Lakota East’s Nate Johnson (5) dribbles into the defensive area of La Salle’s Quinn Ealy (11) during a Division I sectional final March 2, 2018, at the Hamilton Athletic Center. East won 60-54. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Prep basketball: Lakota East hopes to keep winning with ‘wolfpack’ mentality

LIBERTY TWP. — The Lakota East High School boys basketball team is going back to its “wolfpack” mentality.

After graduating the Greater Miami Conference’s scoring leader of the past two seasons, the Thunderhawks will rely on a more balanced offense in 2018-19, and that fits right along with what fifth-year coach Clint Adkins has been preaching since the offseason: Togetherness.

That’s how East will replace Jarrett Cox, who averaged 18.3 points per game as a senior, as the Hawks seek to build off a 16-9 finish. They open Friday against perennial power Dunbar in the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic at Hillsboro.

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“Everything we do is about togetherness,” Adkins said. “Our mantra a few years ago was ‘wolfpack,’ where nothing is about the individual, and we’re really emphasizing that. It’s sacrificing individual things for the betterment of the team. If we are going to be as good as we can, that has to be the case. If we do that, I think we have a chance to be pretty darn good.”

East has a number of guys stepping up to fill new roles this season.

Cox was one of three two-year starters who graduated, along with Jackson See and Jalen Peck, but senior guard Bash Wieland (6-foot-6) and junior center Alex Mangold (6-7) return to lead the way. Wieland averaged 12.6 points per game last year and Mangold added 6.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Sophomore Nate Johnson (6-2) steps in at point guard, senior Will Johnston fills the other guard spot, and senior Grant Spicer (6-5) will start at forward.

Other contributors will include senior Nick Holtman (6-0), junior wing Kaden Fuhrmann (6-3), Lakota West transfer and junior guard Jared McCorkle (6-1), and senior wing Stephen McKay (5-11). Senior Kyrell Metts is out for the year with a torn ACL, which happened during football season.

“We’re inexperienced at some key positions, but we have some guys who got some playing time and can come in and fill roles,” Adkins said. “Jarrett was the league’s leading scorer the last two years, so we’re not expecting anyone to fill those shoes, but it’s something we have to fill as a team.

“Some years you have individuals averaging a lot of the points, but then you’ve got years like this year where I think it’s going to be more balanced. If you’ve got three or four guys that can score 10-15 points a game, that’s tough to defend. Sometimes you can depend too much on one scorer, but we’re going to find out who can step up and it might be a different guy each night.”

The Hawks have lost some strong scorers over the years, but always seems to find a way to replace the production that graduates each season. They’ve had six straight 16-win seasons and are 72-28 with a district championship in the past four years under Adkins.

He doesn’t expect this year to be any different.

“I really like the group of guys we have,” Adkins said. “They are close-knit on and off the court. They work hard every day. They are a pleasure to be around.

“I feel like we’re ahead of where we were last year from a defensive standpoint. Our execution is not great, but guys play hard, they compete in practice, and that’s what I’ve really noticed in our scrimmages. We’re playing unselfish, and when you have a group of guys that don’t care about accolades and statistics, it’s unique. They just compete and play hard.”

The Hawks will play their typical East brand of basketball with motion offense and full-court defense. The offense is based on a lot of ball movement and working to get the best possible shot, regardless of how many passes it takes. The defense, while not necessarily a trap, applies a lot of pressure in an effort to try to wear down the opponent.

It won’t take long to find out how good East is with the schedule Adkins has put together with teams like Dunbar, Mentor and Dublin Jerome, but he isn’t worried if it proves too challenging.

“It’s a tough schedule,” Adkins said. “Our goal each year is to schedule as difficult a nonconference schedule as possible. We’re not trying to pad our win stats. We’re getting them ready for February so when we get to the tournament, guys aren’t scared to play anyone and we’re prepared for whoever. We’re just hoping to keep getting better as we go and keep moving in the right direction.”

Lakota East Thunderhawks

Coach: Clint Adkins (fifth season)

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

OHSAA Classification: Division I

Schedule: Nov. 30 — Ohio Valley Hoops Classic vs. Dunbar at Hillsboro, 6 p.m.; Dec. 7 — Fairfield, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 8 — at St. Xavier, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 11 — Colerain, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 14 — Lakota West, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 21 — at Oak Hills, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 28 — Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational vs. Dublin Coffman at Thomas Worthington, 5:30 p.m.; Dec. 29 — Stephen Gussler Holiday Invitational vs. Dublin Jerome at Thomas Worthington, 2 p.m.; Jan. 4 — at Sycamore, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 8 — at Middletown, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 11 — Hamilton, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 15 — Oak Hills, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 18 — at Mason, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 20 — Midwest King Classic vs. Moeller at Middletown, 8 p.m.; Jan. 25 — Princeton, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 29 — at Fairfield, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 1 — at Colerain, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 2 — at Mentor, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 5 — Middletown, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 8 — at Lakota West, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 12 — at Hamilton, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 15 — Sycamore, 7:30 p.m.

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