Harvest Prep might be gearing up for another long run in basketball tournament

With only one starter returning from its Division III state championship team last March, expectations for the Harvest Prep boys basketball team were somewhat tempered for this season, at least by many outside the program. Eight seniors graduated.

“We didn’t want to put any undue pressure on the guys, so we went into the season with the approach of just getting better one game at a time and, hopefully, peaking at the right time,” Prep coach David Dennis said. “But when you’ve been in the state tournament two years in a row, the guys aren’t satisfied with just doing OK.”

On the heels of back-to-back 28-2 and 28-1 seasons that culminated in Value City Arena, Prep (14-3) once again is making noise as a major player. Two of its losses came to Kentucky schools over the holidays. The other was an overtime defeat at Division I Olentangy Liberty.

“We went to three different tournaments in Kentucky with the idea of exposing the kids to a different atmosphere ... one they might run into at a district or regional game,” Dennis said. “We grew up fast playing against a lot of larger schools. I think those games we lost actually boosted our confidence. The guys have come along even faster than we hoped.”

It doesn’t hurt that the one returning starter happens to be 6-foot senior guard Christopher “CJ” Anthony, the reigning state player of the year. Anthony is averaging 26.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.

In recent weeks, Anthony not only topped 2,000 points for his career, but overtook two-time Mr. Basketball winner Jared Sullinger and Seth Towns, both Northland products, to become the Central District’s all-time leading scorer. He now stands at 2,125 points.

“When you’ve got a player like CJ, you’ve always got a chance,” Dennis said. “The new group of guys surrounding him — each of whom is averaging seven to nine points per game — have brought a lot of hunger and excitement to the program, and they’re very coachable.”

Winner of 43 straight Mid-State League Cardinal Division contests, Prep is shooting for a seventh consecutive title or share.