Category Archives: Ohio High School Athletic Association

No topping the tingle of a Friday night

Two weeks into the NFL season, I’ve covered three games involving six teams in two states — and that’s not a Cincinnati-belongs-to-Kentucky joke.

Last weekend I walked around beautiful Berkeley, California, but not for too long. I didn’t want to miss a minute of Johnny Football vs. Nick Saban. Tomorrow, I’m going to see Florida A&M. In the last three weeks I’ve seen Teddy Bridgewater and the two leading candidates to draft him next May.

As far as good jobs go, I have one.

As far as my football obsession goes, I took the red eye from San Francisco to make Bengals-Steelers on Monday night. On Thursday, I went to my cousin’s eighth-grade game and then even caught the very end of a flag football game a few of my friends’ sons were playing.

They’re six. And really need some work on their technique.

Anyway, Football Season has been my favorite season as long as I can remember. And a big part of that is my tiny little football-obsessed hometown, a place just south of Akron that’s not technically called Manchester but everybody calls it Manchester. And anybody who knows a little about high school football in Ohio knows at least a little about the Manchester Panthers.

The Panthers are always small and slow and rarely highly-skilled, but they’re also almost always tough and gritty and rarely lose to other small and slow and slightly-skilled teams. Jim France, who’s both the principal and head coach at Manchester High, is in his 43rd year as coach. The defensive coordinator has been there almost as long. Some of the same people have been going to the games — near and far, sun and snow — for even longer.

I don’t get to many games anymore, and frankly I couldn’t name two players on this year’s team. But I always root from afar, and via Twitter of all places I found out that the 3-0 Panthers apparently have a big one tonight. They’re on the road at Fairless, a school that doesn’t have much football tradition but does apparently have a good team this year and is 3-0 coming into tonight.

Through Twitter, I found out that Fairless hasn’t beaten Manchester in football since 1985, the year Coach France wasn’t allowed to coach because it was the first year he took over as principal. That was so long ago that my parents didn’t even live in Manchester then — and we lived in Manchester for almost my entire schooling. I am not young, in case you couldn’t tell.

Anyway, the conference was formed in 1989, and every year since 1989 Manchester has beaten Fairless. That includes a couple Fairless teams that were good enough to make the state playoffs, if I remember correctly. Some friends pointed me to some Twitter talk (the best kind, you know?) that showed me that lots of folks this is the year that all changes. I even saw a hashtag, #StopTheStreak.

In at least a couple of small towns 45-plus miles from where I am now, this game is a really big deal. And though I love my stadium tours and big-game Saturdays in Columbus and being close to the NFL machine, I still can get a little tingle thinking about what it’s like at those two schools today, what it will be like on that bus ride and in those locker rooms just before kickoff, all the emotion that will be swirling through a stadium that surely doesn’t get many crowds like the one it will get tonight.

Even compared to the big-time high school operation at Massillon or the University of Mooney, just to name a couple, Manchester-Fairless is small-scale football. All of about four guys on the two teams, maybe, will ever play a down of football beyond high school. The game will get 12 inches of coverage in the Canton and Massillon papers and that’s about it. But for almost three hours tonight, there’s not a bigger or more important thing anywhere for anyone involved. I can’t go, but I’ll be plugged in.

I have no idea if Manchester is any good, or if Fairless is good enough to #StopTheStreak. I do know that Coach France turned 70 this week and, frankly, he doesn’t remember all the games he’s coached. But I know he remembers every one of them that the other team was convinced it was going to win.

Back when I was in college, I wrote for a local weekly newspaper and part of the deal there was going a weekly high school football predictions column. In that column I made jokes — not even good ones — and people got mad if I insulted their school or their team with things like calling Fairless “Fair-At-Best” or saying I saw a bumper sticker that said “My honor student beat up the Minerva football team.”

People got really mad. Call-my-editor and send-nasty-emails mad. Eventually I quit because they were just jokes, but there’s no joking about the importance of these games to so many people in so many places. This small-town football stuff is serious.

No matter who wins tonight, I won’t lose any sleep over it. If Manchester wins, I’ll simply send one gloating tweet. If Fairless wins and stops the streak and burns the town down (figuratively, of course) in the celebration process, that might even be pretty cool. 1985 was a long damn time ago, right?

Just kidding about that. Go Panthers.

Isn’t football great?

Well-traveled V.J. King aims for improvement

It’s been quite a year for V.J. King.

