SIDNEY — The Greater Western Ohio Conference schedule makers gave Sidney a break before the annual Flyin’ to the Hoop invitational tournament. And with the task the Yellow Jackets have on Sunday at Trent Arena in Kettering, extra preparation time didn’t hurt.
The Yellow Jackets are among four area teams that will play in Flyin’ to the Hoop this weekend. Minster will face Franklin Monroe at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, and Fort Loramie will play Dayton Thurgood Marshall at 1:15 p.m. on Monday.
But the biggest game featuring local teams is a matchup between Versailles and Sidney on Sunday at 1:15. It’s one tournament director Eric Horstmann said when the schedule was released in October he couldn’t pass up.
The tournament features some of Ohio’s top teams and some of the top national high school and prep teams. There are dozens of highly-rated collegiate recruits, including Sidney junior guard Andre Gordon and Versailles senior forward Justin Ahrens.
Ahrens, a 6-foot-5 forward, signed with Ohio State in November. He averages 27.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for the Tigers (10-1).
“Just his size overall and being able to do the things he can do makes him hard to guard,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said of Ahrens. “The ball handling, the range that he has being able to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, makes him a tough matchup for us. Do we put a big on him or do we put a small? That’s a decision that we’ll have to make.”
Versailles lost its first game by two points to Fort Loramie in overtime last Tuesday. Ahrens was held to a season-low 12 points, but his brother AJ Ahrens scored 21, including a pair of consecutive 3-pointers in the second half that gave Versailles a one-point lead.
Willoughby was in attendance at Tuesday’s game and said AJ Ahrens is also tough to guard. Ahrens averages 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.
“I think he’s the key, really,” Willoughby said. “He’s the key to their success, because he does a lot of things that keep that team going. Rebounding, defense, and hustle plays. He’s going to be a key for us, that we’re able to match what he does for his team. We have to have someone play that well for us.”
The Tigers are averaging 62.5 points per game and are holding opponents to an average of 46.27 points per game.
“Defensively, they’re pretty sound,” Willoughby said. “They’re not getting beat one-on-one on the ball. They’re able to defend one-on-one. The length of them defensively is a concern.”
Gordon has several Division I offers from MAC and similar-size universities. He averages 26.8 points, 5.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Junior forward Ratez Roberts averages 12.1 assists, 9.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game, while senior center Devan Rogers averages 8.8 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Sidney has played one game in the last two weeks, a 65-35 win over West Carrollton on Jan. 5.
The Yellow Jackets (7-3) have won their last two games by over 20 points. In their first eight, they won only one game by over 20.
“I think we’re getting better defensively,” Willoughby said. “I think we’re better positioning wise and better at rebounding. Ratez and Devan have done a really good job on the boards for us. As long as we get help from our perimeter players, we’re a pretty good rebounding team. That’s really going to be an emphasis (on Sunday).
“Those are the type of games that are fun to play in, to see if we can physically and mental compete. That’s a challenge as an athlete. You want to see how you can perform against really good teams.”
Versailles coach Travis Swank said it’s a good opportunity for the team to play on a big stage.
“It’s a fun atmosphere,” Swank said. “It’s a different type of thing for us since (Trent Arena) is our regional site for tournament games, so it gives us an opportunity to play on a floor we might see again. If we play up to our capabilities, I think we have a chance to be there again.
“It’s just a fun time to go against really good competition. We’re going to see really good competition in Sidney, and I’m looking forward to the challenge they represent to us.”
Versailles has played in Flyin’ to the Hoop three other times, while Sidney played in the invitational last year. Fort Loramie (11-0) and Minster (6-2) are making their first appearance in the tournament.
“It’s a moment for everybody to enjoy,” Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton said. “Flyin’ to the Hoop is a prestigious event, and a lot of teams in our area haven’t gotten to be involved in it. We’re a big basketball town, and being in this big basketball event is huge. It’s a moment every one can enjoy, and especially our seniors, who’ve put in a lot of hard work in four years.”
The Redskins (11-0) are ranked No. 1 in Division IV in the state Associated Press poll. Thurgood Marshall (3-6) hasn’t had the same level of success, but the Cougars have played tough competition, including Dublin Coffman and Pickerington Central in nonconference games.
The Cougars average 58 points per game and have allowed an average of 56.6 points per game on defense. Eric Boykin leads the team with an average of 14.5 points per game, while Anthony McCombs averages 11.8 points.
“They’re very athletic,” Britton said. “… We’re going to have our hands full. Anytime you play somebody who plays a little bit of a different style is a great opportunity to learn something to get better.”
Minster’s game against Franklin Monroe on Monday looks to be a good matchup. The Wildcats have amassed a 6-2 record after a late start due to the football team’s state title run.
Minster averages 59.5 points per game and allows an average of 51.75 points per game on defense. Isaac Schmiesing averages 17.3 points per game for the Wildcats, while Cody Frericks averages nine rebounds per game.
Franklin Monroe (9-4) looks to be among the best in the Cross County Conference this season along with Bethel. Ethan Conley leads the Jets with an average of 20 points per game, while Zach Cable averages eight rebounds per game.
There will be 38 teams in the tournament, which is held annually on Martin Luther King Day weekend and typically draws over 20,000 fans. Horstman invites teams in Ohio and throughout the nation with top-rated collegiate prospects to participate.
Since the tournament started in 2003, 31 players have participated in the tournament and went on to be first-round NBA draft picks.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.