COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For what the SEC-West is for football, that's what the City League South is for basketball in Columbus. Consistently, this division has been an absolute gauntlet and 2023-24 looks to offer much of the same for the eight teams vying for a spot in the City Championship.
Since the year 2000, the only active schools on the north side to win the north division have been Northland (12 times), Beechcroft (3 times) and Linden-McKinley (1 time). In the south division, seven different teams have won the division at least once, with Walnut Ridge leading the way with six division titles since 2011 alone.
This might just be the year of the Scots, as Walnut Ridge is looking to replicate the success of its historic 2020 team, which ended a near 40-year drought and delivered a City title to 4841. The Scots have lots of optimism following last year's 7-14 campaign, as reinforcements have come in to surround star senior point guard Dom Aekins - who led all of the area with 28 points per game.
Pipeline product Deon Johnson, a star 6-foot-4 freshman guard with Power 5 offers from Texas A&M and Arizona State, made the short trot across Livingston Avenue after leading Sherwood Middle School to a league title last season. Johnson is a high level athlete that gives Aekins a major boost in the backcourt.
It doesn't stop there, however. Senior wing LJ Foster, who was an All-City performer at Mifflin last season, has joined the fold and gives the Scots a gritty two-way player that will enhance what this team does on both ends of the floor. Sophomore Marquis Lucas, who starred on the gridiron for the Scots, nearly reaching 1,000 yards in both passing and rushing, comes over to compliment the big three, after a freshman season in which he averaged a double-double at Linden-McKinley.
With the star power that Walnut Ridge has, coach Chuck Jefferson has his best roster since the 2020 team, which was led by Mr. Basketball and current Kent State forward VonCameron Davis. Preseason optimism in 2023 is as high as it was in 2019, which could signal for brighter days ahead for Walnut Ridge basketball.
A program that has become accustomed to the bright lights is Africentric. The Nubians are coming off three-straight South division titles off the back of the program's greatest player, Dailyn Swain. Swain is now playing basketball for Sean Miller at Xavier, which means Africentric has a lot of production to replace in 2024.
Luckily for the Nubians, senior guard Cortez Freeman remains after a junior season where he averaged nearly 18 points per game. Freeman retains his backcourt mate in senior guard LaRon Fuller, who has become known as one of the City's fiercest defenders. Seniors Freeman, Fuller and Mekhi Johnson will power the Nubians, who will have to grind out games in the division against hungry teams wanting to knock them off their spot. Africentric has won back-to-back district and regional titles in Division III and will look to keep that streak alive this season.
Now four full seasons removed from their last division title, South is looking to remain among the elite. The Bulldogs had another successful season, winning 17 games and going 11-3 in league play. South is powered by a tremendous senior guard duo in Maurice McCall and LJ Washington. This duo has been a pain for south division defenses for the last two seasons and will figure to do much of the same in 2023-24. South will always be a physical team that won't back down for anyone, while having talented guards that play both ends of the floor. Will that be enough to hang with Walnut Ridge and Africentric? We'll have to see.
The fourth domino of programs that have won the south division title at least once in the last 10 years, Eastmoor Academy returns to the floor in 2023-24 behind a tremendous senior guard in James Nowell. Nowell is one of the elite shooters in Central Ohio and is another tough guard that loves to defend the length of the floor. Nowell and fellow senior Elijah Watkins combined to score more than 31 points per game last year, which gives Eastmoor the luxury of quality senior guard play. The Warriors are excited about the size in the freshman class coming in, which could signal good days ahead for a team that might've finished 10-16 last year, but made a Cinderella run all the way to the district finals.
Independence returns to the floor following a 14-9 season in which the Sixers finished third in the division with a 9-5 record in league play. First year head coach Cody Boehm takes over the Independence program after a successful turnaround job from Quentin Aden, who left to take over the Worthington Christian program. Boehm is super excited about senior guard Amari Williams, who has been a consistent producer over the last few seasons. Williams is one of the best shooters in the division and will pair nicely with senior Ahmad Diagne and junior Montael Davis. Boehm has some nice pieces to work with as the Sixers will look to remain among the best of the best in the south division.
Marion-Franklin had a bit of a bounce back year last season, winning seven games and playing with renewed energy and confidence. The Red Devils were powered by a veteran group last season and will have to find the next crop of talent to lead the program forward. Luckily for Marion-Franklin, senior Tito Glass Jr. is back in the fold after another successful football season in which the Red Devils won the south division title. Glass is as physical a force as you'll find in the City, and will be the Red Devils' go to player as a senior.
West had a season of high highs and low lows last year, but is looking to find consistency this season under first year head coach Isaac Jefferson - one of the most accomplished players in West program history. Jefferson has some pieces to work with in the backcourt, as junior guards Jahmere Johnson and Kahdon Johnson return to lead the show. West swept Briggs for the first time since 2007 last year, while also notching wins against Marion-Franklin and Eastmoor Academy. The Cowboys have key role players in the senior class and a few promising underclassmen that will push the program ahead under the leadership of Jefferson - who is the most loyal West alum that you'll find.
Briggs had a difficult season last year but comes into this season with confidence and hope. The Bruins have a core roster of players who served vital roles on a highly successful football team that went 7-4 and helped Briggs host a home playoff game for the first time in school history. Briggs has a very strong trio with seniors Keion Stevens-Ford, Isaiah Price and junior Jordan Fleming. Stevens-Ford is the x-factor for this team, but has battled injuries the last two seasons. If coach Tony Rice can get Stevens-Ford for a full season, Briggs will return to form and be a formidable foe in the division. The Bruins ended City League play on a high note last year by knocking off Walnut Ridge late in the season.
Head coach: Michael Bates
'22-23 record: 21-6 (13-0)
Last CLS title: 2023 (five since 2005)
Storyline for the season: Can the Nubians remain a title contender in not only the City, but the district, region and state?
Head coach: Tony Rice
'22-23 record: 4-18 (2-12)
Last CLS title: 1987
Storyline for the season: Is a bounce back season in store for Briggs?
Head coach: James Miranda
'22-23 record: 10-16 (6-8)
Last CLS title: 2018
Storyline for the season: Following a surprise run to the district finals, can Eastmoor Academy ride that momentum into a successful season?
Head coach: Cody Boehm
'22-23 record: 14-9 (9-5)
Last CLS title: 2004
Storyline for the season: Following a coaching change, how will Independence handle a new transition this season?
Head coach: Herman Brown
'22-23 record: 7-13 (4-9)
Last CLS title: 2010
Storyline for the season: Who will join Tito Glass in powering this Red Devils team?
Head coach: Ramon Spears
'22-23 record: 17-5 (11-3)
Last CLS title: 2019
Storyline for the season: Is this the year for South to reclaim its spot atop the division?
Head coach: Chuck Jefferson
'22-23 record: 7-14 (6-8)
Last CLS title: 2020 (won every division title from 2011-2016, except for one year in 2013)
Storyline for the season: Is Walnut Ridge ready to contend again in not just the City, but the district, region and potentially state?
Head coach: Isaac Jefferson
'22-23 record: 4-19 (4-10)
Last CLS title: 2000
Storyline for the season: Can West find the consistency to make it into the top half of the division?