COLUMBUS, Ohio – It will be a young group of Cougars on the court for Tuesday's season opener at home. There are five sophomores and nine freshmen on this year's roster. Ed Thompson, who is beginning his third season as the men's basketball head coach, is enthusiastic about this year's squad. "We are un-tested and young. But we play hard and have grit." Thompson is coming off of an incredible 2015-16 season that featured a dark horse team with a top 12 national finish.
According to the OCCAC pre-season poll released last week, Columbus State is expected to finish third in the conference behind Sinclair and Owens. The Cougars know they have to work hard to get into the district tournament which is comprised of DIII Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin teams. Their storied season 25-8 (10-4 OCCAC) record from a year ago. According to Coach Thompson, "We were a team that had a lot of leadership and cohesiveness last year. Everyone doubted us, but we kept working hard and it paid off."
Sophomore guard/forward Rodney Willis (Columbus/Briggs HS) headlines the returners after a solid freshman campaign. "Rodney brings an offensive threat to the court," said Coach Thompson. "I expect him to build on what he accomplished last season." As the team's leading scorer, Willis averaged 12.4 points and 4.7 rebounds, in addition to, being named the District MVP and all-conference.
Sophomore guard Johnnie Robinson (Akron/St. Vincent St. Mary HS) averaged 2.7 last season as the back-up point guard. Thompson has high hopes for Robinson, saying "I need a big year out of him. I expect a lot of leadership with him as our starting point guard."
Sophomore guard Grant Dierksheide (Worthington/Worthington Kilbourne HS) averaged 1.7 points last season. Thompson has been impressed with Dierksheide's improvement and leadership. Thompson adds, "I expect a great season out of Grant. His speed and shooting have increased remarkably. "
The Columbus State Cougars team also features three transfers who will bring depth to the court with their experience. Guard Rodrick Mims (Navarro College) came from an NJCAA program while guard/forward Juwan Demmings (College of the Desert) is a product of a two-year CCCAA school. Guard Justin Thompson redshirted his freshman year at the NCAA DII University of Tampa.
Newcomers in the backcourt include guards William Prater (Columbus/Eastmoor HS), Tyrin Miller (Columbus/Beechcroft HS), Andre Daniels (Columbus/East HS), and Mario Young (Mansfield/Mansfield HS). Freshmen in the frontcourt include Dylan Geig (Akron/Revere HS), Matthew Gierhart (Worthington/Worthington Kilbourne HS), Lavoris Brown (Columbus/Independence HS), and Mechia Linton (Troy/Troy HS).
The Cougars opening up their season at home on Tue, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. against the University of Rio Grande.