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Lake Center boys basketball hoping experience pays off

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

HARTVILLE  When embarking on a season unlike any before it, having a large, experienced senior class seems like a good starting point.

The upcoming campaign may be an unusual one, but the Lake Center Christian Tigers embark upon it with a team veteran head coach Greg Bryte is still getting to know, but believes is well-positioned for success.

"We have a solid senior class with five seniors and a couple of experienced juniors," Bryte said. "I'm looking for a little bit of a different game offensively ... we'll be more set-oriented and we have six or seven guys who can shoot it from anywhere on the court."

Bryte is in his first year at the helm at LCC, but is a veteran of the local coaching scene. He was the head coach at Portage Trail Conference rival Rootstown 20 years ago during the Portage County League era that preceded the creation of the PTC before moving on to Malone University prior to his most recent stop on the staff of longtime Lake head coach Tom McBride.

The trip from Lake High School to LCC is a matter of just a few minutes, but the change from the Federal League to the PTC is a larger jump. Instead of Division I foes such as Jackson, Hoover and Canton McKinley, Bryte and his new team will do battle with strong small-school programs such as Mogadore, Rootstown, Southeast and Garrettsville.

Oh, and by doing battle, take that to mean lots of battles. Three of them with every league rival, to be exact.

That's a byproduct of the unique year in which the PTC finds itself. With the league having split after last season as its eight-team, large-school Metro Division separating and reforming as the new Metro Athletic Conference, the PTC County Division is moving forward on its own, but saw one of its own members exit as Crestwood departed over the summer.

That leaves five schools for this season with new additions St. Thomas Aquinas and Warren JFK set to join next fall. That leaves only four league opponents for every team and with that in mind, each school will play the other four three times this season instead of the customary two contests.

The end result will be a standard 12 league games, albeit by unconventional means.

"It's going to be different, especially when you play an opponent for a third time, but I do think I have enough stuff in the arsenal to still have something different for each team in that third game," Bryte said. "It is weird ... I've never done it before."

Teams do occasionally play the same opponent three times in a season, but typically only if it's a league foe who happens to be in the same district in the postseason.

LCC will have to adapt to its new reality behind its five seniors, led by center Sam Bigham and his four fellow seniors. Anson Graham is another post who can play inside or out and sports a good shooting touch, while Jacob Jaber came off the bench most of last season and is a defensive-oriented guard who figures to see more of the same role this season and Jaden Ickes is a capable post presence.

One potentially significant addition is Anthony Williamson, a junior transfer from Jackson who sat out last season following his transfer to LCC. If Williamson can bring some of the big-game success he was around with the Polar Bears to his new team, it would be a valuable addition to the Tigers' back court.

One of his back court mates will be junior Ethan Bauer, who earned honorable mention status in the PTC last season. Another is senior shooting guard Kobe Byler, who figures to be part of the main rotation as well. According to Bryte, Bauer is among those who have made big gains on their strength through weight room work in the offseason

One year after going 13-9, the Tigers are adapting to a new head coach and a new system, one that will play primarily man-to-man on the defensive end and look to lock teams down in the half court with a set-oriented style at the offensive end.

Given the adjusted nature of the offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LCC knows its transition to a new system remains a work in progress and according to Bryte, simply getting to know one another and understanding what the new coaching staff is looking for are the biggest challenge.

"For them, it's getting to know me, what I want and what I expect, but the guys have really had a good attitude about it," Bryte said. "They work hard in practice and we're learning the focus is not one on one basketball ... we have to work as a team and our last scrimmage Canton South showed we're sharing the ball well and making that extra pass."

The transition process figures to continue into the first few games of the season and the pandemic seems highly likely to adjust and rewrite the schedule multiple times this winter, but for now, LCC is starting from a solid foundation and looking to build from there.