Last season the Trotwood-Madison Rams played head and shoulders above the rest of the state in Division II boys basketball.
Trotwood no longer has that rebounding advantage that helped them – along with stout defense – to a D-II state championship. But the running Rams are quicker, faster and ready to repeat.
“Everybody is coming at us harder,” said senior Carl Blanton Jr., who at 6-foot-2 is among – if not – the tallest player for the Rams. “They’re coming at us real, real hard. We just have to push through. I’m pretty sure we can get there. We just have to be smart and be ready for the challenge.”
»RELATED: This week’s boys state basketball poll
Blanton leads the Greater Western Ohio Conference with 31.7 points per game, aided by a season-high 46 in a 105-99 win against South Oldham (Ky.) on Dec. 23. Blanton scored 30-plus points in a game once last season. He’s done it five times in the Rams’ first seven games this season.
Want to focus on Blanton? Go ahead. Senior teammate Sammy Anderson is second in the GWOC with 16.1 points, including 32 in a 109-79 win against Miami Palmetto on Dec. 21. Junior Carter Mims averages 13.1 and junior Courtney Blake 12.6.
And don’t forget sophomore Tymier Blanton (7.9), sophomore Sellers Little (7.7) and junior Damontae Raglin (6.9), who have also contributed to the Rams’ GWOC-best 84 points per game. For comparison, Springfield is second at 61.1.
Trotwood coach Rocky Rockhold’s system preaches pushing the ball up court at a swift pace. Nearly all the players are considered guards. It’s a pace that has landed the Rams (9-1 overall, 4-0 GWOC National Division) in the D-II state semifinals the past three seasons. They broke through with the program’s first state title last season with a 77-73 victory over Columbus South.
Anderson and Blanton were starters on the state title team. Senior Keontae Huguely and Sims also saw action in the title game. But with the graduation of Amari Davis, Malachi Matthews and Justin Stephens, this year’s team turned over leadership duties to Anderson and Blanton.
“I think we’ve done a good job over the years of preparing kids to come in and be the man,” Rockhold said. “I think it’s one thing to think you’re the man, and a whole ‘nother when it becomes yours. I think you saw that transition with Torrey Patton, Myles Belyeu and you go back to Amari a year ago. Amari struggled early to realize, okay, this runs through me. I think Carl has picked that up earlier than some other guys have. He’s done a great job leading our team in so many ways, and not just on the floor but in the locker room and making sure we’re ready to go.”
Many of Blanton’s points come from attacking the rim in transition. But he’s also quick with a smooth pull-up jumper, he leads the GWOC in free-throw percentage (53-of-60 for 88 percent) and he ranks among the league leaders in three-pointers (15). He’s also No. 2 in the GWOC in rebounds per game with 9.3.
“The thing I like about this team is we have real dogs on here. We pressure the ball hard,” Blanton said. “We go to the boards hard. We score hard. Just real gritters on the team. That’s what we need.”
Especially this weekend. Trotwood, ranked No. 9 in the first D-II state poll, travels to Wayne (7-3, ranked No. 11 in Division I poll) on Friday and Dunbar (3-5, beat Wayne 64-60 on Jan. 4) on Saturday. Blanton and Anderson both came up through the City League ranks before transferring to Trotwood. Blanton doesn’t know many of the players on Wayne. That changes against Dunbar.
»RELATED: Wednesday’s high school roundup
“Right now we’re not friends,” Blanton said with a sly smile. “Until the buzzer goes off we’re not friends.”
“We’ve always had good chemistry,” Anderson said of playing with Blanton. “We’ve been playing with each other since we’ve been in about the fourth grade. It’s fun playing with (my teammates) and leading the team. They understand what we’re trying to do.”
This could be the final season Blanton and Anderson play together. Anderson is doing is best to change that. Anderson is a University of Cincinnati football commitment. Blanton is still deciding whether he’ll play football or basketball in college. Both played key roles in the Rams’ Division III state football championship in December.
“Me and him are stepping up and it’s our time to shine,” Blanton said.
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