Doug Taylor, Ohio University forward, goes in for a layup during the game against Eastern Michigan at the Convocation Center on January 14, 2016. (Camille Fine/WOUB)

Despite Roster Turnover Ohio Expects to Compete for a Championship

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Former Cleveland Cavaliers broadcaster Joe Tait used to say “It’s basketball time at the Q.” For Ohio Bobcat fans, it’s basketball time at the Convo.

The Ohio Men’s Basketball teams tips off their season, for real, on Saturday against the Alabama A&M Bulldogs.

For Ohio it was an offseason full of change.

Three players, Antonio Campbell, Kenny Kaminski and Drew Crabtree graduated and have moved on. Campbell and Kaminski are currently playing professionally overseas.

Four players transferred to other schools. Khari Harley and Wadley Mompremier both transferred to Little Rock University. Little Rock is a division one school in Arkansas. After just one year at Ohio, Rodney Culver opted to leave the program. Culver is now playing at a junior college in Indiana.

The fourth and final transfer came as a surprise to some Bobcat fans. Superstar point guard Jaaron Simmons, who graduated in May, decided to transfer to the University of Michigan.

Left to fill the shoes of one of the best point guards in program history are two true freshmen. Zach Butler and Teyvion Kirk will both see time this year at point guard. Kirk is a 6-foot-3-inch guard who bought in right from the start. He is tough, physical and doesn’t back down from anyone. Kirk caught the eye of Phillips early in the preseason and it is attitude and spirit that has earned him plenty of minutes early on.

“I love his fight. It bubbles over sometimes,” Phillips said. “He’s got a chip on both shoulders and is a fighter by nature. Some of that is who he is and I never want to change it.”

Like Kirk, Butler is 6-foot-3. Butler, a guard from South Carolina, is trying to find his role. Butler will play this year and have a role. How much is still to be decided.

The other guys who will see time at point guard are juniors Gavin Block and Jordan Dartis. Dartis, missed much of the preseason with a hip injury, but is back and ready to roll. Bobcat fans know Dartis as a knockdown, lights out 3-point shooter. In two years, Dartis has made 46% of his triples. Dartis is the most recognizable face on the team. He is loved by everyone. Now that he is an upperclassman, Dartis has taken on more of a leadership role this year.

Block came to Ohio the same year as Dartis. Block, who started last year, is a versatile guard/forward, who can do a little bit of it all. In Ohio’s new positionless style of offense, Block will see time at one and time at the four. Phillips compares him to an NBA all-star and two-time champion.

“Gavin ideally is used in a Draymond Green type of roll offensively. That’s what he is,” Phillips said. “You’ve got a kid with a really unique skill set. You want to utilize the whole array.”

Before he played a single game last year, players on the team said he would win Player of the Year one year. Campbell called him a “6’7’’ Antonio Campbell.” Because of an injury to Campbell, fans got a taste of what is to come with Jason Carter. Carter, a 6’7’’ sophomore forward from Johnstown, Ohio started the last 15 games of the year for Ohio. Carter finished second in the voting for MAC Freshman of the Year. Carter improved his three point shot in the offseason and is a true contender for MAC Player of the Year this year.

“It’ll be a goal,” Carter said about winning Player of the Year. “But as I said, I would rather win a MAC Championship than get MAC Player of the Year. So if it means giving up that personal accolade I would defiantly do that. ”

Dartis and Carter were named to the preseason All-MAC East first team. They will have to lead this young squad.

Also returning is junior big man Doug Taylor. Taylor averaged over 13 minutes per game last year.  He is slimmer, improved his feet around the rim and is ready for a big year.

“With him, honestly, he can go longer so he can learn more,” Phillips said. “He was a guy you get up and down the court two, three times, he couldn’t do it anymore. Now, it’s a longer chunk of time.”

Competing for minutes with Taylor and Carter is graduate transfer Kevin Mickle. Mickle, a transfer from Florida Gulf Coast University, brings an energy that is unmatched. Mickle is eligible to play right away and he has already made an impression. In the scrimmage against Capital University Mickle had 19 points and eight rebounds.

“He’s really athletic, he’s real smart. He fits in well with us,” Carter said of Mickle. “It’s nice having him around, defensively and offensively.”

The lone senior on the roster that will see action is Mike Laster. Laster took off last year after the injury to Campbell. Laster had his breakout game in DeKalb, Illinois. He scored 14 points and hasn’t looked back. He will play a major role on the court. Laster will be a starter this year, something he did not do last year. However, Laster could have a bigger role off the court than he has on it. Phillips has said Laster is a “legacy player.” Laster is an example to the current freshman as well as players coming in, that if you do the right thing, you will be rewarded.

“I think that it’s good that he uses me as a role model,” Laster said. “[I] Try to do all the right things, make sure I’m going to class, make sure I’m on time for stuff, make sure I’m going hard on the court. ”

In the preseason, Laster was the team-leading scorer. After being sixth man last year, he has become a knock down shooter and earned a spot in the starting rotation.

Last but not least is redshirt sophomore guard James Gollon. Gollon, missed all of last year with an injury. He has worked really hard to get back on the court with his team and will play a role.

Phillips said Gollon can play either the two or the three for Ohio and will have a role of coming in and hitting a three.

“When he stops overanalyzing things and just [plays],” Phillips said. “He’s got a pretty cool role. Shoot threes.”

Ellis Dozier is a redshirt sophomore who has shown signs of starting to put it all together. Dozier has not put it all together yet and currently not in the rotation. However, Phillips still believes in Dozier and knows that his time coming, at some point. As of now he is the tenth player in a nine-man rotation.

Two members of Ohio’s recruiting class are currently injured. Forwards A.J. Gareri and Ben Vander Plas missed the entire preseason with injuries. It is unsure if either will redshirt this year. As of now, a redshirt season does not seem likely. Both players will be healthy by conference play. Gareri, will be ready before Vander Plas.

The other three members of the roster are walk-ons Sam Frayer, Jaylin McDonald and Antonio Bisutti. None of these three will play meaningful minutes, however they bring a much-needed energy to the team.

“Not just on the bench either but in practice everyday,” Phillips said of the energy they bring. “One of the reasons I keep Sam around is something is going to be going on. It’s not going to be quiet today.”

Despite the losses, youth and uncertainty headed into the year, Phillips still likes his team. Phillips thinks this season is “championship or bust.”

“Always, always, always [championship or bust]. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. Doesn’t make any sense to me,” Phillips said.

Phillips has good reason to believe he can win the conference. Ohio was picked to finish third in the MAC East preseason poll. However this is a transition year for the MAC. Akron lost their head coach and two best players. Central Michigan lost their two guards, Kent State lost superstar Jimmy Hall and Miami lost the two Weathers twins. Besides Western Michigan and Ball State, seemingly every MAC team lost their best player.

The 2017-2018 Ohio Bobcats will have their ups and downs. At times they will look like they can win the conference. However, at other times they will look like a team with five new players that is implementing a new offense. This year’s team will be more exciting to watch. They will have more ball and player movement on offense and a deeper roster.

“We’ve got a group of young man that are going to be extremely competitive in every game they play,” Phillips said. “We move the ball, play an exciting brand of basketball and we’re going to be chasing championships. That’s all there is to it.”