena. Elder won 62-55. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

It’s been a tough start for Big Blue, but Higgins — who came from Lebanon — said it will take a while for everything to come together in the new regime.

“The important thing is to be ready to play meaningful games in February,” Higgins said. “We want to play well at the end.”

Princeton returns no starters, though junior guard Khalil Davis played a lot last year and shot 46.2 percent from 3-point range. The Vikings have also added three transfers — junior guard DeAirius Barker (from North College Hill), junior forward Micah Thomas (from Clark Montessori) and sophomore guard Greg Johnson (from St. Xavier).

At Mason, veteran coach Greg Richards returns three starters — senior guards Landen Long and Ethan Howard, along with senior forward Matt Minick — who averaged 21.3 points per game between them last year.

Junior forward Mitch Greer has moved up after leading the Comets’ junior varsity squad in scoring last season, and Richards likes Mason’s ability to put the ball in the hoop. He said defense will determine the team’s championship potential.

Talawanda guard Evan James is covered by Lakota West forward Matt Oehler during the All-Butler County All-Star boys basketball game at the Hamilton Athletic Center in Hamilton on April 7, 2018. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY E.L. HUBBARD

Oak Hills returns its second-leading scorer (senior guard Zach Moeller) and rebounder (senior forward Jacob Berkemeier) from last season, but doesn’t have much size. Berkemeier is the tallest player on the roster at 6-4.

Sims believes Fairfield has the ability to end its streak of losing seasons at three. Senior guard Devin Turner leads a group of three returning starters, and juniors Caleb Pryce and DaShaun Simpkins are up from the junior varsity and playing key roles.

“We’re very athletic,” Sims said. “I think we can be a good guarding team.”

Colerain appears to be on the upswing, yet hasn’t had a winning record since 2009-10. Ty Gibert said he’s got good senior leadership and four starters back this year.

Sycamore coach Andrew Ovington has two of his top three scorers back in senior guards Ben Yuskewich and Davis NiBlack, though Yuskewich is the lone returning starter. Ovington is hoping that competitiveness makes up for an overall lack of size.

At Middletown, Darnell Hoskins believes this will be a bounce-back season, and an early win over Hamilton may be an indication of that.

Middletown’s Aaron Jones dribbles the ball while being defended by Hamilton’s Jaylen Robinson during their Dec. 7 game at Wade E. Miller Arena in Middletown. The host Middies won 64-56. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Middies will play fast, pressure basketball and have added a pair of transfers, senior Kadar Gardner from Dunbar and sophomore Rob Thompson from Lakota East. Gardner has to sit out the first 11 games of the season.

“Winning is a byproduct of doing things the right way,” Hoskins said. “You can just see the transition starting to take place day in and day out in practice. That’s truly where you get better.”

Lakota West is already showing signs of being better than most people are expecting under first-year coach Jim Leon, who’s been coaching since the early 1980s. He’s best known for his time at Woodward.

The Firebirds have no starters back, but Leon said that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He said a fresh start is exactly what the program needs.

“Based on our last two seasons, I understand why we are picked at the bottom,” Leon said. “I was hired to change the focus and direction of the West program, and my staff and I are working hard to do that. We have great kids, school and community, and our goal is to win back the respect they deserve.

“It’s a very talented league with superior athletes and coaches. I am honored to face this challenge.”

THE PRESEASON POLL

Here’s how the coaches voted in the preseason Greater Miami Conference boys basketball poll, with point totals and first-place votes (in parentheses):

1. Lakota East (5) 93

2. Hamilton (4) 91

3. Princeton (1) 77

4. Mason 76

5. Oak Hills 59

6. Fairfield 40

7. Colerain 39

8. Sycamore 33

9. Middletown 26

10. Lakota West 16

A LOOK AT THE TEAMS

Here’s a team-by-team preseason look at the GMC teams, with information provided by the coaches:

1. LAKOTA EAST THUNDERHAWKS

Coach: Clint Adkins (fifth season)

2017-18 Record: 16-9 overall, 11-5 (third place, tied)

Returning Starters: Alex Mangold (6-6 junior center), Bash Wieland (6-4 senior guard)

Top Newcomers: Kaden Fuhrmann (6-3 junior guard), Nick Holtman (6-0 senior guard), Jared McCorkle (6-1 junior guard)

Team Strengths: Length, shooting ability

Area Of Concern: Inexperience

2. HAMILTON BIG BLUE

Coach: Kevin Higgins (first season)

