With a slew of deft ball-handlers, a balanced attack and two Division I recruits, Delaware moved to 14-1 and is taking aim at its first district title since 1986.
Delaware, OH – After watching the Delaware Hayes boys basketball team run up and down the floor a half-dozen times, one thing becomes glaringly apparent: The Pacers don’t have a bona fide point guard. Truth is, they’ve got four or five at any given time who could claim that title.
“Who’s our point guard?” Delaware coach Adam Vincenzo asked, repeating a reporter’s question. “Well, it depends on who’s in the lineup and the matchups we’re seeing. For the most part, we’re sort of a position-less team.”
Six-foot-seven junior Landon Vanderwarker and 6-4 senior Jesse Burris are among those who assume ball-handling, passing, driving, screening, perimeter shooting and rebounding roles for the Pacers. Vanderwarker, a transfer from Northside Christian, where he made first-team All-Ohio in Division IV, is a Power Five conference caliber recruit … at shooting guard. Burris, second-team all-state in Division I, also is expected to play the two guard at Ohio University next season.
“Everyone on the floor for us is responsible for keeping the ball moving, being unselfish and finding the open man,” Vanderwarker said. “Also, any of us can guard anybody. It’s really fun to have no set position or role. It makes us to defend. Personally, it helps me in my development since I’ll probably be playing mostly the perimeter in college.”
Just a month shy of tournament time, this unit of orange and black chameleons just might be on to something special. Twelfth-ranked in the current Associated Press state media poll, Delaware ran its record to 14-1 with a workmanlike 72-66 win over visiting Westerville North Tuesday.
By completing a season sweep (they won the first matchup 59-58 on Dec. 15), the Pacers took a full-game lead over the Warriors and Westerville South in the rugged Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division. Big Walnut is two games back.
“When we’re going well, it’s pick your poison against us,” 6-3 junior Carter Piatt-Brown said. “Everyone can do a little bit of everything.”
Averaging over 68 points per game, Delaware’s balance was on display against North. Vanderwarker had 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, Piatt-Brown 18 points and four assists, Burris 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals and Jake Lowman 12 points and six assists. The Pacers recorded assists on 17 of their 29 baskets.
Piatt-Brown was the X factor in both key wins over North.
“The work Carter does for us doesn’t always show up in the box score, per se, but he is hugely valuable to us … a perfect guy for how we like to play,” Vincenzo said. “I refer to him as our Swiss army knife. When he plays well, we tend to play well.”
Piatt-Brown said he embraces Vincenzo’s nickname for him.
“It means I can do everything and that’s the ultimate compliment,” he said. “Our seniors, Jake, Jesse and Carter (Sims), bring a lot of energy to our team in games and practices. While I’m kind of the sparkplug, I really take a lot of pride in keeping calm and collected on the floor.”
Westerville North coach Shan Trusley conceded that Delaware’s top attribute is its balance and ability to score multiple ways.
“With practically every guy handling the ball, it makes them hard to pressure and hard to guard,” he said. “With no primary ball-handler, it’s impossible to find a potential weak link or determine where to trap. We were able to counter their rebounding advantage with our pressure, but, ultimately, they did what was necessary to come out on top.”
Unlike the first meeting, the Pacers got out of the gate fast and led throughout. North cut into an 11-point deficit with a 9-0 late in the second quarter and trailed just 32-28 at halftime.
Delaware gradually built its pad to 14 with three minutes remaining, but North – frantically trapping and pressing – whittled it to four in the final minute but came up short.
An aesthetically pleasing team to watch, Delaware prefers to expand the floor in a motion offense and use plenty of ball movement and screening to free open shooters and drivers. Despite an assortment of ball-handlers, the Pacers sometimes look a bit uncomfortable when trapped and pressed and clearly wants to avoid a ragged, up-and-down game.
Micah Young, third-team All-Central District as a sophomore, scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for North (12-3, 7-2). Tai Perkins added 19 points.
While the Capital race remains unsettled, all eyes are focused on the district tournament in late February and Delaware may have drawn a bead on a high seed with this win. In the latest MaxPreps regional RPI ratings used for seeding purposes, Olentangy Orange, Delaware, Westerville North and Newark held down the top spots in that order.
After losing a district title game to eventual regional runner-up Olentangy Orange in 2023, Delaware is still seeking its first district championship since 1986.
“They’re good and we’re good,” Trusley said. “I really think you watched two of the top five teams in central Ohio tonight. I’m not any prognosticator, but I’d like to think we might run into each other again deep in the tournament. I hope that comes true because Adam and I are close friends and I respect the way they do things.”