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History and Tradition: VASJ back as the best high school basketball team in Ohio

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And to think the school almost closed

It must seem like an eternity since that was the case for Villa Angela-St. Joseph (VASJ), located on the far east side of Cleveland. Its a school with as deep of sports history and tradition as any in the country. A school that has had its ups and downs through the years, but is standing as tall as ever now, led by its boys basketball team

It wasn't always like what it is now

In the 70's and into the 80's, football ruled as the sport. From the Golic brothers, to Elvis Grbac and Desmond Howard, state football playoff appearances were aplenty. Longtime coach Bill Gutbrod coached a bunch of special players that played major Division I college football. The basketball team had some moments too. Who can forget the 1979 high school state championship game, where Viking player Clark Kellogg scored 55 points in a losing effort, falling to Granville Waiters and Columbus East

By the late 80's, a funny thing happened to the school located on Lake Shore Boulevard....

Basketball became King

Ironically, it took a loss for it to happen. The Vikings reached the state semi-finals in 1987, with a team that many still believe may be their best of all-time. In a game which featured seven future Division I college athletes, the Vikings (Treg Lee, John Beauford, and Eric Riley) fell to Dayton Dunbar (Kirk Taylor, Mark Baker, Mike Haley Jr., and Renaldo O'Neal) 92-80, in a game where the athleticism and dunking were well before its time. Despite the loss, the Vikings were ranked number one in the state the majority of the year.

The Vikings were state runners up in 1989, falling to a Toledo Macomber team led by future Ohio State and NBA star Jimmy Jackson. They finally broke through for their first state championship in 1991, led by future professional players Tony Miller and Pete Sears. The Vikings liked that feeling so much, they won three of the next four titles, and threw in a runner up finish in 97' to boot.

From 1997 to the mid 2000's, VASJ hit a rough patch. Enrollment in the school declined, and there was talk that the school would even close. VASJ went from a Division I school in 1989, to a Division IV school by the middle of the new decade. Sports teams began to suffer, as the football and basketball teams went through a stretch where their results could best be described as mediocre.

News that the school would remain open seemed to resurrect the basketball program. They were state runners up in 06' and made final four appearances in 07' and 09'. The big one, the state championship, had eluded them since 1995.

Until last season

Led by Evansville recruit Duane Gibson Jr., and Cleveland State recruit Demonte Flannigan, the Vikings took home the Division IV state title, defeating Leipsic 87-63 in the state final. It was a truly dominating post season performance. The Vikings won every post season game by more than 20 points. They have started this season right where they have left off. They are off to a 5-0 start, with their smallest margin of victory being 29 points. They are led by a group of players considered to be some of the best in the state.

Carlton Bragg.... This 6'10 center anchors the Viking defense. He has college offers from a number of Division I schools. This shot blocker also has the ability to step out and hit the 15 foot jumper.

Derek Pardon.... The 6'8 forward is a double-double machine. He leads the Vikings in rebounding, and just last week received a scholarship offer from Northwestern.

Brian Parker.... This 6'2 do-everything forward leads the Vikings in scoring, at just over 20 points a game. He possesses a nice mid-range game, and can also step out and hit the three when called upon.

Simon Texidor.... He announced his presence last year as a sophomore, hitting threes from all over the place in the regional and state tournaments. The 6'2 guard's shooting ability frees up the big men on the inside.

Maurice Johnson.... The ultimate unselfish player. The 5'10 point guard will go games without attempting a shot. His floor generalship keeps the Vikings in their offensive sets, and provides leadership in distributing the ball to the other four.

The starting five above are very good, and they are only going to get better. Why you ask? Because all five are juniors! VASJ has exactly one senior on its roster, in sixth man Deandre Forte. The 6'1 swingman was a major contributor on last year's championship team. It isn't like the Vikings don't have depth. Members of the bench brigade that have contributed to this year's success in the backcourt are 6'0 sophomore Sherman Dean, 6'1 junior Jeff Grudzinsky, 5'9 junior Treymayne Harvell, and 5'9 junior Jaevon McClain. Backing up the big men are 6'3 junior Tre'von Williams, 6'4 sophomore Malik Smith, 6'5 sophomore Jacob Stouffer, and 6'4 freshman Jaylen Harris.

The "Palace".... The home court of VASJ, and one of the more interesting environments to play. Seating behind each sideline and team benches go only eight rows deep. Behind one of the baskets is a stage. Behind the other basket is "Viking Village" whose seating capacity is equal to the amount of both sideline seats combined. It is truly a difficult place to play, and one of the most outstanding venues in the Cleveland area to watch a basketball game.

The toughest schedule in Ohio

That is what many people around the state are saying. Although the first five games haven't given the Vikings much competition, the January schedule more than makes up for it. They will play five nationally ranked teams by the end of January. The meatgrinder starts on January 3rd with a game against Bishop Gorman of Nevada, in a game that will be televised by ESPN. They follow that game with contests with Curie High in Chicago, Arsenal Tech of Indiana, and two Pennsylvania powers in Erie Prep and Archbishop Carroll. Throw in games against defending Division I state champion Mentor, two games against super sophomore Tervell Beck and Cleveland Central Catholic, a meeting with VJ King and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, and the usual cross town rivalry games against St. Ignatius and the #2 ranked team in the Cleveland area in St. Edward, and the Vikings will be more than prepped for their post season run.

The fans along Lake Shore Boulevard will have a lot to smile about this season, with this version of the Viking basketball team. With a state championship to defend, and the goal of a repeat, VASJ will be on everyone's radar around the state.

They have done the alums of VASJ proud so far, and the best could be yet to come

They are simply the best high school basketball team in the state of Ohio

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