Whether or not you’ve been reading previously, it’s been quite a spring and half-a-summer, specifically.

His first season of high school basketball in Ohio was as good as many expected it to be — at least until the Div. II state championship game, when V.J. struggled and St. Vincent-St. Mary lost.

Angry at himself, V.J. wanted in the gym the next day. As had been the plan win or lose, his dad, Vincent, forced him to take three days off.

Three long days, those were. The Kid feels lost without basketball.

This series tracking V.J.’s pursuit of his basketball dreams started about a year ago, when the Kings moved to Akron and V.J. enrolled at St. V-M. Already ranked nationally in his class — yes, there are people who rank middle school basketball players — he arrived with fanfare and expectations. St. V-M, as you may remember, previously had a pretty good player who answers to the name King.

So far, he’s (mostly) dodged that. And settled into his new surroundings nicely, averaging 17 points per game as a freshman and carrying a 3.6 grade-point average over the first three quarters of the school year. He couldn’t dodge someone creating a fake Twitter account using his name and likeness later in the spring, but that got resolved (and deleted). By April he was into a groove with his King James — who would have guessed? — AAU team, playing on weekends anywhere from Detroit to Dallas to New Jersey.

V.J. King in Team USA gear

In the last week of May, V.J. flew to Colorado Springs as one of 25 participants in USA Basketball’s 16-and-under camp. He didn’t come back for more than three weeks, not until he’d become one of 12 who made the team and then become one of the first guys off the bench for a team that not surprisingly rolled to a gold medal at the Tournament of the Americas in Uruguay.

Yes, Uruguay. Playing for Team USA.

So, it’s been quite a spring and half of a summer for V.J. King.

He took his final exams when he came home from Uruguay and took one more day off of basketball. Then, he was right back into the flow. This week, he’s back on the circuit playing in Nike’s prestigious Peach Jam event. The AAU nationals are a few weeks away.

College coaches are watching all the way. Ohio State and Wisconsin offered last fall; Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina State have offered since the high school season ended. Plenty of others have watched and continue to do so.

All V.J.’s father says about his recruitment is “we’re going to take it slow. There is no hurry.” What V.J. says about it is this: “I’m used to people asking. I never get riled up about who’s there to watch. It’s still a few years away and I’m just honored to have colleges showing interest in me.”

Those who come to watch immediately see his talent and basketball IQ. He was 6’7 last season and comfortable shooting from 22 feet. He’s worked hard on improving not only that jump shot but being able to create it himself. Going 1-of-6 for 5 points in that state championship loss to Columbus Bishop Watterson has driven him.

“The way I played and we lost, I was sick,” V.J. said. “And I was ready to get back immediately and start making sure that never happens again. It stings more because we got there and then just didn’t get it done. And I pin a lot of it on myself. It still hurts.”

He’s human. And though he needs to add bulk and work on his left hand, his assertiveness and improve his overall athleticism to truly get where he wants to go, he is a 6’7 (at least) 16-year old making NBA-range 3-pointers. He’s good enough that some  other kid, somewhere, had a Twitter account purporting to be him.

In today’s social media age — V.J. prefers video games to Facebook — that’s a high compliment.

Said Vincent King: “I think he’s starting to taste it. He won’t be outworked. I think he’s figuring out there might be something special inside there, and that light coming on a little bit can be what helps it go to the next level.”

He’s a little taller now, a little stronger, a little more comfortable in his own skin — and in his seemingly never-ending supply of really large Nikes. Going to LeBron’s school and playing for his AAU program has its perks. In his freshman season V.J. said he “learned a lot. I really focused on playing better defense. My coaches pushed me. I could have had more rebounds, made more hustle plays. I’ve learned those things can decide games.”

Maybe his father’s favorite moment of high school season came in a long-forgotten regular-season game, on a play when V.J. came from the back side of a play to block a shot into the fourth row. He not so politely told the shooter to “get that (stuff) out of here” and was assessed a technical foul.

In the stands, Vincent King saw that assertiveness he’d been pushing to see. On the court, those two points and one extra possession didn’t keep St. V-M from winning the game.

“Heat of the moment,” V.J. said. “The ref had a good view of what I said.”

He laughed. He said “be more assertive, be a little meaner” is part of what Ohio State coach Thad Matta told him last winter.

