Boys basketball: Team-first culture propels Botkins to state semifinals

Trojans face Richmond Heights at 11 a.m. Friday in Division IV final four

When Sean Powell became head boys basketball coach at Botkins, he knew there was young talent in the program. He had been JV coach at nearby Lima Perry, coached one of his new players in AAU and had seen the middle school teams play.

“I loved the way they played the game,” he said. “I felt like it was a chance for me to win. Not too many coaches go into a position where there’s talent and there’s talent coming. Usually the pool is empty.”

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In his third year, Powell has guided his team to the Division IV state tournament. The Trojans meet Richmond Heights from the Cleveland area at 11 a.m. Friday in the semifinals at UD Arena.

Powell also realized as a new coach that he could afford to play younger players. He made the decision to start freshman forward Jacob Pleiman in place of senior Bryce Metz, who had been a starter. Powell had coach Pleiman the year before in AAU and saw potential.

“I could’ve played Bryce and we probably would’ve won two or three more games,” Powell said. “But I knew Jacob was a young guy and he needed time to develop. And the best way to develop is playing time. Bryce took one for the team. As a senior, every day came to work, pushed Jacob and Jacob was able to develop because Bryce molded him in practice always making sure Jacob was working hard.”

The example Metz set, Powell said, has helped build a team-first culture.

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“When you look at a program, it’s not always that superstar,” Powell said. “That message isn’t just to my son or Jacob Pleiman. That message is to the kids that question themselves, where do they fit in and why are they doing all this work.”

Pleiman and his brother Carter Pleiman, a sophomore, and senior Denton Homan form a 6-foot-6, 6-5, 6-5 front line. Senior guards Zane Paul and Jayden Priddy-Powell are four-year varsity players. Priddy-Powell is the coach’s son and played varsity as a freshman at Lima Perry, where Powell was the JV coach.

Botkins was evolved from an 11-12 team into a 25-3 team that was ranked all season in the Associated Press state poll.

“I knew with the group coming back that we’d be strong,” Powell said. “My work ethic offseason, in season, it’s an everyday thing. I felt like with the right work ethic, three years tops, we would be – not necessarily state but we would be – competing.”

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The task is a big one. Richmond Heights (17-4) is a little bit taller and probably quicker than Botkins with three players considered to be Division I college prospects.

“We’re looking forward to the match,” Powell said. “We didn’t really care who we were playing. We just wanted to be in this game. We all understand from our season it’s who’s the best team that night.”

The Trojans started the season 11-0 before three losses came their way. They lost to Anna, a district champion in Division III, Fort Loramie, a district semifinalist, and Antwerp, a district champion.

“We didn’t have a slump this year, and that makes me feel good going into this game,” Powell said. “Because no team’s gotten away from us and we’ve always come down to the last five minutes.”

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