The Fairfield High School boys basketball team has been through a period of transition the past few years, but its third coach in three years has been there through it all.
First-year head coach and former assistant Jeff Sims hopes the sense of stability he provides will help the Indians improve on a 12-13 finish last year that accounted for the program’s first losing season since 2009-10.
Athletic director Mark Harden guided the team last year as a temporary replacement when John Cecere left after one season as head coach to become an assistant principal at Edgewood High School. Sims has coached various levels of basketball in Fairfield schools for 25 years.
“There are a couple guys who this is their third year on varsity and third coach,” Sims said. “Everyone has their own personality, but every coach I’ve worked with at Fairfield has the same philosophy. We’ve been a man-to-man defense, spread out the scoring, defense-first team. That’s been the philosophy for all the coaches we’ve had, so the basketball stuff is an easy switch because it’s the same thing, but now it’s just the personality is different. The players have been familiar with me, and there is only one new staff member in our program this year, so it’s the same staff but just a new head coach.
“I’ve taken a little of all the coaches I’ve worked with and coached for and adapted those things to my personality. I’ve worked with good coaches who helped me establish what we’re doing.”
Sims isn’t the only one in a new role, though. The lineup also will look a lot different, after the Indians graduated four seniors who were among the top six contributors on the team.
Departed forward Mitchell Woods was second in the Greater Miami Conference last year with 16.2 points per game, while T.C. Wells (9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game) and Cedric Woods (8.8 points, 3.4 assists per game) also left big holes to fill.
Senior Ben Phillips (10.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is the only returning player who contributed significant points as two football players who also contributed last year decided not to come out for the team.
“Everyone is going to have different roles,” Sims said. “We’re going to look to Ben not just around the rim, but we’re also going to ask him to handle the ball and shoot the ball. We only have two people that made two 3s last year, and that’s the most. We’re going to have to have some guys that score Friday night that haven’t done it before. I’ve never been a varsity head coach, so we all have new roles. We’re going to have to share the ball, play good man-to-man defense, rebound and just play hard, and the scoring will take care of itself.”
Junior Blake Spaulding, who was the backup point guard last year, now will run the offense, and senior guards Drew O’Donnell and Andre Givens also will be counted on to step up after playing small roles off the bench last year.
Lakota West transfer Devonte Ross, a 6-foot-6 senior, and first-year varsity players Jeff Tyus and Kyle Schimpf are expected to contribute as well.
“We’re very athletic, so we’ll get after it on the defensive end, and hopefully we can be a good offensive rebounding team, attack the rim,” Sims said. “We stopped the ball well in scrimmages and had some where we looked really good. It’s just the offense is going to have to come from multiple guys. I don’t think we have a guy that will get 15-20 points every night.”
Despite a couple mediocre seasons the past two years, Sims hopes to continue the trend of Fairfield’s tradition of recent success. The Indians won two GMC titles in the past five years, including a pair of 20-win seasons.
Sims isn’t necessarily talking about a GMC title this season but believes Fairfield can at least put itself in a position where it is playing meaningful games at the end of the year.
“We want to win a sectional title, play in a district game and continue our success of finishing in the top half of the league,” Sims said. “We want to make sure we’re pushing ourselves to that, and I think we can maintain that.
“We just don’t have as big of a mistake factor as Oak Hills and Mason in our league. They are built to every night put a product out to compete. Our margin of error is smaller because we just don’t have as much experience back, but on any given night we feel we can compete.”
Coach: Jeff Sims, first season
2015-16 Record: 12-13 overall, 7-9 in the Greater Miami Conference (fifth place, tied)
2016-17 Schedule (all start times 7:30 p.m. unless noted): Dec. 3 — at St. Xavier; Dec. 9 — Mason; Dec. 13 — Colerain; Dec. 20 — Kings; Dec. 23 — Elder; Dec. 27 — at Milford; Jan. 3 — at Middletown; Jan. 6 — at Sycamore; Jan. 10 — Oak Hills; Jan. 13 — Lakota East; Jan. 17 — at Princeton; Jan. 20 — at Mason; Jan. 21 — at Thurgood Marshall, 7 p.m.; Jan. 24 — at Hamilton; Jan. 27 — Princeton; Jan. 28 — at Centerville; Jan. 31 — at Lakota West; Feb. 3 — Sycamore; Feb. 7 — Middletown; Feb. 10 — at Colerain; Feb. 14 — Lakota West; Feb. 17 — at Oak Hills