He knows he’s getting better, and he says that’s his only focus for the rest of the summer. He looks forward, already, to next winter. He has a bunch of new friends from his Team USA experience to track, too, players who also already hold offers from top college programs nationally. Accolades and attention and a new home arena — named for its primary benefactor, LeBron James — await, but V.J. said he’s thinking only about getting the chance to redeem himself for that state championship clunker.

“I know what the water is like here, so to speak,” he said. “I know my coaches and my teammates. I know we’re getting everybody’s shot in every gym.

“I pay attention to college and that outside stuff to an extent but I don’t put myself in it. One day I’ll be an upperclassman and I might be more involved with that stuff. Right now what people say or anything outside doesn’t matter. I just need to get better.”

His daily workouts with his father are done with that in mind. With any luck, he’ll get a couple workouts in with LeBron in August or September. And by December, he’ll be chasing the state title he feels he let slip away last season.

“One thing I’ll never forget from the season is one of the opposing student sections getting on me while I was taking the ball out of bounds,” V.J. said. “They were calling me a little kid, telling me I was lucky to make one shot, that I didn’t belong on any list of the best players. I just kept hearing ‘overrated, overrated’ and a bunch of other stuff I can’t repeat.

“These guys kept going, mocking me, yelling me. I know it’s heat of the moment stuff and they just want their team to win, but I think early last year I let it get to me a little bit.”

Later in the year, he handled it with a smile. He knows it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

“After one game,” V.J. said, “the same kid who was screaming ‘overrated’ asked for my autograph before we got on the bus.”

So, about Derek Kief’s commitment video…

This is how Cincinnati LaSalle class of 2014 wide receiver Derek Kief announced his commitment to the University of Alabama on Sunday night.

Over the top? Kind of cool? Right in line what this whole recruiting production has become?

Give Kief a 9.5 for use of props and for creativity. The whole thing, though? Produce first, kid. All that stuff can come later.

We were all young once, I guess.

Notes and observations from the North-South Classic

DAYTON, Ohio – I went to the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association North-South All-Star Classic on Saturday to work on a couple projects for down the road. While I was there, I watched a couple football games.

**This Urban Meyer guy knows what he’s doing. As expected, the stars of the games for some of Ohio’s best in the class of 2013 were Ohio State signees. Massillon’s Gareon Conley caught 3 touchdown passes for the North in the big-school (Div. I-III) game and was named the North’s Offensive MVP, and Cleveland Glenville’s Chris Worley was an absolute terror on defense and was named the North Defensive MVP.

Worley said he plans to start out at safety at the “star” position when he gets to Ohio State this summer but could grow into a linebacker’s role and isn’t opposed to either. He plays fast and violently and if he doesn’t get on the field sooner than later it’s a sign that the Buckeyes are really, really stacked.

**This was the first year the OHSFCA divided the event into two games and played them at Welcome Stadium. The North won the big-school game, 33-27, after leading 14-0 early, trailing 21-14 at halftime and then hanging on late. Game MVP Kyle Kempt, an Oregon State commit, kept finding his high school teammate, Conley, and the South really couldn’t keep up with him.

Kempt threw for 161 yards and threw all 3 of Conley’s touchdowns.

“Pretty awesome way to close our high school careers,” Kempt said. “It was a lot of fun. Gareon made it easy for me sometime at Massillon and he did it again here.”

**In the small-school (Div. IV-VI) game, Akron Manchester QB Nick Peyakov started 7-of-7 and threw 2 early touchdowns to give the North a 14-0 lead. The North held on to win, 27-24, with the winning margin coming on a 55-yard field goal by Michael Geiger of Ottawa Hills, who’s headed to Michigan State.

Remember Geiger’s name. He cleared the crossbar easily on that field goal and has a very bright future.

Norwayne receiver Brady Berger was named MVP of the small-school game after catching two touchdown passes. The South’s biggest play came on an 83-yard touchdown catch by Akron signee Austin Wolf of Lebanon.

Berger plans to walk on at Akron. Peyakov is undecided on a college but is leaning towards Mount Union after he didn’t receive any Div. I scholarship offers. It’s no coincidence, by the way, that Mount Union does what it does on a yearly basis.

**The North-South game has been played since 1946 and is the longest continuously running all-star game in the country. There have only been two Super Bowls ever played without a North-South game alum on one of the rosters.

“I got to read up this week on some of the names of past players in this game,” Kempt said. “It’s an honor to be next. This was a first-class operation this week and something we’ll all remember.”

**Despite being a longtime and involved member of the OHSFCA, Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia did not attend the games.

