Nordonia boys basketball looks for more offense this winter

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Nordonia point guard Anthony Lee drives to the basket during a game against North Royalton last season.

Year one of the Dominque Sanders era for Nordonia boys basketball was a bumpy one.

Nordonia finished 6-16 last year, including in 4-10 in the Suburban League National Conference. The Knights lost to Bedford in the first round of the Division I playoffs.

Sanders knew, however, changing the Knights' culture was never going to be a one-year project.

"It's not what I wanted to see in the first year," Sanders said. "I do think we set a foundation for what we want to become. I will say that last year's team always came to work every day.

"We just nee to keep stressing the Xs and Os," He added.. "Overall, it's a great place to be."

Sanders noted, despite the challenges of COVID-19, Nordonia had an excellent off-season.

"We saw a lot of work and commitment. Our attendance was amazing this summer," Sanders said. "There’s still a lot of work to be done, of course. We’ve got some great leaders in our seniors this year.

"We've got to be all for the team and all for our brothers this year," he added. "Sometimes last year, we got away from that and had guys playing for themselves. These guys have bought in."

It's not hard to see what ailed the Knights last year. While Nordonia routinely held opponents under 50 points a game, the Knights often suffered from a complete lack of offensive continuity.

"We were 4-2 and then we got zoned for the rest of the season," Sanders said.

To combat this, Sanders wants this year's squad to push the tempo and take "quick but intelligent shots." When in half-court situations, Nordonia will run the Princeton offense.

"We're looking for more ball screens and a lot of movement," Sanders said. "We’ve done multiple things this year to get better on offense. We can’t get lackadaisical on defense though."

Nordonia will continue run hard man-to-man defense with some full-court traps, looking to get offense in the transition game.

"Talent-wise, we are better than last year," Sanders said. "We’re still young. We’ve got to do a better job of rebounding."

Sanders said he expects the National Conference to be tough from top to bottom

Nordonia's coaching staff remains intact with veterans Don Jones, Don Springer and former Nordonia head coach Dave Smith serving as varsity assistants.

DeVon Sanders and Kezmei Spencer are the junior varsity coaches, with Christian Jacklin and David Gomez coaching the freshmen team

Much of Nordonia's graduation losses came in the front court with Robert Watson, Logan Jankowski, Clay McMilen, Josh Malone and Owen Lict all gone.

Given those losses, Sanders said he's going to be leaning senior 6-foot-3 forward Joel Jones to take the lead in the front court.

"Joel is one of the guys that we look to be a leader for us," Sanders said.

Another returning starter for the Knights is senior point game Anthony Lee (5-11), who Sanders said could be due for a breakout season after averaging 14 points a game down the stretch for the Knights.

"He’s the guy that were looking for to be our scorer this year," Sanders aid. "He's got great intangibles. I’m excited to see what her can do.

"That’s the change I’ve seen so far from him this season. He's so much more confident."

Senior center Damon Wallace (6-1) could be the "dirty work" player down low for the Knights.

"He looks to hold the fort down in the paint," Sanders said."He's crafty around the basket."

After splitting time between varsity and JV last year, Sanders said senior guard Luke Tyukodi (5-9) is "a great leader for the team."

Several seniors will get the call up from junior varsity for the Knights, including guard Rien Reese (5-9), point guard George Jones (5-7), guard Ryan Davitt (5-9) and wing Toussaint Perry-Hanley (5-11)

Another option in the front court will be junior Vince Macfarland (6-3). Sanders notes Macfarland has all the tools physically.

"He has to be a little more intelligent on the basketball side of things," Sanders said.

After a breakout season on the football field, junior Matt Hayes (6-0) could be a big contributor at the shooting guard spot.

Sophomore guard Joe Palinkas (6-1) saw spot time on varsity last year as a freshman and likely will see an expanded role. Fellow sophomore guard Liam Gopalakrishna is "pushing hard for rotation time."

The tall player on the roster for Nordonia is 6-foot-5 sophomore center Mitchell Wiechecki

"We look for him to be a potential a varsity role player for us," Sanders said.

Sanders also is high on freshman win Derek Occhipinti (6-3), who has shown good range in the preseason.

"We expect big things from him, especially in the future," Sanders said.

"We’ve got to play up-tempo and we know it," Sanders added. "The guys understanding this has grown."

The Knights are scheduled to open the season Nov. 28 at Mayfield at 7:30 p.m. The home opener is set for Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. vs Norton.