ST. BERNARD, Ohio -- Just a few feet from the doors of Buddy LaRosa Court and quick trip up the steps, the Roger Bacon trophy case majestically looks out toward Vine Street inside the Thomas J. Fogarty Center.
On the top shelf -- third from the right -- is The Trophy. The 2002 state boys’ basketball championship hardware is adorned with the net from the Schottenstein Center that March 23 morning in Columbus.
No one at Roger Bacon needs a reminder of the significance of The Trophy. Roger Bacon upset LeBron James-led Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 71-63 15 years ago this week.
But this third trip to the state Final Four this week is about this year’s Roger Bacon team and not a remembrance of the past.
“We don’t want to compare ourselves to the 2002 team,” said Roger Bacon coach Brian Neal, who was an assistant on the ’02 team.
Though the players wouldn’t remember that ’02 game, the reminders are everywhere around them. There are quotes stenciled into the wall in the lobby area. There are photos from the game. The media coverage will remind them if the Spartans win Friday.
This year’s team is linked to one of the most famous high school basketball teams in Ohio high school history. And that’s why it would be so sweet for the Spartans to win it all this weekend.
“Man, 15 years later it would be a great story, I know that,” Neal said.
Roger Bacon (24-4) plays Archbold (22-5) in a Division III state semifinal at 2 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center. It is the second straight trip to the state Final Four and third overall since 2014.
Roger Bacon, which defeated previously unbeaten Summit Country Day in the regional final, may be favored Friday afternoon, but you didn’t hear Neal say that in practice Monday. He told his team it had two choices -- coast or be aggressive in practice. This was a time to man up.
“It was good to celebrate the regional final,” Neal told his players at mid-court. “They don’t grow on trees. But it’s time to move on.”
Archbold (22-5) is a program rich in tradition. It has the second most wins in Ohio High School Athletic Association history.
Archbold has won consecutive Northwest Ohio Athletic League titles from 2010 to 2016. Archbold averages 59.4 points and allows 47.3 points.
Roger Bacon averages 60.3 points and allows 45.3 points.
Longtime Archbold coach Doug Krauss acknowledges the tough schedule Roger Bacon has faced and believes his squad has an uphill battle this weekend.
“I would say we are the underdog of the Division III tournament -- that’s my guess,” Krauss said. “That’s OK because it’s not a seven-game series. It’s kind of like Bacon back in ‘02.”
Archbold is sort of a mixture of Versailles and Summit Country Day, Neal said. The Blue Streaks play mostly man-to-man defense with an occasional zone look.
Junior 6-2 guard Bryce Williams averages 15 points and 4.1 rebounds. Sophomore 6-5 forward Rigo Ramos averages 10.9 points and five rebounds.
“We certainly have our work cut out for us and we will have to defend very well if we want to advance to Saturday,” Neal said.
Roger Bacon has been led in scoring by sophomore guard Alec Pfriem (13.4 ppg.), senior guard Craig McGee Jr. (13.2 ppg.) and senior 6-6 forward James Johnson (12.8 ppg.).
Neal admits the Spartans were a bit wide-eyed playing on the big stage of the Schottenstein Center in 2016. He hopes to reverse that trend Friday afternoon.
“I think the biggest key is to play well,” Neal said. “This will be our third time in four years. You have to find a way to play your best game Friday at 2.”