A 14-person grand jury begins hearing from witnesses this week as part of an investigation into whether other laws were broken in connection with the incident last summer in which two Steubenville players were convicted of rape last month.

Saccoccia is expected to be called to testify before the grand jury but it’s unclear if he or any other Steubenville Schools employees will eventually face charges.

Three Stuebenville players played for the South team in the big-school game.

**After a bout with cancer that forced him to be away from coaching in each of the last two seasons, it was great to see Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. looking healthy and walking the sidelines on Saturday.

**Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis spoke to the players on Saturday morning about his journey to the NFL, his family’s experience with Hurricane Katrina, the importance of education and a variety of topics. The speech took place behind closed doors at the players’ hotel, but by all accounts was both powerful and memorable.

**The Cleveland Browns are a longtime financial contributor to the game and again this year made a sizable donation. The Ohio National Guard was the game’s primary sponsor.

Check out the photo gallery from the North-South game here

VJ King a step closer to Team USA Developmental Team

Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary freshman V.J. King has been invited back to Colorado Springs in May to participate in USA Basketball’s Developmental National Team training camp.

King is one of 25 players invited to the training camp. From that group, the USA Developmental National Team will be chosen to compete in the under-16 FIBA Americas Championship in Uruguay in June. The top three qualifiers from that tournament will play in the under-17 world championship in the summer of 2014.

The 6’7 King leads St. V-M in scoring at 17 points per game. He was named a first-team Div. II All Northeast Ohio-Inland selection on Thursday, and on Saturday St. V-M plays Alliance for the Canton Div. II district title. King holds scholarship offers from Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa and has drawn interest from college programs nationwide this season.

The 46 players invited to last October’s USA Basketball mini-camp, also in Colorado Springs, represented the high school classes of both 2015 and 2016 and 25 different states. King was the only Ohio player invited. has been chronicling King’s high school and college recruitment journey. That series can be found here.

V.J. King’s journey: High ceilings, cold tubs and worms

Fourth in a series…

AKRON, Ohio – The week of the first semester’s final exams ended just in time for the St. Vincent-St. Mary basketball team to play back-to-back games against highly-touted opponents, on Saturday night in Akron and on Sunday afternoon in Dayton.

V.J. King wanted to use Friday night to get to the barber shop. He ended up spending more than 90 minutes in the gym.

As usual.

A gifted young basketball player by any measure — those who follow this stuff say he’s one of the nation’s best in the class of 2016 — King’s single greatest attribute, at least nearing the end of his freshman season, might be his work ethic.

He’s seemingly always in the gym, before and after formal practices — remember, he pouted when it was locked on Thanksgiving Day — and often twice a day on the weekends or when St. V-M has had long stretches of days between games. He maintains that he’s a normal kid who lives a normal life despite whatever pressures or spotlight have been brought on by his basketball ability. To V.J., the reason he neither has a bunch of outside hobbies nor time for them is because he wants to be in the gym, even more than he already is.

Nineteen games and 13 weeks into his first high school basketball season in Ohio, and there’s just been one day his father, Vince, remembers not sticking around after practice for V.J. to get some extra work. That was the day before V.J.’s big biology project was due, and V.J. was anxious to get to get to the local one-hour photo to get his worm photos and get to finishing whatever it was he needed to finish.

“He was obsessed with those worms,” Vince King said.

When we met last summer, V.J. said he actually enjoyed doing the dishes at home. The great ones are often a little different, and there’s plenty about V.J. King that indicates he may, one day, be great.

That’s part of the reason why the King Family agreed last year to this series, chronicling V.J.’s high school basketball career and college recruitment. And while college coaches from around the country keep stopping by his games and he sat behind Ohio State’s bench for the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan in January, V.J. continues to say any recruitment or college talk is for his parents.

He’s busy with his worms — and his goal of helping St. V-M win the state championship. Three regular season games remain, and the sectional tournament begins in a little less than two weeks.

“And we can win it all, we really can,” V.J. said. “It’s about locking in and finishing strong.”

St. V-M enters this weekend at 10-9, a wholly unimpressive record against a whopper of a schedule. Really, against some pretty tough circumstances, too. V.J. scored 18 points in the season-opener in Chicago, played at the same time the St. V-M football team — with three current starters on the basketball team — was playing its state title game back in Northeast Ohio. Not only was the first half of the basketball season about introductions and learning, but it included games against high-profile opponents from different states and against just about every Ohio powerhouse.

