Hypothetical Hoops: A What If? Series. Analyzing some of the greatest ‘what if’s’ that the area has to offer
Editor’s note: This is a ‘what if’ series, meaning the majority of content in this article is fictional. This series is based on true events with a twist of “what if” creativity based on past rumors and rumblings and events that shaped the history of local basketball - whether those be injuries to top players, school closings, league/division realignment and much more. Enjoy as we creatively dive into what could have happened in Central Ohio.
DELAWARE, Ohio -- The year is 2014. Rumors are swirling in the weeks leading up to the start of the high school basketball season that Delaware Hayes’ prized senior Khalil Iverson might just be on the move.
No, not to Wisconsin - that offer had yet to come.
But to Westerville South - the school where Iverson’s cousin John Edwards and good friend Chris Cook were seniors on the hopeful Wildcats’ basketball squad.
Up to this point, Iverson had made a name for himself in the area as an absolute freak of an athlete that was sure to end up somewhere at the Division I level. No high major program had been serious yet, but schools like Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio State and Wisconsin had kept their eyes on the 6-foot-5 forward.
Delaware Hayes was coming off a 21-4 season which unfortunately ended in the district semifinals. With Iverson back, the Pacers were once again a major threat in the OCC-Capital and beyond.
In the actual 2014-15 season, Iverson stayed put at Delaware Hayes and had a monster season, leading the Pacers to an OCC title and appearance in the district finals against...you guessed it, Westerville South. Iverson was so good for Hayes that season that he earned an offer from Wisconsin, becoming one of few local players in recent memory to be offered and commit to a major Power 5 program during their senior season.
But what if the future Wisconsin Badger decided to pack up and head to Westerville South? What could have happened? Let’s dive in and see.
The morning is Nov. 3, 2014. Zach Fleer tweets some breaking news on his way to Ohio State in the middle of the fall semester of his senior year.
270 Hoops had yet to be thought of at this point, but Fleer was already making a name for himself in the area. The text he received that morning was the biggest since Javon Bess informed him that he would be committing to Michigan State roughly a year earlier.
“Per a source, ‘15 SF Khalil Iverson has transferred to Westerville South. Iverson’s addition makes the Wildcats the team to beat in Central Ohio and beyond.”
The news spreads like wildfire. The leaders of the Euclid Entourage are stunned. A once promising Delaware Hayes basketball season is zapped of joy with the program’s best all-time player bolting south for the Wildcats.
Iverson, on the other hand, is ready for his final chapter in high school. Joining a young Westerville South team featuring a promising junior class that includes Andre Wesson, Jordan Humphrey, Jelani Rogers, Ennis Thomas, Daylan Haynie and the state’s best sophomore Kaleb Wesson, Iverson is the senior piece that might just put the Wildcats over the top.
After examining his transfer, the Ohio High School Athletic Association clears Iverson and it’s go time as practice begins on the city’s northeast edge. Already planning on attacking teams with a full court pressure defense, Westerville South becomes even freakier with the addition of Iverson.
Fitting in seamlessly with the Wesson brothers, Iverson instantly becomes the team’s most impactful player. With a massive front court full of long, lean athletes who like to get out and run, Westerville South dominates every team it faces in the preseason. A big-time scrimmage the day after Thanksgiving takes place at Gahanna Lincoln, as the Lions featured a massive front court of its own with future Michigan State forward Nick Ward and future Syracuse/Vanderbilt forward Matt Moyer.
That length doesn’t matter as Iverson, Andre and Kaleb Wesson prove to be too much for the Lions as Westerville South makes its final statement before the season tips off.
Opening up a week later on the road at Reynoldsburg, Westerville South rolls from the opening tip, as all five starters finish in double figures led by Iverson’s 22 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. The Wesson brothers combine for 37 points and 20 rebounds, while senior DJ Dingess came off the bench to knock down six threes, as the Wildcats roll to a 97-51 victory.
It’s business as usual for the next six games, as Westerville South finishes the calendar year at 7-0 with only previously unbeaten New Albany coming within 20 points in a 82-64 victory for the Wildcats in front of a packed home crowd.
