Devin Royal set to lead the Pickerington Central Tigers

A promotional poster for the season-opening All-Ohio High School Hoops Showcase featured photographs of top players from eight of 14 teams competing on Nov. 27 at Pickerington Central and Pickerington North.

Central’s rep was Devin Royal, shown preparing to shoot a free throw last season.

It was just the last attention for the 6-foot-6, 215-pound junior forward, who after a successful second season transformed his body and game and by the start of the season had secured 16 college offers. , including one from Ohio State on Oct. 11.

After averaging 13.9 points and winning third-team honors in all districts a year ago as the Tigers were 15-5 overall and lost in a final District I, Royal grew an inch, lost about 10 pounds, and gained muscle in the process.

“I feel like I’m able to go faster and take off faster. It has helped my game on all levels, ”said Royal. “Definitely my shot (that’s my biggest improvement). I’m more confident now. I wasn’t as confident in sophomore, but I’m more confident in shooting the ball and dribbling. That was the key to it all. .

Royal quickly made a name for himself last season, scoring 24 points against eventual Division II state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on Jan. 2 and had 15 double-digit score nights thereafter.

A solid outing at the Nike-EYBL Peach Jam basketball tournament in Augusta, SC in July helped Royal shares rise. Other Royal offerings include Akron, Cincinnati, Dayton, Kent State, Miami University, Ohio University, Penn State, Toledo, and Xavier.

“It was a bigger stage so I went over there and showed what I can do,” Royal said. “People have seen me. They might not know my name, but I signed up for them.

Tigers coach Eric Krueger said the accolades were the result of a work ethic he assessed alongside current NBA player Caris LeVert and Division I rookies Connor Kern (Arkansas State , Citadel) and Ibi Watson (Dayton, Michigan). Kern and LeVert were part of Central’s State Championship team in 2012.

“(Royal) has grown into a kid with an elite work ethic that only matches a few kids I’ve coached,” Krueger said. “Obviously he’s talented, but you can see the development of his body. He’s cropped. He’s in better shape. He has also really changed his body and that has been huge for him when it comes to his game. ”

Understandably a power forward, Royal expects to play almost any position at some point as Central seek their eighth league championship in 10 years. The Tigers lost 10-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division a year ago.

“We’re young, but we’ve been playing together for so long that we have great chemistry,” Royal said. “It could be a fun year this year.”

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•Coach: Zach Olson, second season

• Best players: Cortez Freeman, Derrick James, Andrew Miles, Dobbins Nkone and Ty Robinson

• Key losses: André Heglar, Anthony Millner and Kevian Poindexter

• Last season: 13-9 in total

• OCC-Capitale 2020-21 ranking: Worthington Kilbourne (12-2), Westerville South (8-2), Canal Winchester (8-5), Big Walnut (7-5), Westerville North (7-7), Delaware (3-7), Dublin Scioto ( 2-8), Franklin Heights (2-12)

• 2021 playoffs: Def. Lancaster 61-51; lost to Northland 78-72 in the second round of the Division I District Tournament

• Outlook: Freeman, a 6-foot-2 second-year goaltender, returns to build on a freshman season that saw him averaging 13.7 points leading the team with 16 double-digit and four-digit kills. with 20 or more points. The Indians’ other returning starter, 6-7 Miles senior forward, missed the start of the season with injury.

Canal Winchester got another boost with the addition of James, a three-year-old playmaker at St. Charles. James led the Cardinals in points per game (14.6), assists (4.7) and steals (2.9) a year ago.

Other potential starters include seniors Nkone (5-10, goalkeeper) and Robinson (6-0, forward).

OIson expects defense to be a force, going on the offensive.

Quote: “We have seen a gradual improvement in offensive execution, (but we) need to make progress every day in all areas. Our expectations are simple: compete daily for the guys next to you. We just want to improve each day as a unit. – Olson

—Dave Purpura


•Coach: Eric Krueger, eighth season

• Best players: Josh Harlan, Gavin Headings, Lance Pressley, Devin Royal and Sonny Styles

• Key losses: Zakai Alexander, Elhadji Thiam and Garner Wallace

• Last season: 15-5 in total

OCC-Buckeye 2020-21 Ranking: Central (10-0), Reynoldsburg (8-2), Newark (6-4), Groveport (4-6), Lancaster (2-8), Central Crossing (0-10)

• 2021 playoffs: Def. West Columbus 77-26; def. Mifflin 77-50; def. Olentangy 62-34; lost to Hilliard Bradley 46-37 in the Division I district final

• Outlook: Royal, a 6-6 junior forward, averaged 13.9 points in a second breakout season and is expected to help lead a team looking for their eighth league championship in 10 years and their ninth. district title in 11 seasons.

