When Matt Futch took over the Buchtel boys basketball program in 2017, there were conversations about winning championships.
Futch chatted with players about winning City Series championships. He also discussed winning sectional, district and regional titles.
And then there were conversations about winning state championships.
“Since he became the head coach, he wanted to build a program that would compete for state championships every year,” Buchtel senior Jonathan King said last Friday after the Griffins beat Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph 84-70 in a Division II regional final at Canton Memorial Civic Center.
“We have been working hard and trying to compete. We are putting it together now.”
Buchtel (20-7) is indeed on a roll in Futch’s second season as the Griffins head to Columbus to meet Trotwood-Madison (26-2) in a Division II state semifinal at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Schottenstein Center’s Value City Arena.
The other state semifinal at Ohio State University pits Thornville Sheridan (21-5) against Columbus South (27-1) at 6 p.m.
Buchtel will be making its sixth state tournament appearance following teams from 1936, 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1997. The 1997 squad finished as Division II state runner-up.
This year’s Buchtel team is led by King, freshman Chris Livingston and sophomores Ronnell Perie II, Noah Peeples and Martavien Johnson. The Griffins' other key players are sophomores Robert Young-Jones and Juwan Coates, senior Anthony Hunt Jr., junior T’Kai Coleman and freshman Cordell Livingston.
“Our kids have matured a lot and grown up a lot throughout the course of the year,” said Futch, a graduate of Buchtel in 2002 and the University of Akron in 2010 and 2012.
“Our schedule has prepared us for that, and the time we have put in as far as practice has helped, too.
“We were down there in Columbus last June for their team camp, and now here in the final week of our season we are going to be back down there to compete for a state title. I think that kind of gives our guys a little bit more of the belief system that we are trying to implement, and they have bought into it to this point.”
Chris Livingston leads the Griffins in scoring at about 25 points per game. Perie contributes about 13 points per game, King chips in about 12 and Peeples is at about 10.
“Nobody probably expected us to advance to the state tournament,” Chris Livingston said. “The team did. Within us we did. This is great. … We are trying to execute and get down to Columbus and win.”
Futch has liked the growth he has seen from the Livingston twin brothers, and also from Perie and Peeples. All four can handle the ball and knock down shots.
“I am excited to see them continue to grow,” Futch said. “They have helped our team a lot. And then Jonathan King, who is our only returning senior from last year. He has come on strong. He kind of stepped to the side in the early part of the year to let these young guys get a feel, but down the stretch he has been fantastic. He can do everything. He can guard the other team’s best player, he can provide that boost for us offensively and he rebounds the ball at a high level. He is like Scottie Pippen. He is all over the place. Jonathan is a great kid, and we have got great kids off the court and in the classroom.”
Buchtel’s season started with a loss to Shaker Heights. The Griffins rolled through the City Series with three wins over Ellet, and two victories apiece over East, Firestone, Kenmore-Garfield and North.
Buchtel’s other losses were to Gates Mills Gilmour Academy, St. Vincent-St. Mary, First Love Academy (Pa.), Dayton Chaminade Julienne, Garfield Heights and Warrensville Heights.
The Griffins earned wins over Maple Heights and Archbishop Hoban to conclude the regular season. The tournament trail included a third victory over East, and wins over Marlington, Tallmadge, Poland Seminary and Cleveland VA-SJ to earn district and regional titles in Canton.
“We want to be a state-level team competing for a state title year in and year out,” Futch said.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.