CENTERVILLE, Ohio -- In between bites of pizza, the state's top-ranked basketball player described a new hunger he has for his senior season early Tuesday afternoon.
"I am chasing after a state championship," Princeton forward Darius Bazley told WCPO.com. "When I play it's not going to be like I am getting by for this game. I am sending statements. I am trying to prove something. I really want to get this state championship."
Princeton will participate in the event for a second straight season. The Vikings play Pickerington North at 4:45 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13 at Trent Arena in Kettering.
Official Ohio High School Athletic Association boys' basketball practice doesn't start until Nov. 3. The season doesn't officially begin until Nov. 30. The Vikings play in the Ohio Valley Hoops Classic against Xenia at Southern State Community College in Hillsboro Dec. 1.
Yet the Vikings are ready to take the court now.
Princeton will be in the spotlight everywhere they play this winter because of Bazley, the Syracuse commit who is ranked the No. 9 player nationally in the 2018 class by ESPN.
"I think a lot of people are more worried about us winning ballgames," Princeton coach Steven Wright said. "That's a big factor to it but I'm more into seeing guys develop as young men and going to be great young men in our society."
Wright, a Dayton native and 2002 Colonel White High School graduate, didn't have a chance to participate in the Flyin' to the Hoop event as a player.
He watched neighborhood friend and former NBA player Daequan Cook in the 2003 event.
But Wright learned a lot of life lessons playing college basketball at Bowling Green under Dan Dakich and also at Northern Kentucky University before a six-year pro career in Europe.
Now Wright, who is married with two children, is determined to pass along some of those life lessons to his Princeton players, including Bazley.
Wright has given Bazley advice on money management, how to communicate clearly with others and how to dress for a job interview.
"Me and Darius -- we don't really talk a lot of basketball," Wright said. "Honestly, it's more about developing him as a young man. I talk to him about things that he will do once the ball stops bouncing."
Bazley, who recently attended the USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team October minicamp in Colorado Springs, says he trusts Wright.
"He's more than a coach," said Bazley, who wore his USA Basketball-themed sweatshirt and pants Tuesday. "We are really cool with him -- and we can go down and talk to him about anything."
The Princeton team has noticed a difference in their standout.
"Darius -- that's the guy I look up to," senior guard Dominic Pierce said. "…I'm really proud of him -- to see how he matured over the summer. His maturation has just improved drastically."
The camaraderie is genuine. The smiles show the connectivity this Princeton team has going into the season.
Princeton returns nearly everyone from a sectional runner-up finish last season. This season has a different vibe.
They believe in Bazley's leadership and how he interacts with each teammate like a member of a family.
"Darius doesn't really care about the rankings," Wright said. "Darius is a 17-year-old kid. He is a kid. He watches cartoons. He's overall a good kid."