Seniors Harlan (5-11, guard) and Pressley (6-5, front) and juniors Headings (6-7, front) and Styles (6-4, front) also return. Junior RJ Keuchler (6-5) anchors the paint with Headings, who like Harlan and Styles – an Ohio State football engagement – can play both inside and on the wing.

They’ll be counted on to help replace the 14.4 points per game lost to graduation with OCC-Buckeye Player of the Year Garner Wallace, who plays football at Northwestern.

Quote: “We have a group that is starting to grow. We have a large group of juniors in general and five seniors. They are all ready to meet as a group. This is a more experienced group in terms of age. There has been a lot of growth overall since the summer. We are fortunate enough to do good things. – Krueger

—Dave Purpura


•Coach: David Dennis, 10th season

• Best players: Adonus Abrams, Zyaun Hutson, Marshawn Oliver and Nyelle Shaheed

• Key losses: Brian Beavers, Mario Davis, Terrence Kee and Jordan Walker

• Last season: 19-1 in total

• MSL-Cardinal 2020-21 ranking: Harvest Prep (14-0), Fisher Catholic (9-4), Millersport (7-6), Berne Union (7-5), Zanesville Rosecrans (5-3), Fairfield Christian (4-8), Grove City Christian (3-11), Corning Miller (0-12)

• 2021 playoffs: Def. KIPP Columbus 68-46; def. Utic 73-55; def. Fredericktown 64-34; lost to Worthington Christian 50-25 in the Division III district final

• Outlook: The Warriors used the disappointment of their only loss, which came to eventual state runner-up Worthington Christian in a district title game, as motivation.

Shaheed (6-5, junior winger) is the best returning player after averaging 12.3 points and 8.4 rebounds to claim first-team honors across all districts.

Abrams (6-2, second-year guard) averaged 10.5 points and was mentioned honorably across the district, while Oliver (6-4, senior winger) and Hutson (5-4, guard junior) were also key players last season.

Joseph Johnson (6-8, forward) and Artrell Saunders (6-1, goalkeeper) are seniors who have been key contributors to the football team in their run to the playoffs.

Senior Kevin Holmes (6-3, winger), juniors Judah Lee-Haynes (5-6, guard) and Robert Lesure (6-2, guard) and rookie Brandon Roddy (6-1, guard) are from others looking to contribute.

Quote: “We’re still so young and small, but these guys play hard and are so disciplined. We will always continue to compete and work to get in position in March to play for some championships. We’ve got a long way to go, but these guys desperately want to be great. … I love this group because they love each other. They want the other person to do better than themselves. They are so coachable. – Denis

—Jarrod Ulrey


•Coach: Jason Bates, eighth season

• Best players: Dior Conners, Dawaun Green, Corey Hudson, Jerry Saunders and Jaiden Vital

• Key losses: Casey George, Elijah Hawk and Brent Wippel

• Last season: 13-6 in total

• OCC-Ohio 2020-21 Ranking: Gahanna (9-1), Westerville Central (8-2), North (7-3), Grove City (4-6), New Albany (2-8), Westland (0-10)

• 2021 playoffs: Def. New Albania 66-46; def. Orange Olentangy 60-54; lost to Westerville Central 41-39 in the Division I district final

• Outlook: Conners (6-2), Hudson (6-0) and Saunders (6-1), all seniors, lead a group of guards that Bates has called the deepest of his tenure with the Panthers. Saunders averaged 13.1 points last season and Conners, like Saunders a four-year-old college player, added 5.9 per game.

Hudson averaged 7.2 points.

Promising 6-2 in the sophomore, Vital is a keeper but has the size to defend on the inside, a necessity for a group Bates said is “a strong team, not a great team” without a traditional forward or cross. Players filling these roles include juniors Harry Agganis (6-4), Jeff Amapps (6-3) and Green (6-3) and freshman Mykell Murphy (6-2).

First-year goaltender Arness Lawson (6-1) is expected to spend a considerable amount of time as North navigates a tough schedule outside of the league and an OCC-Ohio roster that includes last year’s Division I runner-up to Westerville Central and another District Champion in Gahanna.

Quote: “The theme for this team will be guys who play multiple venues. I won’t say it’s positionless basketball, but there are a variety of places our guys will be. It’s a new challenge for us. We don’t have a traditional tall man, but I’m very confident in my custody game. I don’t remember ever having faith in my guards as much as I did in these guys. – Bates

—Dave Purpura

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