After they came so close to winning the state championship in three of the past four seasons, Richmond Heights finally crossed that off of its list. With a win over Tri-Village, the Spartans claimed the Division IV crown in the 2021-22 season.
They have their eyes on a repeat as the season comes into view. However, there will be something missing from the Spartans this season: That would be their height from a year ago.
The trio in the front court of Jaiden Cox-Holloway, Josiah Harris and London Maiden have all graduated. It will be a brand-new look for the Spartans on both ends of the floor, relying more on a multitude of guards for the upcoming campaign.
Coach Quinten Rogers isn’t worried about that. Rather he sees last season as the outlier.
“We switched to a different style of basketball,” Rogers said. “Last year was an anomaly and we’re never usually that big. We usually have a few guys with size but we’re usually a very quick team who counts on making teams adjust to that speed.”
In order to implement their new offense, Rogers has leaned on the two returning starters to help everyone get in system. Sophomore guards Dorain Jones and De’Erick Barber have been asked to make a leap in leadership a lot sooner than most.
But both have adjusted to their new roles well during the preseason and have been strong in their scrimmages against Brecksville, St. Ignatius and Gilmour. Having those leaders in a new offense that revolves around their strengths is something that will allow them to shine.
“They’ve both become a lot more vocal,” Rogers said. “They need to have that leadership and are helping guys out a lot more. They’ve been helping all the guys learn the plays and the defenses. They’ve now become the leaders for us and that’s a big jump for them.”
While Jones and Barber are returning starters, Richmond Heights only has two other players returning in Michael McWilliams and Demarrius Winters Jr. With a slew of new faces, both coach and players know they need to develop as a unit.
While working through the preseason, Rogers saw several players emerge as players who can make an impact while also developing as a team. Jones has settled into his new role and has seen everyone else find theirs.
With that understanding entering the season, he knows that they are maintaining their lofty expectations going into his second year on the varsity roster.
“We’ve been working together a lot this preseason to get to the point where we’re comfortable with each other,” Jones said. “I have to be a more vocal player this season and that is going to be a big change. Being able to bring my experience from a season ago into this one is a big help and that’s allowed me to make that transition a lot easier.”
The biggest challenge for the Spartans this season could be finding a new scoring leader. While Jones had 45 3s a season ago, he was the fourth-leading scorer on the team while Barber was the offensive facilitator and both averaged over two steals a game.
One of those reasons was because they got the bigs involved in the paint a season ago and relied on them for the scoring output.
This season, being smaller, Jones said getting inside is going to be a challenge. But they can use their speed to be able to get some layups and easier buckets.
“It’s a lot tougher than last year,” Jones said. “When you have a big or two, they can get those lanes that allow you to cut to the lane. Right now that’s the challenge that we have. We know that we can get the ball inside to get some easier buckets but that’s something we need to figure out how to do as the season progresses.”
One thing that will force the team to learn quickly is their always-challenging schedule. The Spartans not only will compete in the CVC Chagrin Division but also have games against the likes of Brush, St. Edward and Hillard Bradley.
Yet Rogers knows that will make his team adjust to their style a lot quicker and find the other areas they need to improve on. That will be something that will need to navigate and use to improve throughout the season if they want to hang another banner in the gym.
“It hasn’t been a rough transition period at all actually,” Rogers said. “Everyone trusts each other, they all play off of each other. They know that they need each other if they want to reach their goals this season. That has made this a lot easier. We always try to scrimmage some of the best teams but also play a lot of the talented teams as we can. That helps us get ready for a variety of different styles and coaching styles. It’s going to be a good thing for us as we go through the season..”
It’s a challenge from the jump for the Spartans. They begin their season at Harvest Prep in Columbus on Nov. 26.