Despite losing its top three players from a regional finalist to graduation, Olentangy Orange looks like it could be a force in the OCC Central and district again.
Hilliard, OH – Many in Olentangy Orange’s student section strolled into Hilliard Davidson’s gym Friday night wearing pajamas, slippers and housecoats in acknowledgement of the latest theme night.
As for the Ohio Capital Conference Central Division boys basketball opener that ensued, pardon the pun, but it was a snoozefest from the opening tip.
Orange may have graduated its so-called “big three” from a 24-4 team that captured the program’s first district championship and came a smidge from knocking off perennial kingpin Pickerington Central in an epic Division I regional final defeat last March at Ohio University’s Convocation Center, but the holdovers sent an emphatic message in a 62-25 rout of Davidson: Don’t sleep on this Pioneers team.
“The vibe in the offseason was just to pick up where we left off last March,” versatile 6-foot-5 junior Devin Brown said. “We did not expect any drop-off. That group of seniors raised the bar for us and we expect big things again this year.”
The trio of Elias Lewis, Mikey McCollum and Jordan Edwards left in indelible mark on the program. They now play at Walsh, Hillsdale and Ashland, repectively.
Twelfth-year coach Anthony Calo took slight exception to Brown’s remark about this team being an extension to the once-in-a-lifetime team of a year ago.
“That implies entitlement, and we’re definitely not embracing that mindset,” Calo said. “In fact, if there’s anything these guys picked up from the seniors who departed is that they’re unbelievably humble. Many of our new guys who played alongside or watched that group, realize the hard work and teamwork it took to achieve what we did. A culture has been established, and now it’s up to the next crop of players to uphold those same values both on and off the court.”
While many observers are mentioning Delaware, Reynoldsburg, Hilliard Bradley, Westerville North, Westerville South, Pickerington Central, Pickerington North and Newark among a deep pool of potential district championship contenders, Orange is going to have something to say about it.
Brown and talented sophomore guard Levi Davis may be the only regular rotational players returning from the 2022-23 team, but they are surrounded by a diverse, hungry, athletic crop of athletes waiting their turn to shine. Orange’s JV team went 20-0 last season.
“No disrespect whatsoever intended to last year’s group, but from an athletic standpoint we have more overall quickness this year and that plays into what we like to do on the defensive end, which is speed people up,” Calo said.
From the opening tip, Orange (2-0, 1-0) seemed to have Davidson (2-1, 0-1) in a sleeper-hold.
Dylan Joy and Davis each hit three-pointers and the Pioneers drove to the hole with abandon in racing to a 14-0 lead. The Wildcats didn’t get on the board until the 1:36 mark of the quarter.
With no players in the starting lineup over 6-1, Davidson was unable to get the ball inside and Orange made it tough on the three-point shooters as well. Brown typically served as a rover, using his wingspan and quickness to harass the Wildcats. On offense, he frequently brought the ball downcourt and drew defenders to the perimeter to create mismatches.
“We joke that Devin is our Swiss army knife,” Calo said. “He’s very, very versatile and allows us to play different styles.”
Davis, an accomplished dual threat quarterback on the football team, led Orange with 15 points. Keegan Knupp added 11. Four of their teammates chipped in between five and eight points.
Calo said he started to get a hunch over the summer that his team was maturing quicker than he anticipated. That thought was reinforced during preseason scrimmages when Orange competed tooth and nail with Mentor, Centerville and Delaware – all projected to be top-10 caliber teams.
“Frankly, I was impressed by how fast we came together and jelled in terms of chemistry,” he said. “We always emphasize that we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and that’s still true. We’ve still got to climb the mountain and there’s a long way to the top yet.”
With Orange, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Bradley, Olentangy Liberty and Upper Arlington, the OCC Central perennially features some of the best basketball in central Ohio. And Davidson looked impressive in beating West and Olentangy Berlin in its first two games.
“We saw Orange in the preseason and on film as well, and they look like the real deal to me,” Davidson coach Tim Congrove said. “They’ve got multiple guys who can do different things. They’re very physical and athletic, and they can get you out of sorts. They did a great job making us go horizontal instead of downhill. They dictated the pace on both ends of the floor. Frankly, they exposed us, and we’ve got to find a way to be more competitive.”