After coming so close to winning the state championship three of the last four seasons, Richmond Heights finally crossed it off their list. The Spartans took the Division IV crown in the 2021-22 season with a win over Tri-Village.
They have their eye on a repeat when the season comes into view. However, the Spartans will be missing something this season: that would be the level of a year ago.
The front court trio 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 ground, relying more on a variety of guards for the upcoming campaign.
Coach Quinten Rogers isn’t worried about that. Rather, he sees the past season as an outlier.
“We switched to a different style of basketball,” Rogers said. “Last year was an anomaly and normally we’re never that big. We usually have a few guys with size, but we’re usually a very fast team that counts on teams adapting to that speed.”
To implement her new offense, Rogers has leaned on the two returning starters to help everyone get into the system. Sophomore guards Dorain Jones and De’Erick Barber were asked to take a lead much sooner than most.
But both have settled into their new roles well in the preseason and have been strong in their bouts against Brecksville, St. Ignatius and Gilmour. Having these leaders in a new offense that revolves around their strengths will allow them to shine.
“They’ve both gotten a lot more vocal,” Rogers said. “They have to have that lead and they help the guys a lot more. They helped all the guys learn the plays and defenses. They have now become the leaders for us and this is a big leap for them.”
While Jones and Barber are back in the starting XI, Richmond Heights have just two other players returning in Michael McWilliams and Demarrius Winters Jr. With a host of new faces, both coaches and players know they need to evolve as a unit.
While working preseason, Rogers saw several players grow into players who could make a difference while also evolving as a team. Jones has settled into his new role and seen how everyone else found their part.
With that understanding at the start of the season, he knows they are maintaining their high expectations for his sophomore year on the varsity list.
“We’ve worked together a lot this preseason to get to where we’re comfortable,” Jones said. “I have to be a vocal player this season and that will be a big change. Being able to bring my experience from a season ago to this season is a huge help and it has allowed me to make this transition much easier.”
The Spartans’ biggest challenge this season might be finding a new front runner. While Jones had 45 3s a season ago, he was the fourth-leading scorer on the team while Barber was the offensive mediator and both averaged over two steals per game.
One of those reasons was that a season ago they included the Bigs in the livery and relied on them for the score.
This season, being smaller, Jones said getting in will be a challenge. But they can use their speed to get some layups and easier buckets.
“It’s a lot tougher than last year,” Jones said. “If you have a big one or two, they can get these tracks that you can use to cut on the track. At the moment that is the challenge we have. We know we can get the ball inside to get lighter buckets but we’ll have to find that out as the season progresses.”
One thing that will force the team to learn fast is their always demanding schedule. In addition to competing in the CVC Chagrin Division, the Spartans will also play Brush, St. Edward and Hillard Bradley.
However, Rogers knows this will allow his team to adapt to his style much more quickly and find the other areas where they need to improve. That’s going to be something to navigate and improve on as the season progresses if you want to hang another banner at the gym.
“It wasn’t actually a difficult transition period at all,” said Rogers. “Everyone trusts each other, everyone plays against each other. They know they need each other if they want to achieve their goals this season. That made this a lot easier. We always try to play against some of the best teams, but we also play against a lot of the most talented teams as best we can. This helps us prepare for a variety of different styles and styles of coaching. It will 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 November 26th.