No high school boys’ basketball team is perfect, but Huber Heights Wayne is awfully good. Maybe even great.
But, Lakota East coach Clint Adkins and the Thunderhawks (17-7) have enjoyed the opportunity to prepare for the state’s No. 1-ranked team in Saturday’s Division I district final at Wright State (3 p.m. tipoff).
"Saturday is why you work so hard in the offseason," Lakota East senior forward Andrew Emrick said. "Why you play the game of basketball."
Adkins watched six Wayne games on film by mid-week. There's no telling how much more preparation he did after our conversation. He’s seen the Warriors (25-0) — ranked No. 9 nationally by MaxPreps — twice in person.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity,” Adkins said. “We kind of look at it as us versus the world.”
Wayne has some excellent athletes who are quick, strong and have excellent size. Senior guard Trey Landers (Dayton signee) is the Greater Western Ohio Conference Central division player of the year. He averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Senior guard Rodrick Caldwell (Bowling Green signee) averages 12.4 points and 5.7 assists. L’Christian Smith is a 6-foot-6 standout football player in the 2018 class. He averages 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds.
“What makes them so great is they are so skilled,” Adkins said. “Coach (Travis) Trice has done a really good job.”
Wayne has received the spotlight all season. It averages 78.4 points. East averages 53.8 points.
This story is about the Thunderhawks, which will make their second district final appearance in program history and the first since 2011.
“The group we currently have is a special group and they have performed at a very high level,” Lakota East Athletic Director Rich Bryant said. “They have done everything right.”
The Lakota East community has rallied to its team. The booster club left 100 tickets for students in the athletic office Wednesday morning. The school wants a significant crowd at the Nutter Center Saturday afternoon.
"With winning a sectional title, it brings a lot of positive energy to the community," Emrick said. "That's what's special about high school sports. Every time you walk out on the court you are representing something bigger than your team."
It doesn’t matter if it’s the starting five or the bench. The Thunderhawks share the basketball. And they are efficient.
They’ve overachieved all season. East went 22-3 a season ago and Adkins admits the team was “green” to start the season. They’ve carved out their own legacy in the process. Emrick has played with a lot of his teammates since grade school.
And despite a formidable foe this weekend, East is one step from a regional tournament appearance.
"You always want to compete with the best teams possible and I think that our schedule has prepared us for these types of games," Emrick said. "With playing the No. 1 team in the state we have to play at our best and limit mistakes."
East led the Greater Miami Conference in assists (267) and field goal percentage (50.5 percent) for two straight years. That’s something the squad can hang its hat on.
“It’s a fun team to coach,” Adkins said. “It’s a pleasure to be around them every day.”
The Thunderhawks took a bye in the first round of the sectional tournament and almost regretted that. East trailed Hamilton 18-6 after the first quarter.
But, the strategy worked for the first round and gave more time for the 6-8 standout forward Emrick to return from a stress fracture injury in his leg he suffered in the third game of the season.
"My season hasn't been picture perfect, but I wouldn't trade it for the world," Emrick said Thursday.
The time away from the floor also gave him a new perspective. He made it clear he would be the best teammate he could possibly be, including high-energy bench celebrations.
"I also realized what it's like for the guys who come to practice, work hard every day and have a positive attitude only to see the floor for limited tie or no time at all," said Emrick, a Fairmont State signee. "Those guys are so under appreciated on most teams. Our bottom 3-5 guys who aren't in the rotation mean so much to this program and are a huge part of our success."
Emrick scored 28 points and had four assists and four rebounds in the sectional final win over Walnut Hills last weekend.
“He was absolutely tremendous,” Adkins said.
There is a strong supporting cast too.
Senior guard Ryan Middendorf averages 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Junior forward Evan Kuhlman averages 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals.
Lakota East knows what it's up against this weekend. One thing is for sure – the Thunderhawks will be equipped on a scouting report once Saturday arrives.
“We will prepare just like we prepare for any other game,” Adkins said.