Dunbar boys basketball rebuilding with Cole: “It’s a big challenge”

Lyle Cole didn’t bother sitting down in his designated bench area. And no wonder.

In his first season of rebuilding Dunbar’s boys basketball program, that tends to be a hot seat, even at the area’s latest gem of a gym, the Wade E. Miller Arena at Middletown High School.

“Correct,” said Cole following Tuesday’s game. “It’s very hot.”

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Of all the area boys coaching changes this season – and there are many – none is more intriguing than at Dunbar. Cole is the Wolverines’ third head coach in as many seasons and succeeds Chuck Taylor, who lasted only last season.

Ironically, anchored on the Middies’ bench was former Dunbar coach Pete Pullen, in his second season as a Middletown assistant to head coach Darnell Hoskins, the former Thurgood Marshall head coach. Wedged between the Middies’ subs was Steve Pittman, another assistant who previously was the head coach at Ponitz the last two seasons.

That’s a lot of Dayton City League boys basketball coaching migration to Middletown.

“It’s very weird,” said Dunbar’s Jonathan Allen, a fixture behind the bench who’ll miss his senior season while recovering from knee surgery.

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Cole is a 1978 Dunbar grad and former Belmont boys basketball coach. He’s one of eight Cole brothers who all starred in multiple sports at Dunbar from 1969-81. His nephews are former NBA player Norris Cole and NFL standout Trent Cole.

Lyle Cole is tasked with an unenviable challenge, to rebuild one of the state’s best boys programs. That’s a long way from happening.

Allen, 6 feet 6 and 280 pounds, averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds last season and was the City League MVP. He’s now the state’s most robust cheerleader and among the most sought-after offensive linemen. Uncommitted, he’ll make official recruiting visits to Ohio State, Penn State, Cincinnati and Indiana. What he won’t do is play basketball again at Dunbar.

“It’s disappointing,” said Allen, who blew an ACL on the first series of the first football game in August against Columbus St. Francis DeSales at Welcome Stadium. “I could probably play, but I’ve been told not to risk an injury.”

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Former Dunbar player Kadar Gardner transferred to Middletown and will soon be eligible to play. Others also transferred out.

Graduation also hit Dunbar hard in the loss of Joseph Scates and Tavion Thomas, now playing football at Iowa State and Cincinnati, respectively. A receiver, Scates has been suspended the entire season for violation of team rules. Thomas has been a key sub at running back.

The Wolverines are loaded with young players, lots of questions and few answers.

“To me, it’s bringing that Blue Pride back and getting things moving in the right direction,” said Cole following the 60-28 loss. “I have a lot of support from a lot of people who understand what is going on. I have an idea of what needs to be done. I think I’m capable of putting it back together.”

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Dunbar achieved its greatest run with Pullen as coach, winning four Division II state championships and playing in two more final fours from 2004-17. He’ll join three others as next April’s inductees into the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

He was not retained as Dunbar’s coach following the 2016-17 season.

“I can’t dwell on that part of my life,” Pullen said. “I have to start a new chapter and hopefully have the success and the energy to finish it. Lyle is thrown in a situation and he’s going to end up doing the best that he can with it. Just getting the kids to buy in is going to be the big key. I wish him all the best in the world in doing that. That’s a great family and I’m sure he’ll get it done.”

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Dunbar’s game with Middletown was for this season only, although Hoskins hopes to extend that contract. In his third season with the Middies, he was similarly charged with rekindling the Middies’ Magic.

“(Cole) just has to do the best he can, trust the process and he’ll get it going,” said Hoskins, whose son Darnell Hoskins Jr. is a sophomore starter at Saginaw Valley State.

“I had to do the same thing when I got here. It’s creating and changing the culture. It takes a couple years to really put your input and impact on a program. You have to raise the level of expectation in every area, academically, socially and then on the floor.”

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Dunbar (0-3) had no chance against the Middies (2-0) after trailing 18-0 in the first quarter. Dunbar will make its City League debut at Meadowdale (2-0) on Friday.

“This is a new challenge and it’s a big challenge,” Cole said. “Hopefully, we can get something moving in the right direction and make some good things happen.”

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