Josh Whiteside returned to the Gahanna Lincoln boys basketball team this winter with one goal in mind: Helping the Lions win the Division I state championship.
After spending his freshman season as a backup forward for the Lions, Whiteside competed the last two seasons at St. Charles, playing in 11 games as a sophomore before having to sit out the second half of the season because of the OHSAA transfer rule and then contributing last winter when the Cardinals went 10-7.
Following the loss to graduation of 6-foot-7 forward Maceo Williams and 6-5 wing player Jarius Jones, who are now competing for Ashland and Ohio Dominican, respectively, the 6-7 Whiteside transferred back to Gahanna for his final prep season.
“Coming back my senior year, it’s been real fun,” Whiteside said. “I decided to come back last summer. I felt like it was the best decision for me and my family and I feel like that decision has been really great.”
Whiteside’s role has been to settle in at forward alongside Javan Simmons, a 6-7 senior who has signed with Toledo, to give the Lions one of the area’s top inside duos.
In the first Division I state poll released Jan. 3, the Lions were second behind Centerville while Upper Arlington was fifth and Pickerington Central was sixth.
Gahanna lost to Central 58-53 on Jan. 8 to drop to 9-2, but its only other loss was 70-69 on Jan. 2 to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, which was first in the initial Division II state rankings.
“(Being state-ranked) gives us a challenge because everyone wants to beat us,” Whiteside said. “We come to work every day during practice ready to get better and ready to work. It’s been going really well since all of our players are high-talented players and we get along together. We pass the ball and don’t have any selfish players. We just like to play and have fun with it.
“It’s been real fun with me and Javan having played together since we were in fifth grade (at the AAU level). We have a real good bond and we always have fun playing together.”
Against Central, Gahanna fell behind 7-0 and trailed until a 3-pointer by senior guard Brendan Raymond with 46 seconds to go in the third quarter gave it a 40-38 lead.
The Tigers also have one of the area’s top frontcourts with 6-7 junior Devin Royal leading the way. In the fourth quarter, Royal scored eight points and the Lions committed five turnovers.
The only games among the Lions’ first 11 that they gave up more than 46 points, however, were their two losses.
While senior guard Sean Jones had 18 points against Central and was averaging 18.6 through 11 games, Simmons (12.5 points), senior guard Eljae Deas (10 points), senior guard Cam Johnson (7 points) and Whiteside (7 points) also have been contributing to the offense.
Defense, according to Johnson, is what the Lions “really pride ourselves in,” with a goal of holding teams as close to 40 points per game as possible.
“I really like our team’s commitment to the defensive end,” coach Tony Staib said. “Our (defensive) average is pretty good right now. (Simmons and Whiteside) play AAU together and complement each other very well, so that’s been a great plus for us.
“There’s been a lot of hype, but they’re all handling it well. Our program has been state-ranked and had all kinds of accolades over the years, so that’s nothing new.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Boys Basketball: Whiteside’s return boosts Gahanna's hopes