High school basketball in 2013 at St. Vincent-St. Mary isn’t like high school basketball in most other places. It hasn’t been the same since LeBron James left, and there are no signs it will change any time soon. The Irish put their fancy Nike/LeBron gear in their fancy Nike/LeBron backpacks, load up the bus and play teams from all over, often in showcase-type events.

V.J. has encountered his share of grown men this season. He’s had a few ‘wow’ moments, some tough moments and moments that have both shown his tremendous potential and emphasized his need to both get stronger and more aggressive attacking the basket in the future.

He’s averaging 17 points and 5 rebounds per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and averaging a block and a steal per game. He’s a two-guard in an ever-growing body, a heady player who sees things before they happen. Probably because he’s growing so fast, there are times his feet, hands and eyes don’t land in the same place at the same time, and that has cost him a few baskets and maybe some highlight-reel dunks.

Spending a few minutes a few times a week in the cold tub has helped his joints. Playing different roles, new opponents and getting used to new teammates has been good, too.

“More of the strength and explosion will be there next year,” Vince King said. “And I think V.J. knows there’s a little bit of clumsiness or whatever it might be there right now, too, but he wants it all right now. I beg him to be patient. He’s so hard on himself, and as long as he manages that I think that’s a good thing.

“He needs to be hungry. When he gets pushed, he needs to push back. It’s hard to lead as a freshman, but I think he has an understanding of what it’s going to take for him to get where he needs to go. I know he loves school, and I think he’s starting to get a little more confident on the floor than he was early on.”

This kind of potential meeting this kind of work ethic pushes his ceiling very, very high.

“He’s come a long way in a relatively short period of time,” St. V-M coach Dru Joyce said. “He was new to the city, to the school, to his teammates. And as good as he is, he’s still a freshman. He’s worked on getting better defensively. He’s deferred to the older guys as we’ve tried to mesh them all and get going. He has a long way to go, but he wants it.

“There’s no doubt to me that, some day, V.J. is going to be a pro. He’s going to get paid to play this game. How much, for how long and to what level? It’s early to say, but he needs to keep working at it. And he will.”

V.J. hit a growth spurt just before the season, clearing 6 feet and 7 inches. He wore a size 14 shoe last summer, started this season in a 15 and now is in a 16. He’s more comfortable with coaches, teammates and surroundings. He makes 22-footers off the dribble like he’s already ready for that three-letter league, and he’s had a handful of games during which he’s displayed close to his full array of talents.

He’s had rougher nights, too, when the shots didn’t drop, when he let one missed free throw lead to another, when something didn’t click and he — gasp! — played like a freshman. In an early-season loss to arch-rival Akron Hoban, V.J. scored just 3 points.

“Nah, I don’t dwell on the bad games,” V.J. said. “Yes, I get mad about them. But I know I’m a freshman, and I know I have a lot of basketball ahead if I keep working at it. I’ve played some good ones. We, as a team, have played some good ones. We need to string some together here with the tournament coming up.

“My dad says there’s no pouting at home. If I have a bad game or a bad day, I can be as mad as I want on the ride home. But when I get home, it’s time to put it in the past and move on.”

Said Joyce: “When LeBron and my son (Dru Joyce III) and that group first came through here, they didn’t play the type of schedule we play now. There are no breaks. This has been hard on V.J., hard on everybody. I don’t want to make any comparisons because they’re not fair, but even at 9 or 10 years old my son and LeBron always made that extra pass, always wanted that extra gym time. V.J. wants that stuff, too. He’s on a good track.”

Iowa sent two coaches to a game early in the season and offered V.J. a scholarship after, following what Ohio State and Wisconsin did in the fall. USC sent an assistant recently, and UConn coach Kevin Ollie has told the family he’ll be making a trip to Akron soon.

“I’m biased, obviously, but I think the kid is special,” Vince King said. “I know he’s special. And his ability to dismiss all the madness around him is very special.

“He thinks it’s really cool that he got to sit front row for OSU-Michigan with 18,000 people there, and he thinks it’s really cool that he got to sit with Thad Matta after the game. But the next day, you would have never known we even went to Columbus. He was back in school, back in the gym doing the extra work, coming home to his worms or whatever.”

For you Buckeye fans, V.J. wore a red sweater and said he had a “blast” at that Michigan game, which was played 16 or so hours after Matta and Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals came to Marion-Franklin High School in Columbus to watch V.J. play. He napped on the ride home to Akron, then hit the books.

