Cuyahoga Falls boys basketball ready to take big step forward
There were flashes last winter that Cuyahoga Falls boys basketball was back.
It didn’t necessarily come in the form of a win all of the time.
Most of that growth came oozing out when Falls pressed fifth seed Barberton, a Copley Division I district semifinalist, to a 67-64 overtime game in the first round of sectional action.
That was a one possession OT loss to a 17-win Magic club in their house. That said a lot about Falls as a team!
Second-year Black Tiger head coach Todd Taylor saw glimpses.
Taylor, now starting his fifth overall year as a head coach, also saw growing pains that he knew would come in his first season.
After the 2-21 season, Taylor is excited about this winter despite losing a few graduate players, led by guard and defensive stalwart Joey Sondles.
One of those reasons why Taylor is so positive is due to the senior guard duo of Kyler Tepus and Trinny Henderson – it just may be one of the top guard combos in the Suburban League.
“We have the luxury of bringing back two second-team all-league guards this year,” pointed out Taylor.
“Having solid guard play is so important for any team to be successful, but in our case with the lack of size or inside game, it is even more important,” added Taylor.
Henderson is a speedy and athletic 5-foot-10-inch point guard. He averaged 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and dished out 2.0 assists a game.
“Trinny has had a solid preseason this year and has shown significant improvement with his off hand and is seeing the floor very well,” remarked Taylor.
Tepus was an honorable mention All-NEO Inland District player a year ago. Tepus pumped in 30 points in that OT loss to the Magics.
The 6-2 shooting guard scored at a 13.0-point clip, Tepus also grabbed 6.0 boards and added 1.0 feeds a contest.
“Kyler was slowed by missing the early preseason and is rounding into shape and has the ability to score from anywhere in the half-court offense,” explained Taylor.
“We feel comfortable putting the ball either one of their hands in crunch time and they will be successful,” added the coach.
Taylor also has four returning senior lettermen, who all have experience in the rotation.
They include Brennen Guerin, Isaiah Campbell, Nick Hyder, and Zander Miller.
Guerin is a versatile 6-1 guard who can play a few spots on the court, including point guard. Last year, Guerin added 5.0 points and 2.0 boards.
A lefty, Guerin played big in the game against Barberton with 14 points and drilled a game-tying 3-pointer with .8 seconds left in regulation.
Campbell is another athletic and speedy guard who can defend at a high level. The 5-11 veteran added 3.0 points and 3.0 boards in 2019.
“Isaiah can be very disruptive as a defender; his quickness and anticipation make him a very good defender,” stressed Taylor.
Miller lends experience and much-needed size in the paint. Even at that, Miller is only 6-2. He added over 2.0 rebounds a game.
Hyder is yet another experienced guard. A sharp shooter and a 3-point threat, the 5-10 Hyder hit for 4.0 points last year. He could be the team’s sixth-man.
“Offensively, I look for us run multiple sets to try and take advantage of our shooting, athleticism, and ball handling,” expressed Taylor.
Top newcomers, according to Taylor, include 5-10 junior guard Jayden Hillier, 6-1 freshman forward Tim Mitchell, and 5-10 freshman guard Bryce Smith.
Rebounding and defense is an area where Mitchell can help with.
“We will primarily be a man to man defense and will look for opportunities when we can extend our defense out,” explained the coach.
“Tim Mitchell can guard multiple positions and while only a freshman, he has stepped up and accepted the challenge,” added Taylor.
Work on the boards will have to get help from the guards too – Tepus, Guerin, and Campbell.
“We will have to be a team rebounding team, although Tepus demonstrated the ability to be a very effective rebounder and had multiple double-digit rebounding games last season,” pointed out Taylor.
Seniors Lee Bryant Collins and David Rinehart round out the varsity roster and lend depth.
Depth could be a key – especially in a season during COVID-19.
“As we work through this Pandemic, we must remain flexible, consistent and do our part to protect our players and their families,” noted Taylor. “We limit the time before and after practice for our players to be around one another, complete temperature checks, self-assessment, social distancing, and time to wash/sanitize hands. We have it built into our practice schedule to take time and sanitize hands.”
As a coaching staff, safety has been a focus.
“We understand there most likely be cancelations, schedule changes and possible last-minute new opponents,” said Taylor.
Nick Greenwood is the varsity assistant coach while Brent Hovey is the head Junior Varsity coach, Sean Eckert is an assistant coach, and Andrew Albright heads the freshman crew.
Falls is set to open the season Nov. 28 against North Canton Hoover at home.
Seniors, leadership and making senior memories are also critical for the team as Taylor doesn’t know how long the season will last.
“We want to do whatever we can to give all our players an opportunity to play this year, especially our seniors,” emphasized Taylor. “Their senior year has been significantly disrupted, but now we have an opportunity that they can get on the court and compete with their friends one last time.”
The Suburban League National Conference will be brutal and deep once again. The Black Tigers hope to improve on a 1-13 mark.
Falls opens league action Dec. 1 at home against North Royalton, the defending league champions at 12-2. League MVP Omar Abuhamdeh is back for North Royalton.
The Dec. 4 league game at Twinsburg has been postponed as Twinsburg has paused athletics until Dec. 7.
“This season looks to be another very competitive season and on any given night anyone can knock anyone off,” said Taylor. “North Royalton is the defending champ, returns league MVP, has multiple shooters and will be a pre-season favorite.”
Hudson (10-4 in the league) should also be good again along with Twinsburg (16-8, 9-5), Stow-Munroe Falls (8-6 in the league), and Brecksville (9-5) while Wadsworth (3-11) and Nordonia (4-10) should be improved.
“Stow literally returns everyone, has good guard play, good post play and a deep bench, and will be a tough out. Brecksville, Hudson, and Twinsburg all have several key returners, present matchup problems across the board and will be right there in the mix.”
“Along with Wadsworth and Nordonia, we are all looking to make the step up in the league standings,” added Taylor