The New Lead: Guards

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Posted On: 08/31/18 11:06 AM

A high turnover rate is in the nature of high school basketball — and we’re not talking about giving the ball to opponents. High turnover rate in the sense that there’s a changing of the guard constantly. Players get really good, and then they go to college.

So, every year — especially when you have a stacked class like 2018 — new leaders emerge. There are 40 players who made a First Team All State last season and only three are back (Tanner Holden, Ethan Conley, CJ Anthony). Sixteen teams made the Final Four and just five return their leading scorer.

In looking at last year’s top teams and graduating players, we’ve identified several rising stars who are poised to be that guy for those teams come November. We’ll start with the guards.

Mike Bekelja (2019), 6’0” PG, Solon

Bekelja exemplifies this New Lead business better than anyone else. Everyone remembers what Sincere Carry did last season at Solon: First Team All State, 23.7 PPG, 8.3 APG, 6.2 RPG, and an signature moment with a double-double in the State Semifinal.

While Carry was undeniably Solon’s go-to guy, Bekelja also had an ability to takeover games as a junior; like when the Fairmont State verbal commit dropped 35 on Shaker Heights in the Regional Semifinal.

With classmate Trent Williams and David Marbury spreading the floor and Nick Close providing mobile size, Bekelja is going to have room to create one-on-one. He knows how to get defenders on their heels as an attacker, he can pull-up, and finish with craft in traffic. Expect last season’s averages of 15.8 PPG and 3.7 APG to balloon as Bekelja is asked to create on the primary break. 

Matt Allocco (2020), 6’3” PG, Hilliard Bradley

Allocco was second in scoring last year for Bradley, and we don’t expect him to be the leading scorer again this season. But while Braden Norris always felt like the head point guard last season, it’s officially time for Allocco to take the reigns. He had reps last year as Norris was injured more than half the season, so it won’t be completely unfamiliar. Also, Allocco looked comfortable being the outspoken on-court leader this grassroots season with C2K Elite, Ohio’s no. 1 16U team and UAA finalist. Bradley has a real chance to win States this season, but they will need to Allocco pace their offense and be an impact defender

Jaden Hameed (2021), 5’11” PG, VASJ

It’s been a while since VASJ fans have strolled into the gym without the security of Jerry “Gene” Higgins. In Higgins, the program sends The Citadel a player who was twice a State Champion and All State point guard.

Replacing him will happen by committee, but we can’t help but to think that the responsibility largely falls on Hameed. The sophomore possesses impressive traits in terms of being mild-mannered, ball-secure, smart, and having an ability to shoot outside. We think he can stabilize their team as a ball-handler, and that’s going to be important in a year where they have a chance to do something special if things break in their favor.  

Chance Groce (2021), 6’4” G, Beechcroft (Linden-McKinley transfer)

Beechcroft lost one of last season’s top three City League players in Jelani Simmons. In the offseason, Groce transferred in and gave them a new top three player for next season. Coming in from North Division foe, Linden, Groce averaged just 8.8 PPG last year, but he could’ve done more with more shots. With Beechcroft losing every contributor not named Na’Elle Simmons from last year’s City League Champion roster, Groce will score a ton as their top backcourt player. Whether it’s on the wing or as a lead ball-handler, he can make shots from all three levels and has the looks of a MM/HM prospect ready to take Columbus by storm.

Kobe Johnson (2021), 6’3” G, Canton McKinley

Insert transfers Brenton Walker (Wayne) and Jalen Ross (St. Vincent-St. Mary) and, all of the sudden, the Canton McKinley roster has been injected by young collegiate talent. Deontae McCollum is off to Mount Union in their 2018 class, freeing up the full-time primary ball-handling role for Johnson. We like his ability to carve up defenses on the drive with a strong handle and power. Now with a physically gifted wing and forward to keep the defense curious, Johnson and the Bulldogs should show promise in 2018-19.

Kaden Warner (2021), 5’10” G, Gamble Montessori (North College Hill transfer)

The early indication isn’t that Warner will take 15 shots a game or bring the ball up every possession. Instead, he will approach that type of usage as an upperclassman. But Warner will prove to be their guy by year’s end. The confident combo guard is a volume scorer who put up 10.1 PPG in a different uniform last year while shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers. He creates space off the bounce and brings an edge to a ball team with his outward confidence.