“The next day,” Vince King said, “he was a million miles away. Happily.”

V.J.’s mom, Lo, sometimes keeps stats as the games go and always can be heard screaming words of encouragement. His sister, Jalen, is in eighth grade and is thinking about attending St. V-M next year. When aspiring St. V-M students come to shadow current students for a day, they can request a student to guide the tour.

A bunch of them keep asking for V.J.

V.J. laughs about it all. He promises he just wants to keep getting better, keep trying to win. A week or so ago, he told his dad he felt like he was starting to get an edge to his game. Earlier this week, he made an aggressive cut to the basket, went up and dunked through a foul during at Walsh Jesuit. He missed the ensuing free throw.

It was another classic sign, one of many through this season, that there’s something unique there; it’s just not all the way there yet. Really, that might be a good thing.

Two possessions after that dunk, V.J. beat the third-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer. In the fourth, he hit two more as St. V-M pulled away.

V.J. King is getting there, maybe faster than he thinks. It’s lining up to be a really fun ride.

Massillon QB picks Oregon State

Massillon quarterback Kyle Kempt had previously committed to a home-state university.

Now, he’s planning to attend another home-state university.

Kempt, who grew up in Oregon but played high school football at Massillon after his family moved here three years ago, gave a verbal commitment to Oregon State on Saturday while on an official visit there.

Kempt committed to Cincinnati last spring. His recruitment re-opened in December when Butch Jones left for Tennessee and Cincinnati hired Tommy Tuberville. He also visited Toledo earlier this month and Connecticut earlier this year.

The 6’5 Kempt was the Canton Repository’s Stark County Player of the Year after throwing for a Massillon-record 3,056 yards last season and helping the Tigers to a spot in Ohio’s big-school quarterfinals. He’ll graduate in June as Massillon’s valedictorian; he’s never had a B in his academic career.

“I’m extremely happy for Kyle,” Massillon coach Jason Hall said. “He’s a great person, a great leader, excellent in the classroom and an awesome football player. We are all happy it’s worked out for him.”

CHANGE OF PLANS: recruiting analyst Bill Greene tweeted Sunday that Youngstown Mooney safety prospect Marcus McWilson, long committed to Nebraska, will instead sign with Kentucky on Feb. 6, National Signing Day.

Kentucky’s new coach is Mooney alum Mark Stoops. Nebraska’s coach is Mooney alum Bo Pelini.

McWilson visited Kentucky this weekend. He tweeted on Sunday that he’s officially decommitted from Nebraska.

Wiggins headlines event at Walsh University

Huntington (W.V.) Prep’s Andrew Wiggins is generally regarded as the best amateur basketball player in the world, and he’ll be playing two games in Northeast Ohio next weekend.

Wiggins is the main attraction, but dozens of big-time college basketball prospects and some of the best high school basketball teams in the region — and the nation — will be on display at Walsh University in North Canton on Jan. 26-27 in the second annual Dunk For Diabetes event.

Seven of the top 10 teams in the most recent Cleveland Plain Dealer Top 25 poll will play in the event, as will 13 of the 25 in total.

Tickets, good for all day, are $12 for adults and $10 for students. They’re $10 and $8 via presale at the event’s official website,

Here is the event lineup:
Saturday: 1/26/13
11:00am Game 1: Cleveland Central Catholic vs. Cleveland John Hay
12:30pm Game 2: Richmond Heights vs. Gateway (PA)
2:30pm Game 3: Brunswick vs. Akron Firestone
4:30pm Game 4: Beachwood vs. Barberton
6:00pm Game 5: Cleveland VASJ vs. Martinsburg (WV)
7:30pm Game 6: Lakewood St. Edward vs. Bishop Kearney (NY)
9:00pm Game 7: Mentor vs. Huntington Prep (WV)

Sunday: 1/27/13
11:45am Game 1: LaBrae vs. Malvern
1:30pm Game 2: Garfield Heights vs. Gahanna Lincoln
3:15pm Game 3: Cleveland St. Ignatius vs. St. Clairsville
5:00pm Game 4: Huntington Prep (WV) vs. Cleveland Benedictine
6:45pm Game 5: Bishop Kearney (NY) vs. North Canton Hoover
8:30pm Game 6: Shaker Heights vs. Pickerington Central

Wiggins, who reclassified from the class of 2014 last fall, is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft but has yet to decide where he’ll play college ball next season. A native of Toronto, he’s’s No. 1 prospect in the class of 2014.

