Gahanna Lincoln's boys basketball team had a big season last year.
"And the year before, and the year before," added coach Tony Staib.
In the 2010-11 campaign, the Golden Lions were 19-1 overall in the regular season, losing only to Pickerington North in a second-round Ohio Capital Conference Ohio Division game. Lincoln and the Panthers tied for the conference title at 13-1 each.
Then Gahanna, ranked No. 8 in the state, won four straight Division I postseason tournament contests for a Central District crown, then lost a heartbreaking 57-52 decision to No. 2 Northland in the regional semifinals -- ending the season 23-2.
The year before, the Lions (26-1), with district and regional titles under their belts (and beating Northland), advanced to the state semifinals, where they fell 62-50 to Massillon Jackson.
In 2009, Gahanna made it to the district semifinals, where it lost to Westerville North.
But after last season, the graduation losses were big -- nine seniors in all, including second-team All-Ohioan Stevie Taylor.
Now Staib is looking at three returning letterwinners in all in seniors Austin Rutherford and Aaron Roberson and junior Aaron Jackson -- the team captains.
"We graduated a senior class than over the last four years were 82-14," the coach said. "A final four trip, undefeated regular season, 26 wins two years ago which was the most in school history, back-to-back Central District championships, back-to-back OCC championships.
"They just really helped elevate our program to the next level, so that's an outstanding group."
But that was then.
"Now we sort of have to move on to a lot of new faces," said Staib. "This is a roster that has a lot of underclassmen, a lot of youth and inexperience. So we're going to have to grow up fast."
Rutherford, a guard, is the only player left from the Lions' final four team, back when he was a sophomore
"He's seen it all here," Staib said. "He's sort of the veteran of the bunch. We expect Austin to be a great leader for us."
Roberson, also a guard, got some quality playing time last year.
"We're going to ask him to carry the load not only defensively like he was last year, but also throw some points on the board as well," the coach said.
The 6-foot-6 Jackson, a guard-forward in '10-11, started toward the end of last season and through Lincoln's tournament run.
"He's had a tremendous offseason and is getting a lot of Division I (college) looks," Staib said.
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