As the area’s most improved boys basketball team last year, Twinsburg has plenty of excitement surrounding the program, but enters the 2018-19 campaign under a considerably different role this winter.
Coming off its finest win total since the 2009 club that won 18 games, Twinsburg (19-5) has some folks breathing the word "favorite."
Third-year head coach Phil Schmook realizes Twinsburg will have to execute and develop as a team in a new season, but he is eager to get under way.
"I think for the first time for these kids — most of them — that this is the first time that people are aware of them, aware of Twinsburg," pointed out Schmook.
"We have to have the kids mentally ready to handle that teams will be looking at us, and we have faith in these guys — they understand what needs to be done."
Schmook was quick to emphasize the strength of schedule — in and out of the league.
Last year, Twinsburg finished second in the Suburban League National Conference. The Tigers hope to challenge in league play and would be among the favorites to do so, but the SLNC is too deep to predict.
Twinsburg opens the season at the Great Lakes Classic Friday at 8 p.m. at Cleveland Heights. The Tigers will play Orange in the three-day event that features 28 area teams.
"About 90 percent of our schedule will have games that will be in question — we have to show up every night," the coach said. "I like it like that because we will have to be focused."
Schmook and his staff are generating new roles in the player rotation, which did suffer some graduation losses.
Lost to graduation for Twinsburg was Michael Moore, Darrell Newsom, Leroy Fitzgerald, Stefon Scott, Chris Fox, Antonio Solomon, Cameron Harris, Deano Curran and Jaylin Glover.
Five of those grads had some starting experience in Schmook’s deep rotation, which has gone as high as 14 players at time.
Athletes with starting experience that return are senior Ryan Felberg, junior Kenny McElrath, and junior Josh Wanton.
Other returnees include senior forward Ralph Campbell, senior guard Jared Young and junior post Ethan Golnick.
Felberg is 5-foot-9 senior point guard and a veteran player who has been around. He can shoot 3-pointers and is a strong defender.
McElrath is a strong 6-1 athlete who can play several positions in the backcourt and on the wing. He can score and defend.
"Our returning guards — Kenny, Ryan, and Josh (Wanton), are really solid and experienced — I would stack them against any other trio," Schmook said.
"I think that Felberg is a four-year player, who can defend, shoot, and handle the ball while Kenny can handle the ball and do a lot of things," added Schmook.
A two-way guard, Wanton (5-9) can help the Tigers in a variety of spots. However, Wanton is out with an illness with no return date.
Campbell has potential to be the team’s top scorer as he was fairly often last year before being ineligible the second half of the season when he sparked the Tigers off the bench.
A 6-4 forward-guard, Campbell can play in the post and excel out on the wing. He can block shots and rebound, plus excel in the transition game.
Young is a streaky shooter who is a threat beyond the 3-point arc. He is 5-9 and has had a solid pre-season.
"Jared Young is giving us a lot of energy and offensive punch, which along with his improvement, has given him a starting spot now," noted Schmook.
Golnick is a promising 6-5 post who came on strong late last year.
Schmook likes the size of Golnick as well as junior newcomer Mike Simpson.
Simpson is a 6-5 transfer from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, but did previously attend middle school in Twinsburg. Simpson will be used in the paint and on the wing due to his size, but is suited more for a guard spot.
"This is the biggest team we have had since I have been here," said Schmook, who has a host of athletes 6-2 or bigger.
Two newcomers who will help will be a pair of 6-2 athletes, both in their first varsity season at Twinsburg senior forward-guard Adam Mays and junior forward-guard Brandon Chambers.
Help also will come from the Tiger’s junior varsity team in junior Joe Plantner (5-10 guard), sophomore Dante’ Yarbrough (6-2 forward-guard), and sophomore Trevell Williams (5-10 guard).
As expected, Schmook may use a deep player rotation of 10-plus athletes, if not more.
The Tigers play at Chagrin Falls in non-league play next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Twinsburg is coming off a great summer in which the team captured the annual Terry Rozier Fun Games Summer League at The Word Church Multiplex in Warrensville Heights.
"During the summer is when I saw our commitment to getting better against quality competition," noted the coach. "We hope to continue our success in the program."
Finishing second in the Suburban League National Conference, Twinsburg surprised in 2017 with an 11-3 mark. Stow (21-4) won with a 12-2 mark while Wadsworth, North Royalton and Brecksville all had winning records, plus Nordonia (11-11, 7-7) was strong.
"The league will again be good from top to bottom — it’s a really big challenge," noted Schmook.