Wiggins and Huntington Prep will actually play twice in Ohio before this event, on Jan. 18 in Dayton as part of the Flyin’ To The Hoop event and Jan. 25 in Cincinnati in the Play-by-Play Classic.

Also among the individual headliners at Dunk For Diabetes: Pickerington Central junior and Ohio State commit Ja’sean Tate, nationally-ranked Villa Angela-St. Joseph sophomore Carlton Bragg, Shaker Heights sophomore Esa Ahmad, Barberton sophomore guard Josh Williams and three of Wiggins’ Huntington Prep teammates who have already made their college decisions: Dominic Woodson (Baylor), Moses Kingsley (Arkansas) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Florida State).

Coach delivers win one day, baby the next

She won a game Friday night and had a baby on Saturday.

Everything about this boys basketball season at Akron North High School has been a little different.

First-year coach Stacie Horton-Carter started the season as one of three women serving as head boys varsity basketball coaches in Ohio, but the only one who was carrying.

Last Friday night, North defeated Akron Ellet, 68-63, for its third win of the season. On Saturday, Horton-Carter gave birth to her first son, Jonathan Carter II.

Horton-Carter relayed via text message that “everybody’s great” after a delivery that was scheduled for later this week.

“Baby came a little early but he is healthy,” she wrote, “and the team welcomed him with our third win!”

We chronicled the Horton-Carter story — that of a first-year coach, baby in tow, taking over an inner-city program with no budget — in December, just after the Vikings lost their season opener.

Friday’s win made them 3-9. North was 1-20 last year and winless the season before.

“We only expect her to be gone for about a week,” North athletic director Carrie Stewart said. “This was all planned, except for the baby coming early. We’re glad everyone is healthy and look forward to having Stacie back when she’s ready.”

Danyelle Love, who normally coaches the junior-varsity, and freshman coach Kevin Strickland will coach the team this week. North plays tomorrow at perennial Akron City Series power Buchtel.

Growing pains part of the game for V.J. King

V.J. King’s already-long arms and long legs are getting longer, almost by the week, but everything around him has slowed to a more manageable pace. His favorite time of the year is here, too, and this weekend he plays his first high school basketball game as a high school student.

That sentence isn’t as confusing as it sounds. There are layers to this story — reasons so many people care what this 15-year-old is thinking and doing — and to V.J.’s budding basketball career, too. Summer included a move several states away from his comfort zone and almost everything he’d previously known, and the fall included a remarkable amount of work on his chosen craft, a weekend with some of the nation’s other top young basketball players in another part of the country and a visit to Ohio State that has perfect strangers offering their opinions on where V.J. should go to college.

Three full months into high school, V.J.’s biggest gripe isn’t with outside interest or anything he’ll be doing past this coming Saturday. In fact, he’s been pretty much smiling since August — with two noticeable exceptions.

The gym at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School was closed on Thanksgiving morning, even to budding stars. And his report card for the first academic quarter included a ‘B.’ Just one amongst a bunch of A’s, but enough to make him angry.

As much as any 15-year-old can be expected to, anyway, this one seems to understand the stakes.

This is the third part in a series of stories the King Family agreed to participate in last winter. For those who explore or lend any credence to such things — and they’re out there — V.J. has ranked among the top basketball players nationally in the class of 2016 since he was a seventh grader. He played high school basketball in Charlotte for former NBA player Mugsy Bogues as a seventh and eighth grader, and the family fully and officially moved back to its roots in Northeast Ohio this summer.

PART ONE: Young star will play high school ball in Akron

PART TWO: Sound priorities, lofty goals

In late September, V.J. took an unofficial visit to Ohio State. The next day, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta offered him a scholarship.

Two weekends later, he attended the USA Basketball Men’s Developmental National Team minicamp in Colorado Springs. That camp was the first true national exposure for V.J. and 40 or so players like him. From that camp, a roster for next summer’s U-16 Team USA will be set, a team that will play in the FIBA Americas Championship in South America.

V.J. didn’t take many trips to the mall or go to many parties in the first few months as a high schooler. He did get to watch a top-secret, high-level workout in the St. V-M gym in September with a couple guys named LeBron James and Kevin Durant going shot for shot, sprint for sprint, as they prepared for their respective NBA training camps.

After watching Durant make 25 3-pointers in a row, V.J. challenged himself to do the same in his next few workouts. Those workouts, often two a day, have helped V.J. add polish to his game and prepare for a high school career that officially starts this weekend in Chicago. He said his goals are simple and lofty; to win state championships, to play college basketball at a high level, and to ultimately play at the highest level.

