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July 4, 2020

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Bulldog boy cagers could surprise behind key trio

Overall, the outlook is optimistic for the best Bulldog season in several years

Photos and story by Cort Reynolds
ADA - A strong finish last year and three solid returning perimeter starters give Bulldog followers hope for a good season under fourth-year head coach Dre White in 2019-20.

Ada finished 6-18 overall and 2-6 in Northwest Conference play for the second straight year in 2017-18. But the improving Bulldogs won three of their last five contests, and played eventual state semifinalist St. Henry very tough in the sectional finals before falling. 

Three starters and four lettermen return to help the Bulldogs carry that late-season momentum into this season, and potentially get back to .500 or better. The trio of top returnees should form one of the league's best and more veteran perimeter units in an effort to reach that end.

Senior wing Phillip Coulson and junior guards Zac Swaney and Brandon Hull return as starters for Ada this winter to carry most of the purple and gold fortunes. 

"Our experience and strengths are definitely in the backcourt," said White. "We will rely on those three for ballhandling and scoring."

All three are good football players as well, lending toughness to the team.

Coulson is an athletic 6-1 wing scorer who is very competitive. An explosive pointmaker, he is the team's top returning scorer at 13 points per game. He was named honorable mention all-league last season.

Coulson is a solid outside shooter who drives hard to the basket well with his speed. He also has a penchant for making off-balance shots, and can score in bunches.

"Phil is a gamer who carried us at times last year offensively," said White. He tallied a season-high 28 points in a late-season 55-54 win over Temple Christian. In the next game, he scored 22 in a victory over Hardin Northern.

The quick 5-9 Swaney is one of the league's most tenacious backcourt defenders, and is also a good outide shooter. He is a hustler and when he shoots well from the perimeter, Ada is a dangerous team.

"Zac will give opposing guards fits (with his defense)," said White. He is the second-leading scorer back, and had several scoring games in the mid-teens last season.

The powerfully built 5-10 Hull came on strong at the end of last season, settling well into the starting playmaker role after recovering from football injuries. 

Hull is a good penetrator, sees the floor well and is very strong. He can create offense for himself and others with his driving ability.

Quick and a tricky ballhandler, Hull stabilized an offense plagued by turnovers the previous season. He led the team in assists and scored 5.5 ppg. 

"I am looking for big things out of Brandon this year," said the coach. "He is a good penetrator and passer."

Three seniors and a sophomore will share the post positions. Ada lost 6-6 honorable mention All-NWC big man Connor Frazier and backup post Ethan Hall to graduation, so the Bulldogs are inexperienced inside. Guard Cade Mullins was the only other starter lost to graduation.

"Rebounding will be a big key," White admitted. 

Ty Miller is a rugged 6-3 senior who was a leading scorer on the JV last year, and he gained some valuable experience in limited varsity action. 

"Ty brings a lot of physicality and energy to the table," said White. Miller has some solid post moves and played the second half of the 2019 football season despite a broken hand, showing toughness.

Promising Jake Rayl is a wiry 6-4 senior who has not played in the program since his freshman season. But White notes that he is "athletic, long and can rebound." His development will be an important factor, along with that of Miller.

Strong senior 5-9 guard/wing Bryce Paul can also provide depth and a physical post presence on defense.

Athletic 6-3 sophomore wing/post Cayden Murphy is "young but has a lot of potential," said White. 

Junior 5-10 reserve guard Micah Cook rounds out the returning letter winners. He is one of the team's best perimeter snipers and played valuable minutes last year off the bench. He will provide solid depth and scoring punch behind the starting Bulldog guard corps.

"Micah works hard and is a good shooter," said White. "He had a good fall for us."

Others who might see some varsity action are 5-11 junior guard Trent Ennis, quick 5-8 junior guard Jacob Poling and 6-3 junior wing/post Tristan Conley.

"We return 65 percent of our scoring this year," said White. "One through eight, I like our rotation."

Regarding the NWC race, White feels defending co-champion Columbus Grove "will be very good" after making it to the regional semifinals last season with a relatively young team led by junior ace Blake Reynolds.

"Crestview will still be good, and Bluffton should be good too," White added. Ada hopes to contend for the upper half of the league. The Bulldogs have not finished that high since 2015, when they went 4-4 in the NWC and tied for fourth place.

Div. IV 2019 state champion Crestview and 2020 league favorite Grove shared the NWC crown at 7-1 last season. Bluffton, Paulding and Lincolnview tied for third in the bunched-up standings at 5-3. 

The Pirates pinned the lone loss of the season on the Knights, who finished 28-1, in the NWC opener.

Allen East went 3-5 in league play, followed by Ada and Delphos Jefferson (2-6) in a seventh-place tie and last-place Spencerville (0-8). 

The Bulldogs have not finished higher than seventh in the NWC since 2015, and only once in this decade have they been over .500 in league play (5-4 in 2012).

Overall, the outlook is optimistic for the best Bulldog season in several years if they can get some consistent post production and gang rebounding from all five players on the floor.

Ada could be a surprise sleeper in the NWC assuming their three guards stay healthy, out of foul trouble and play to their potential. The last Bulldog campaign that finished above .500 overall came in 2011-12, when Ada finished 17-6. This team has a chance to end that eight-year string.

As far as team goals, White feels this team is poised to build upon last season's good finish. "Simply put, we want to expand on last year," he said. "We finished strong and played our best basketball at the end of the year.

"We played a brutal schedule last season, facing 12 teams that ended up with 16 or more wins," he continued. Ada lost to two of the four state semifinalists in Div. IV, including champion Crestview. 

"We beat New Knoxville in the sectionals and played a very good St. Henry (24-4) team tough in the second round. And we have a lot coming back from last year," White added.

Ada went 4-8 at home last year, 1-1 on neutral ground and 1-9 on the road, defeating county foe Hardin Northern in Dola.

Veteran Rick Sherrick returns to the Bulldog staff as a varsity assistant with newcomer assistant Quayvon Johnson. Veteran coach Ken Jochims is the new junior varsity mentor.

The season opens with non-league home games November 29-30 vs. tough county foe Ridgemont, and Ft. Jennings.

The NWC season tips off Dec. 13 at strong local foe Bluffton, which went 16-9 last season. The first league home game is slated for Dec. 20 vs. backyard rival Allen East, who edged Ada 45-40 last winter and finished 10-12.

Ada will compete in the third annual Border Battle tournament Dec. 27-28 at AE. The four-team event also features Waynesfield and traditional arch-rival USV.

USV won the Border tourney title over the Mustangs at Ada last year. The Bulldogs beat Waynesfield 61-44 to finish third.