SIDNEY — The last four years were the most successful stretch of any similar period in program history for Sidney’s boys basketball team.
Though the Yellow Jackets are without several key players and the program’s all-time leading scorer this year, they’re looking to stretch the success to a fifth consecutive year.
Sidney will try to win its third conference title in four years in its first season as a member of the newly-reformed Miami Valley League with five returnees from last season and a host of key newcomers from a highly-successful junior varsity team.
“This will be a different team with a different look, but we have the same expectations,” Sidney fourth-year coach John Willoughby said. “We graduated a good group of players but I think this group of players will have no let downs on performance and excitement.”
The Yellow Jackets, which were off to a 2-0 start before hosting Stebbins on Tuesday, finished 20-5 last year and set a single-season record for wins. The squad won 73 games between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 seasons, which tied the 1985-88 teams for the highest win total in any four-year period.
Andre Gordon was a big part of that success. Gordon, who has already earned a starting role as a freshman guard at Texas A&M, set numerous records in his four years, including scoring a program-best 2,013 points. He also finished with 550 career assists.
Gordon is the only key player who graduated off of last year’s team. Sidney is also without forward Ratez Roberts and guard Josiah Hudgins. Roberts averaged 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last year and is the program’s all-time blocks leader. Hudgins averaged 7.7 points and 2.5 rebounds. Three other players also graduated, including starting guard Keith Lee.
The team has several key returnees, including senior guards Darren Taborn, Trey Werntz and Dominick Durr, who all saw significant playing time last year. Also back are senior wings Lathan Jones and Darius Boeke.
The team also returns sophomore Devin Taborn and will have many key newcomers from last year’s JV team, including 6-foot-2 sophomore post Jaden Swiger, who electrified crowds with many double-double performances.
“We can go 10 deep without any loss in production,” Willoughby, who picked up his 400th career win last Friday against Piqua, said. “We will be a perimeter-oriented team with a drive and create style. We are an active team that will get after it defensively and create scoring opportunities from our defense.
“Even though we only have one starter returning, we still have plenty of playing experience coming back. We expect to pick up where the 2018-19 team left off.”
Darren Taborn, who is 6-foot-1, is the team’s lone returning starter. He averaged 6.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last year.
“He’s a strong driver and a great defender and rebounder,” Willoughby said.
Werntz, who is 6-3, was one of the team’s first players off the bench. He averaged 3.7 points and two rebounds per game a year ago. Durr, who is 6-0, played in 22 games a year ago and averaged 2.9 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.
“Trey is a great 3-point threat and has improved his scoring in the lane,” Willoughby said. “Dominick is a great on-the-ball defender and plays at an excellent pace.”
The team gets a boost in the return of 5-10 guard Devin Taborn, who was a key contributor in the first four games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He averaged 3.5 points in those four games.
Jones, who is 6-2, is expected to help fill the gap left by Roberts’ graduation. He averaged three points and 2.6 rebounds per game last year. Boeke, who is 6-0, is also expected to contribute in the post.
“Lathan is a long and active athlete,” Willoughby said. “He moves well with the ball and is a strong rebounder. Darius is a long-range shooter and a smart player.”
Swiger was a dominant physical force on JV last year. He played at tight end and running back for the football squad last fall and was listed on that roster at 263 pounds.
“He’s a strong athlete and gives us presence in the lane,” Willoughby said of Swiger.
Other key newcomers include 6-0 junior guard Camden Vordemark, 6-2 junior wing Avante Martin and 5-8 junior guard Cedric Johnson.
“Avanate is a long athlete and gives us a shot blocker,” Willoughby, who coached for 30 season at Houston before taking over at Sidney in 2016, said. “Cam is an all-around, multi-faceted player.”
Willoughby said the team hopes to compete for the overall MVL title. That squad won Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division titles in 2017 and 2018 before finishing second to Vandalia-Butler last year.
The team will also try for another deep tournament run in March. The squad has advanced to Division I sectional finals the last two years before losing close games to Springfield, which won district titles and advanced to regional semifinals both years.
The Yellow Jackets will have a somewhat different schedule this year with less nonconference games. MVL teams play twice in regular season, resulting in 18 league games compared to 15 in GWOC play.
Sidney’s four nonconference opponents are Bellefontaine, Tecumseh, Northmont and St. Marys.