4 Starters Back For Bellaire
By SETH STASKEY
BELLAIRE — Saying Bellaire basketball coach J.R. Battista is excited about this season would be a total understatement.
And why wouldn’t he be?
After all, the Big Reds have increased their win total each of the last three seasons and return four starters from a squad that finished 14-9 and qualified — for the first time — into the semifinals of the OVAC Tournament.
“Last year was another good building block,” Battista said. “Getting into the OVAC tournament was big for us and basically every game, last year, we had a chance to win. It’s all part of the process.”
With so many veterans back, the process has been expedited this preseason for the Big Reds. Despite the football season extending a week because of the playoffs, the Big Reds were able to hit the ground running.
“It’s nice because all of these guys know the drills and routines,” Battista said. “Our veteran guys are able to coach some of the younger guys. The tempo is much faster and quicker in terms of how we’re doing things. It’s definitely a nice luxury when you can see the advances they’ve made both physically and mentally.”
One area where the Big Reds hope to continue to improve is on the defensive end of the floor. Bellaire allowed nearly 55 points a game last season, which was down from 2015, but Battista has been stressing that end of the floor throughout the preseason.
“I hope defense is part of our identity with a tough, up-on-you defense,” Battista said. “We have better bodies and increased foot speed, which should help us on defense.”
“We have several guys who ran on our OVAC championship track team, so we want to play fast and use our speed,” Battista said. “We’re not quite as big as we were last year, but we’ll have more (foot) speed at all the spots. We have more skill in spots, too. On top of that, we have more winning game experience, which is always important.”
Not quite as big might be an understatement. The Big Reds’ varsity roster has nary a player standing taller than 6-foot-1. Actually, there’s only one person who stands 6-2 on the entire squad.
Leading the list of returnees for the Big Reds is talented junior point guard Chase Yoho. He’s coming off an all-district season in which he averaged 18.5 points a game. He’s poised to surpass the 1,000-point mark relatively early this season.
“Chase is a very good player, who has worked hard and improved every year,” Battista said. “He’s lifting more and it’s really helped his body. He’s a junkie. He had a good summer and fall. We’re expecting a lot from him.”
Senior Tyson Camsky (5-11) will serve once again as the two guard. He’s embarking on his third season as a starter. According to Battista, he’s started every game the last two seasons.
“He’s never missed a start,” Battista said. “He’s a good athlete, good defender and as tough as they come. He likes to win and will do all he can to help us win.”
Senior Justyn Keyser (6-1) is set for his third season as a starter in the post, who is athletic and versatile. Keyser will be leaned upon for rebounding.
“Justyn’s much improved and he’s also healthy coming out of football,” Battista said. “He’s another guy who the weightroom has helped. He has a good, strong take and he can jump out of the gym. We’re expecting a good year from him.”
Senior D’eondre Burney (5-11) is set for his second season as a starter. He is the Big Reds’ top on-the-ball-defender.
“D’eondre is much bigger and longer this year,” Battista offered. “He’s filled in some and he moves well. He’ll guard the other team’s best player.”
Junior Mason Ramsay (6-1) will enter the starting lineup this season. He saw some varsity action a season ago.
“Mason’s a good rebounder, ball handler and he can shoot,” Battista said.
Senior Gage Eden (5-9) will be one of the top subs for the Big Reds. He’s an adept perimeter shoot, according to his head coach.
Senior Brennan Conroy (6-1) will see action on the interior off the bench.
Senior Jordan Mehlman (6-0) could contribute, but he’s still recovering from a football injury. Battista was unsure of if and when he’d be available.
Junior Justin Stradwick (5-11) is another who could see action off the bench.
The balance of the junior class that will dress varsity includes: Jacob Bellville (5-10), Thor Duffy (5-11), Austin Garner (5-11), Gabe Rejonis (5-10), Woody Maupin (6-0) and Dustin Meddles (6-1).
The sophomore contingent, which is ticketed primarily, for jayvee duty includes A.J. Bennett (6-2), Jacob Jarvis (5-8), Daniel Lednik (6-0), Sheldon Lekanudos (5-8), Jacob Marthaler (5-9) and Cole Runyan (5-8).
The Big Reds schedule underwent only a minor change. Bridgeport is no longer on the slate. It has been replaced by a home-and-home with Buckeye Trail. Bellaire will also once again participate in the annual Buckeye 8 Challenge at Ohio University Eastern against reigning Division II state champion John Glenn.
“It’s a good schedule,” Battista admitted. “Anytime you’re playing the defending state champs, you’re going to get challenged. We’re a smaller school now, so we can’t play the same teams that we used to back in the day, but it’s a good, competitive, local schedule.”
Battista’s coaching staff had only one minor change. Ben Doyle has joined the varsity staff. Nate Regal will once again guide the Big Reds’ jayvee squad. Bruce Young will lead the freshman team, while Rafael Johnson and Donald Maupin will coach the eighth and seventh grade teams, respectively.