V.J. said he’s worked at improving his defense, at getting stronger and getting acclimated to Ohio high school basketball. He said he felt little pressure and had “a little room for error” playing as a middle-schooler in North Carolina.

Now, he’s still a kid playing a big kid’s game. St. V-M plays a top-notch schedule that includes powerhouse high school programs from all corners of Ohio and several different states. Even in the games that aren’t against top-notch competition will be spotlight games for the teams on the other side, and since most high school teams don’t have a 6’7 shooting guard to match V.J., there’s a good chance he’ll be guarded by older, shorter and stronger opponents with directives to use that strength to their advantage.

Asked what a good, semi-legal forearm to the chest from an 18-year old will do for V.J., his father, Vince, said “it will make him understand he’s no longer a novelty, and that this isn’t AAU ball or ‘everybody come out and watch V.J. King.’

“If he can’t handle it, he should get his little tail to the sideline.”

Where V.J. goes, Vince follows — even waiting outside the curtained-off doors during St. V-M’s closed practices. Father and son push each other in their early-morning and late-night workouts, and V.J. has chosen to wear No. 13 this season, the number his father wore as a star at the NCAA Div. II level at Indiana (Pa.) University and during his time playing overseas in the 1990s.

Of their visit to Ohio State in the early fall, V.J said it was a “big school, nice campus, (Matta is) a really good coach. It seemed like a great place.” He said he tries to think about college basketball and his own career only when he’s watching games on TV.

“Coach Matta was crystal clear that he wants V.J. to be a Buckeye,” Vince King said. “But he was also very clear that he’ll be watching, and any signs of stagnation, laziness or slipping, he’ll look for someone else.”

Shortly after Ohio State offered V.J. a scholarship, Wisconsin did, too. Among the other programs that stopped by St. V-M during fall’s open gym period or have been sending letters include North Carolina, Michigan State, Pitt, George Mason, College of Charleston and several Ivy League schools.

Both Vince and V.J. King say the college attention is “humbling.” V.J. said he’s worried solely about his grades, his game and trying to win a state championship next March, and that any college talk or scheduling of future visits will be up to his parents. Said Vince: “He has plenty of time for all that. He’s a freshman. Our job as parents is simply to understand where he is, where he’s not and way down the road help him land in the best place.”

In August, V.J. thought his favorite class in his first year of high school would be Geometry; turns out, that’s the one that kept him from bringing home a 4.0 in the first quarter, “but I still like it — most of the time.” In the second semester he’s looking forward to taking a class called “Plan For Success” that introduces students to different career options and paths.

Or, as V.J. puts it, “a little bit of life after basketball.”

Clearly, he’s thinking big.

He measured at a shade over 6-foot-6, without shoes, in Colorado Springs. He’ll be listed at 6-foot-7 on the St. V-M roster this season, and by the turn of the new year that’s probably going to come up a little short of accurate.

“I think I’ve grown a half-inch since break,” V.J. said this week, and the break to which he was referring was Thanksgiving break.

He’s really growing by the week.

“He’s had the sore knees and sore joints to show for it,” Vince King said. “It’s frustrated him, too, because it’s limited him a little bit with movement, burst, explosion. He feels like he’s running in the sand sometimes, but it’s something he has to deal with. Continuing to grow is not a bad thing, and he knows it’s all about the long term.”

Being one of the tallest players on the floor is still new to V.J., who’s done most of his growing over the last 20-24 months and certainly didn’t own any type of physical advantage when he played a reserve role for United Faith Christian Academy over the last two seasons. He’ll play shooting guard for St. V-M this season, handling the ball when necessary.

At a four-team scrimmage early this month featuring three other traditionally strong Northeast Ohio high school programs, V.J.’s talent was obvious. So, too, was the fact that he’s a freshman. Not all of his jump shots fell. Not all of his passes found their intended targets. As many as seven players who will be his St. V-M teammates this winter are still playing football, so December’s schedule will be a preseason of sorts.

V.J. is going to make highlights with his passes and pull-up jumpers, and his dad is going to turn red in the face asking his son to block shots and be more aggressive on the glass. Eventually, he’ll find a comfort zone and a confidence. He’s put in the work, and his confidence is growing as fast as his body.

Right now, he has no idea how good he is.

WATCH: V.J. King on YouTube