Jan. 3 rolls around and Westerville South faces its first test of the season against a talented, but struggling Pickerington Central squad. After graduating an accomplished 2014 class that left the program two years removed from its first state championship, Central is still rebounding from the holes left from the departures of Jae’Sean Tate and Connor Kern.
Luckily for the Tigers, juniors Ibi Watson and Jalen Tate were coming into their own, while senior Rodney Culver had become one of the area’s most sought after talents. Central made it interesting on their home floor for the first two and a half quarters, limiting South in transition and knocking down outside jumpers thanks to a hot night from Watson.
The end of the third quarter proved to be too much as South’s full court trap defense led Central into a litany of mistakes, leading to a 20-5 run in the final 2:24 to end the frame. After three, Westerville South led 62-44. Another hot shooting night from Dingess, an all-around performance from Iverson and a breakout 24-point, 16-rebound showing from Kaleb Wesson power the Wildcats to a dominant 84-67 victory.
In what would have been a challenge against Dublin Jerome, the only team in the state of Ohio that beat the actual 2014-16 Wildcats more than once, Iverson’s Wildcats roll over the Celtics on the road 74-57. The addition of the Wisconsin signee is what the doctor ordered for Westerville, as Iverson helped limit the terrific Celtic trio of Mason Baich, Seve Stavroff and Colton Irion.
Hosting Newark in a strange Monday night tilt three nights later, Westerville South gets a scare, as Iverson and Kaleb Wesson’s foul trouble issues, combined with an absolutely masterful performance from Jordan Dartis gave Newark a shot to win it at the end.
While South forced the ball out of Dartis’ hands, a missed three at the buzzer from Khayle Woods lets Westerville escape at home with a 61-59 win. Dartis’ 36 points nearly did it for Newark, however, the near upset loss humbles South a bit, which means danger for the rest of the area.
Days later, Bo Ryan and the entire Wisconsin staff come to Westerville South for a midweek practice where Iverson commits to the Badgers on the spot. With his college decision behind him, Iverson sets his sights toward the rest of the season.
In the eight games that follow to end the regular season, Westerville South dominates, winning by an average margin of 32 points to head into the Central District tournament at 22-0. Iverson, Andre and Kaleb Wesson combined for 63 points per game on the season, while role players Rogers, Dingess, Humphrey, Thomas and Haynie made major impacts in various parts throughout the season.
As the unanimous top seed in the district, Westerville South watched seeds 2-14 all choose to head to different brackets, which sets up a fairly easy run to the district finals. The team that doesn’t run from the Wildcats is Delaware Hayes, however, as the darkhorse group of Pacers led by junior Zach McIntire and senior Noble Moore had won 17 games and finished one game behind New Albany in the OCC-Capital.
Seeded at No. 15, Hayes was seen as a bit of a paper tiger by area coaches, however the Pacers were confident they had what it took to reach the district finals. South on the other hand had a cake walk to Ohio Dominican, rolling by an average margin of 40 points in its three tournament games before the district finals.
For Hayes, a half court buzzer beater from Moore lifted the Pacers over Westerville Central in the district semifinals, setting up an emotional district final against Iverson and the Wildcats.
Three days later, the highly anticipated matchup goes down, but unfortunately for Hayes, Iverson suited up for the other team that night. Jumping out to a 30-8 advantage in the opening period, Westerville South’s pressure defense proved to be too much for Hayes’ guards, with the Wildcats rolling to an emphatic 84-52 district final victory.
As the nightcap for the four-game slate at ODU, Westerville South had a chance to watch the other three district champions before them, as Dublin Jerome, Northland and Newark each cut down a pair of nets.
Facing Newark in the regional semifinals, South was intent on avoiding the problems that nearly led to its only loss of the season just two months prior.
With Humphrey playing an excellent defensive game against Dartis and the rest of the South starting five playing to its potential, the Wildcats roll in the final regional tournament at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, surviving a slow start to race past Newark 77-62.
In the second regional semifinal, Northland and Dublin Jerome battled for three quarters with the Vikings’ full court pressure proving to be the difference in the end. Northland junior wunderkid Seth Towns poured in 31 points to lead the way as the Vikings entered its third-straight regional final and sixth in seven years, but would this time be the underdog.