2017-18 Record: 12-11 overall, 7-9 GMC (fifth place, tied)

Returning Starters: D’Marco Howard (6-2 senior guard), Payton Pennington (5-10 senior guard), Kurtis Reid (6-2 sophomore guard), Jaylen Robinson (6-0 senior guard)

Top Newcomer: Kristian Walton (6-2 junior guard)

Team Strengths: Guard play and depth at that position, experience

Area Of Concern: Depth in the post

3. PRINCETON VIKINGS

Coach: Steven Wright (second season)

2017-18 Record: 23-4 overall, 16-0 GMC (first place)

Returning Starters: None

Top Newcomers: DeAirius Barker (5-11 junior guard), Greg Johnson (6-0 sophomore guard), Micah Thomas (6-5 junior forward)

Team Strengths: Quickness, athleticism, shooting ability, guard play

Area Of Concern: None listed

4. MASON COMETS

Coach: Greg Richards (25th season)

2017-18 Record: 15-6 overall, 11-5 GMC (third place, tied)

Returning Starters: Ethan Howard (5-11 senior guard), Landen Long (6-1 senior guard), Matt Minick (6-7 senior forward)

Top Newcomers: Jack Cooper (6-6 junior forward), Jack Franke (5-10 senior guard), Mitch Greer (6-4 junior forward)

Team Strengths: Shooting/scoring ability, depth

Area Of Concern: Need to improve on the defensive end of the floor to be really good

5. OAK HILLS HIGHLANDERS

Coach: Mike Price (28th season)

2017-18 Record: 18-7 overall, 12-4 GMC (second place)

Returning Starters: Jacob Berkemeier (6-4 senior forward), Deandre Hayes (6-1 senior guard)

Top Newcomer: Kelen Dietrich (6-1 junior guard)

Team Strengths: Work ethic, chemistry, versatility

Area Of Concern: Lack of height

6. FAIRFIELD INDIANS

Coach: Jeff Sims (third season)

2017-18 Record: 7-16 overall, 5-11 GMC (seventh place, tied)

Returning Starters: Peyton Brown (5-10 senior guard), Allen Caldwell (6-1 senior forward), Devin Turner (6-3 senior guard)

Top Newcomers: Caleb Pryce (6-3 junior forward), DaShaun Simpkins (6-0 junior guard)

Team Strengths: Shooting ability, athleticism

Area Of Concern: Lack of size

7. COLERAIN CARDINALS

Coach: Ty Gibert (third season)

2017-18 Record: 7-15 overall, 4-12 GMC (ninth place)

Returning Starters: Jordan Hatter (5-10 senior guard), Syncere Jones (6-2 senior guard), Rod Wiley Jr. (6-0 senior guard), Jalen Wright (6-2 senior forward)

Top Newcomers: Jakari Patterson (6-3 senior forward), Eric Phillips (6-5 senior forward)

Team Strengths: Ability to defend, senior leadership, 3-point shooting

Area Of Concern: None listed

8. SYCAMORE AVIATORS

Coach: Andrew Ovington (second season)

2017-18 Record: 13-12 overall, 7-9 GMC (fifth place, tied)

Returning Starter: Ben Yuskewich (6-4 senior guard)

Top Newcomer: Oliver Wittenbaum (6-0 sophomore guard)

Team Strength: Competitiveness

Area Of Concern: Lack of size and experience

9. MIDDLETOWN MIDDIES

Coach: Darnell Hoskins (third season)

2017-18 Record: 6-17 overall, 5-11 GMC (seventh place, tied)

Returning Starters: Aaron Jones (6-0 senior guard), KeiAunte Powell (6-0 senior guard), Chris Stallworth (6-6 senior center)

Top Newcomers: Kadar Gardner (6-0 senior guard), Rob Thompson (6-0 sophomore guard)

Team Strengths: Quickness, defensive pressure

Areas Of Concern: Rebounding, lack of size

10. LAKOTA WEST FIREBIRDS

Coach: Jim Leon (first season)

2017-18 Record: 4-19 overall, 2-14 GMC (10th place)

Returning Starters: None

Top Newcomers: Matt DeSalvo (6-2 senior guard), Kelvin Turner (5-10 sophomore guard), Silas Walters (6-0 sophomore guard), Brady Weber (6-4 sophomore forward)

Team Strengths: New coach/new system/fresh start, quickness, depth

Area Of Concern: Inexperience

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