Number 2-ranked Lima Senior enters the Division 1 Final Four with a perfect 28-0 record.
The Spartans sport a D-1 basketball commit in Xavier Simpson (Michigan) and a D-1 football commit in Ruben Flowers (Pittsburgh). Simpson also was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball, emblematic of the best high school player in the state.
It sounds like a tall task for the No. 3-ranked Wilmington Hurricane (27-1) when the two teams square off in Columbus Friday.
However, you can be sure Wilmington will not be intimidated. The Hurricane are battle-tested, to say the least, having played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the state. Preparing against the best of the best is far from an accident for the ‘Cane.
“My first year at Wilmington was also my first year in Ohio,” Wilmington head coach Mike Noszka recalled. “We beat Xenia really bad and I asked (assistant coach) Tony Berlin ‘How good are we? How good are these teams in the state?’ We lost to Oak Hills that year at UC in the tournament. That’s when we really started evaluating our schedule.”
And beef up the schedule is exactly what Noszka did. The Hurricane kicked off this season with a match-up against Cleveland Heights, an 82-69 ‘Cane victory, and outside of SCOL play, WHS took every opportunity to play the best teams the state of Ohio has to offer to prepare for this very Final Four stage.
Other outstanding dates on Wilmington’s non-league schedule included games at Covington Catholic, at Moeller, at Springfield, against Lakota East as well as home games with Columbus St. Francis DeSales and Middletown, and a showdown with Walnut Ridge at Flyin’ To The Hoop.
“There’s a different style of basketball with all the really good teams,” Noszka pointed out. “We want to play against multiple paces of basketball in our schedule. We want to play against teams that are structured. We want to play against teams that can challenge you in the running game. These kids are constantly being challenged. It is special.”
Wilmington’s concerted effort to play against the best teams in Ohio was extremely evident as the Hurricane prepared for the Southwest District championship game against Mason.
“Out of the eight teams left in the district at that time, we had played or scrimmaged against six of the seven teams that were left. And actually the only team we hadn’t seen was Mason,” Noszka said. “We are battle-tested. Look at the teams we’ve played. We’ve played different styles and our kids feel comfortable playing against anybody.”
In addition to the brutal non-conference slate, Wilmington also takes pride in the fashion in which its practices on a daily basis. Practices aren’t a walk in the park. They are competitive, grueling affairs that prepare the ‘Cane for the toughest tests come game day.
“Teams we play don’t play as hard as we do. It’s because their coaches don’t make them play hard,” senior forward Jarron Cumberland said. “We play hard in practice and we compete every day. Wilmington basketball is not for everybody. Noszka wants to win. Noszka likes people that compete and want to win.”
Noszka’s formula might not be for everybody, but it’s impossible to argue with the results. Having just dispatched Mason, Moeller and Centerville over the last two weeks, anyone who says the approach is not working, has not been paying attention.
Another tall task stands in front of Wilmington in the Final Four with unbeaten Lima Senior looming, but it’s safe to say the Hurricane has been preparing for this moment all season long.
“We will be ready. That’s for sure,” Cumberland said. “We have a great coaching staff and we will do whatever it takes to win.”
Reach Blake Haley via email [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @BeeLakeH