By Andrew Johnson

RAVENNA – They will not finish at the top of the West Michigan Conference his season, but the Ravenna boys basketball team is showing definite signs of progress.

The Bulldogs, currently 8-7 overall and 6-6 in conference play, are having their best season since 2009-2010, when they finished 9-11 overall and 6-8 in conference play.

And their best days may well be ahead, with five sophomores on the varsity roster this season. They are Josh Cox, Grant Parker, Jacob May, Jack Emery and Calvin Schullo.

“It’s unique,” said Ravenna head coach Justin Johnson, whose team will visit rival Oakridge on Friday night. “It’s a learning process, and we have to understand that growth and learning curves are going to come.

“We have to expect they’ll make mistakes, but be able to help them learn and know how to correct them properly. We’ll make sure that they don’t happen again, and eliminate them moving forward.”

Josh Cox. Photo/Jason Goorman

While Johnson and his team are pleased with their positive steps this season, they’re also guarded against becoming too satisfied with the results.

“We’re having a pretty good year,” Johnson said. “But the kids and I are not satisfied and we’re not settling. So we’re going to continue to work on little details and put time in to improve that (victory) number.”

One sophomore who has had a major impact is guard Josh Cox, who sat out Tuesday’s game against North Muskegon with an injury.

He’s averaging 13.1 points and 2.4 assists per game, while also contributing on the defensive end with 1.9 steals per game.

“He does a lot offensively for us,” said Johnson about Cox. “Whether it’s stretching the defense or hitting key shots down the stretch, he’s improved.

“His basketball skill level is tremendous as a sophomore. He has great handles and he’s a hard-nosed kid as well. His heart and passion for the game while wanting to compete shows every time he takes the court.”

The highlight of Cox’s season thus far came on Feb. 2 against defending West Michigan Conference champion Whitehall, when he scored a game-high 35 points in a 54-49 victory.

“He was able to hit key shots down the stretch,” Johnson said about the sophomore’s big night. “He also shot well from the free throw line, which helped us clinch the victory.”

Ryan Osmer brings the ball up the floor for Ravenna. Photo/Jason Goorman

Another standout – and crucial senior leader – is Ryan Osmer, who has been averaging six points, 5.5 rebounds, two assists, and 1.8 steals per game.

“He’s just a hustler,” said Johnson about Osmer. “He works hard and hustles while playing strong defense. He can guard anywhere, from point guard to center, when we need him to.

“He’ll go from one side of the other to get a loose ball, and he’s overall a great kid to have in our program.”

While Osmer contributes statistically, it’s his leadership that stands out the most to Johnson.

“He’s a combination of a vocal leader and a guy who leads by example,” the coach said. “He’ll be the first one on the court working hard. But he’s also not afraid to say when we need to play harder or change what we’re doing.”

While Osmer and his fellow upperclassmen are helping to pave the way for a bright future for the program, the Bulldog sophomores hold the key.

“These kids are definitely a basketball class,” Johnson said about his tenth-graders. “They come in every day and take coaching and criticism while continuing to play hard.

“Overall, they’re hungry and they’re pushing the upperclassmen, who are fine with it and are pushing right back.”