Defense is one thing the Ross High School boys basketball team has done consistently well in Brian Gunter’s first two seasons, but now he is looking for the offense to catch up.
After graduating just two seniors last year, the Rams are hoping their experience leads to more points as they seek to turn around a program that hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2012-13.
Ross, coming off a 4-19 finish, opens its third season under Gunter on Friday at Taylor.
“We were actually very good on the defensive side last year, but didn’t at times knock down shots and weren’t consistent offensively,” Gunter said. “I think we have more scorers this year, and we’re going to put our players in better position to score. We have certain players that do well in certain parts of the floor, and we want to make sure we accommodate that.”
The Rams’ offense ranked at the bottom of the Southwest Ohio Conference with just 40 points per game and a 34.9 percent field-goal rate, but only needs to replace Dustin Foley’s 8.2 points per game from the starting lineup.
Junior Landen Angel led the team with 8.8 points per game and returns along with seniors Joey Wright (6.4 points, 4.0 rebounds per game), Grant Ridge (5.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Ryan Zapf (2.9 ppg), who all saw extensive playing time last year.
Senior forward Drew Slay and junior forward Joe Valentine saw time off the bench and are expected to play bigger roles this season. Gunter said the Rams also have a good sophomore class that will provide some minutes.
Gunter expects the defense, which ranked fourth in the SWOC with 53.7 points allowed per game, to remain a strength.
“We’re working on it every day,” he said. “It’s been a staple since I’ve been here. The majority of the time we play man to man. We’ll use some zone, but it’s probably 70-30 man to zone. We’ve done a good job the last few years defending the basketball.”
Ridge, at 6-foot-5, is the tallest member of the team, but Gunter said overall the team is “fairly average” in terms of its size. The Rams make up for that in other ways when facing bigger opponents.
They were last in the SWOC last year in total rebounds, but fourth with 44 blocks.
“We want to pressure the ball, work from the rim out and defend from the paint out towards the perimeter,” Gunter said. “We do a good job. We focus on defensive screens, ball pressure, and since we’re a little undersized, we work on blocking out for rebounds. Those are things we work on daily.”
While Gunter expects to be more competitive this season, he’s not getting too far ahead of himself in setting goals for his team. Ross finished at the bottom of the SWOC standings last season with a 2-10 record and was sixth of seven teams in 2014-15 when the Rams went 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the SWOC. Northwest won its second straight league title last year.
Ross had another four-win season the year before Gunter took over, so none of the members of the team now have experienced a winning season. The Rams went 18-5 in 2012-13.
“We talk about the process,” Gunter said. “The process is making fundamentally sound basketball players, and in return that will give you good things down the road. We are trying to make them better each and every day. We don’t look at the big picture yet. We just try to win the day. We talk about playing hard, playing as a team, bringing tremendous effort, playing hard, smart, team basketball, bringing it every day and just trying to get better.”
One of the team mottos is “All out, all game, all season.”
Gunter said the process also includes developing future players, an area in which he has seen improvement through the lower levels.
“We’re starting to get a good core of players, and we’re trying to move in a positive direction, not just in our high school program but at the middle school level,” he said. “The tremendous program we have at younger ages really starts at first and second grade. We have a lot of kids playing, so the excitement is there, but we just need to keep working with them and the minor league system, which is our younger groups. We’ve got tremendous coaches in our system, and we’re seeing progress. I think the future at Ross is going to be bright.”
Coach: Brian Gunter, third season
2015-16 Record: 4-19 overall, 2-10 in the Southwest Ohio Conference (seventh place)
2016-17 Schedule (all start times 7:30 p.m. unless noted): Dec. 2 — at Taylor; Dec. 3 — Wyoming; Dec. 9 — Harrison; Dec. 10 — at Reading; Dec. 13 — at Franklin County (Ind.); Dec. 16 — at Mount Healthy; Dec. 23 — Edgewood; Dec. 28 — at Harrison; Dec. 30 — at Northwest; Jan. 6 — at Little Miami; Jan. 7 — at Eaton; Jan. 13 — Talawanda; Jan. 17 — Glen Este; Jan. 20 — Mount Healthy; Jan. 24 — at Monroe, 7:15 p.m.; Jan. 27 — at Edgewood; Feb. 3 — Northwest; Feb. 4 — Little Miami; Feb. 10 — Miami Valley; Feb. 11 — at Bethel-Tate; Feb. 14 — Goshen; Feb. 17 — at Talawanda