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Taft boys basketball team look forward to challenge of playing in the state Final Four

Taft district final.jpg
Posted at 3:07 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 10:37:10-04

CINCINNATI — Taft boys basketball coach Demarco Bradley knows what it takes to prepare for a state tournament. He's done it four times — twice as a Woodward High School student and twice as a coach.

That experience will be important as the Senators practice this week.

"I look forward to the challenge," said Bradley, who won a state title as a junior at Woodward High School in 1988 and was later added to the Buddy LaRosa High School Hall of Fame for it. "This team had to grow up really fast."

Taft is going to University of Dayton Arena with one goal in mind this weekend: The school's second state basketball title.

The Senators (16-4) play Worthington Christian (27-1) in a Division III state semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday.

There is a past familiarity between the two programs as Worthington Christian traveled to scrimmage Taft a number of years ago.

"We're pretty familiar with how successful their program has been at the state level," Worthington Christian coach Kevin Weakley said. "We know we have our work cut out for us and we know we'll probably have to play our best game of the year to beat them. When you're in the state tournament that's going to be the case."

The winner plays either Ottawa-Glandorf (20-4) or Cleveland Heights Lutheran East (14-3) in the state final at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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Taft is back in the state tournament for the first time since 2011 when the Senators captured the D-III title under then-head coach Mark Mitchell. Bradley was an assistant coach for that team.

"Coach Bradley and his Senators knock on the door every year, but this is the year they have pushed through that door and are ready for whatever comes their way," said Cincinnati Public Schools athletics manager Josh Hardin. "Next stop UD Arena this weekend. We all can't wait to watch them and cheer for them as they look to bring another state championship back to the Cincinnati."

The Senators have matured together as a group this winter after having four key seniors a year ago.

Taft is led by several players including sophomore Rayon Griffth, who is ranked Ohio's No. 1 player in the 2023 class and the No. 3 shooting guard nationally by the 247 Sports Composite.

Entering the regional tournament, Griffith averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Nelson averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and two assists.

But, it's not just Griffith. Senior Yacco Nelson led Taft with 16 points while junior Brandon Cromer added 15 points in a 63-39 win over Springfield Shawnee in the regional final March 13.

Seniors AJ Lowe, JaMarco Berry, Dylan Britten and Brandon Miles, sophomores Johnny Cotton,Ormond Howard and Bryant Thompson along with freshmen DeShaun Jackson and Lamont Saturday have contributed.

Junior Mekhi Elmore had some significant games earlier this season including 35 points at Trotwood-Madison Jan. 23, but is not playing during the postseason due to the Ohio High School Athletic Association transfer bylaw.

"Everybody thought this was a typical Taft team," Bradley said. "I told them we are old but we are young because our veteran players are together. They started to understand what the Taft program is. They already knew the system. They just had to get used to the varsity game. The varsity game is faster and stronger. What you got away with playing JV you can't get away with at the varsity level."

Taft played just five home games this season and persevered against road opponents like McNicholas, Ross, Fenwick and Badin in addition to the Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference schedule.

Bradley likes how the Senators have been tested throughout games this season. He knows there will be a strong focus this weekend.

"Right now seeing these kids really grow up" has been the most rewarding aspect, Bradley said. "Seeing these kids really, really stick together through the adversity."

Worthington Christian is making its first state tournament appearance since 2008.

Worthington Christian has an experienced group led by junior point guard DJ Moore (Liberty commit) along with seniors Tyler Kindberg (Indiana Wesleyan) and Kobe Buford (Olivet Nazarene).

Entering the regional tournament, Moore averaged 17.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Kindberg averaged 13.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.