In the last basketball game to be played at ‘The Barn,’ Westerville South gives the old facility the farewell it deserves in a near perfect showing, executing in all areas of the game as Ed Calo’s program reaches its first-ever state tournament in an 80-65 regional title victory.
Entering Value City Arena as the state’s top seeded team at 28-0, Westerville South had a chance to become the state’s first-ever 30-0 state champion. Facing them would be a gauntlet of a state tournament final four which included Huber Heights Wayne, Garfield Heights and defending state champion Lakewood St. Edward.
Leading off with Garfield in the state semis, Westerville South experienced zero early game jitters, coming out with a laser sharp focus and edging past the Bulldogs early. Another hot shooting performance from Dingess and several timely steals from Rogers helped the Wildcats roll in the second half, as 57 combined points from Iverson and the Wesson brothers lead South to a 79-66 win.
On the other side of the bracket, Huber Heights Wayne and its star-studded lineup sneak by Ed’s in overtime, 57-51. With a highly anticipated state final on tap between the 25-4 Warriors and unbeaten Wildcats, thousands of spectators flock to Value City Arena for Saturday’s title nightcap.
While Westerville South fell 65-57 in the actual state final to Huber Heights Wayne, Iverson’s addition makes the difference in this scenario, as the Wildcats have another body to throw at the Warriors. Iverson’s defensive versatility and Andre Wesson staying out of foul trouble give South the boost it needs to battle with a hungry Wayne team for 32 minutes.
Iverson battles with Wayne’s senior guard D’Mitrik Trice for the majority of the game in a thrilling matchup. Trice’s performance was so good it led to Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan offering the senior guard on the spot following the contest - one year earlier than when Trice actually was offered by the Badgers following a year of postgrad prep school.
While Wayne standouts Xeyrius Williams, Ahmad Wagner, Trice, Trey Landers and Rod Caldwell gave the Warriors all they had, South makes the game deciding run in the final minute.
After Kaleb Wesson knocked down two clutch free throws to tie the game at 62 with 1:12 remaining, back to back steals from Rogers lead to buckets from Iverson and Andre Wesson. Leading 66-62 with 40 seconds remaining, South forces another stop and Humphrey ices the game at the line, as the Wildcats cut down the nets for the first time ever in a 68-62 state title triumph.
With the local and state media surrounding Iverson and the Wesson brothers, many wonder if Ohio State should have pursued the Wisconsin signee a bit harder.
While Iverson graduates two months later, Westerville South prepares itself for a run at another state title.
With a state title under its belt already, South powers through the 2015-16 season and its deep cast of seniors rally around Rogers, who tore his ACL in the early stages of the season. With Haynie and Thomas stepping up, Humphrey becoming a go-to guy and each Wesson brother filling in for one another whenever needed, Westerville South storms through the district, regional and state tournaments.
Facing off with Ohio's Mr. Basketball Xavier Simpson and unbeaten Lima Senior in the state final, South holds on for all 32 minutes, never allowing the Spartans to make a run, as a game-winning floater from Humphrey from seven feet out lead the Wildcats to a second-straight state title victory, 57-55.
Meanwhile in Madison, Iverson wraps up a freshman season where he saw considerable time off the bench for the Badgers. With both Wesson brothers committed to Ohio State before the summer of 2016 begins, bloggers in Columbus wonder why the Buckeyes couldn’t have kept the Wildcat trio together for one more run.
Combining to go 56-4 in a dominant two year run where South won two state titles and became the first major area school to win back-to-back titles since Columbus East in 1968-69, the Wildcats are incredibly thankful for the one year contributions of Iverson - which helped longtime head coach Ed Calo walk off into the sunset following the 2016 title win over Lima Senior.
The three man trio of Iverson, Andre and Kaleb Wesson prove to be the most dominant of the 21st century since Northland was led by Jared Sullinger, Trey Burke and JD Weatherspoon - as Westerville South eclipses the Vikings with two state titles and writes its name into Columbus basketball folklore forever.