By Adam Baum, firstname.lastname@example.org / Photo by Tony Tribble for the Enquirer
SHARONVILLE - After playing the first 11 games without Darius Bazley, one of the nation's top recruits in the 2018 class, Princeton High School's boys basketball team has won six of its last eight games since Bazley's return.
Bazley, a 6-foot-8 Ohio State commit, was forced to sit out the first 11 games after transferring from Finneytown over the summer. Since his return, the Vikings have been on a tear with wins over Mason, Lakota East and Fairfield twice.
Head coach Leon Ellison, in his first season at Princeton, said his team is moving in the right direction, but they're still not there yet.
"Actually, I don't think we got off to a rough start; kind of just like I envisioned it," said Ellison. "I came in setting the tone, benching certain guys, setting certain expectations, setting the bar pretty high on these guys and pretty much just concentrating on the defensive end ... we really didn't pay any attention to offense.
"We really worked on creating an identity. This is my first year here and I really wanted to set the identity out strong and get these guys used to how I play. So, we kind of ignored the offensive side and it took awhile for those guys to get used to it - the toughness - getting used to the pace and the effort they had to put into it. It took awhile for us to grasp those concepts, but once we grasped them we're starting to play well.
"We're nowhere near where I'd like us to be, but we're starting to play well."
To start the season, the Vikings were forced to find their footing without one of their best players. Ellison said his team, and certainly Bazley, could have spent that time getting acclimated and comfortable with one another. But, what Bazley brings each night is a legitimate triple-double threat.
"He's just a stat stuffer," Ellison said of Bazley, who in eight games now leads the Greater Miami Conference in rebounds (11.3), assists (4.4) and blocks (3.0) per game, to go with 11.1 points per night. "He's not gonna be a kid who's gonna come in and get you 30 or 40 (points) a night. He's gonna come in and give you almost a triple-double every night. He's shown it on several occasions already. He's gonna rebound it, he's gonna assist, and he's gonna score. He's a team player.
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