Centerville’s state run no surprise to players

Centerville's Emmanuel Deng puts up a shot against Wayne's Prophet Johnson during a game this season. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Centerville's Emmanuel Deng puts up a shot against Wayne's Prophet Johnson during a game this season. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

When Tom House considers what the Centerville basketball program has become in recent years, he isn’t surprised his team made it to the Division I state tournament.

Nobody in the program thought it was a slam dunk this season, but since Brook Cupps became head coach in 2012 this moment has seemed to be only a matter of time.

“Because of the culture we have here at Centerville we come into every season thinking that’s our potential,” House said.

Two years ago the Elks played in the regional final. Last year they reached the regional tournament only to have it canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year they had to beat two strong teams from the Greater Catholic League South, including everyone’s nemesis in the Southwest District, two-time defending state champion Cincinnati Moeller.

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“I don’t think the run is something that’s been surprising to us,” senior Tre Johnson said. “We knew we had the team, and we knew we had the ability to get this far. Like coach says, it’s the people that came before us. We saw how far they came, and it always pushes us to get farther.”

The Elks (24-3) meet No. 1 ranked Mentor (25-0) at 5 p.m. in the first semifinal Saturday at UD Arena. Cleveland St. Ignatius (19-6) faces Westerville Central (21-2) at 8. The final is Sunday at 8:30 p.m..

“We haven’t played Mentor this year, so we’re trying to focus on us and do what we do,” said sophomore point guard Gabe Cupps, the coach’s son. “Just go out there and compete.”

The coach agreed: “We’re obviously game-planning and prepping for them, but the focus is really on us. We want to continue to try to get better every day in practice and go in and compete and play hard and be true to our values and play the way that we want to play. If we do that, I’ll take what happens.”

Centerville is used to playing top competition. The Elks got it in the GWOC with two games apiece against Wayne and Miamisburg and a much-improved Springfield team the second time around. Their non-conference schedule featured Cincinnati La Salle (district champion), Moeller, Pickerington Central (district finalist), Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (Division II state semifinalist), Trotwood-Madison (Division II district finalist), Olentangy Liberty (regional semifinalist), prep school team ISA Andrews Osborne, Lakewood St. Edward (regional semifinalist) and then strong Mason and Cincinnati Elder teams in the tournament.

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“The surprising thing, or thing I’ve been most impressed with this group about, is just their resiliency to continue on that path and continue working,” Brook Cupps said. “Our schedule’s been brutal, and our guys have responded over and over and over. I personally think it’s that collective appreciation for each other’s roles and just accepting and selling out for the team. That’s what I think it is.”

Centerville has three primary scorers in House (18.1), Cupps (15.8) and Rich Rolf (14.7). House and Rolf are juniors. Mentor has a similar big-three look, led by 5-foot-11 senior guard Luke Chicone, who averages 22.5 points and 7.8 assists. Jonah Waag, a 6-3 senior, averages 18 and Steven Key II, a 6-1 senior, averages 15.

“You’re not beating Moeller if you don’t make some big plays, and it’s going to take that Saturday and Sunday, too,” Brook Cupps said. “We’re going to have make some big plays, and for them to beat us they’re going to have to make some big plays. That’s where you are now.”