WARREN - No one needs to remind Andy Vlajkovich of the success former Warren G. Harding Raiders basketball coach Steve Arnold had during a 10-year run.
Vlajkovich just hopes that he isn't reminded about it too often.
Arnold led the Raiders to a 191-44 record and one Division I state tournament appearance. He resigned the post after last season to take over the coaching reins of the Raiders' football team.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren G. Harding first-year coach Andy Vlajkovich instructs players during an exhibition against John F. Kennedy on Nov. 23.
Enter Vlajkovich, who coached the Harding junior varsity last season after a three-year run as the coach at Rootstown High School. He knows he's entering a situation where winning has become contagious. His goal is to keep the machine running smoothly.
"It is what it is," said Vlajkovich, a 1999 graduate of Canfield High School. "He (Arnold) had a ton of success. I'm trying to continue that. I'm honored to be in this job. Steve obviously did a tremendous job here over a period of time. I'm focusing on the future right now."
That means going after the Lake Erie League championship and repeating as a Division I district champion. Last season the Raiders, who finished 21-4, advanced to a regional title game, losing to Lakewood St. Edward. The Raiders got the season started off on the right foot, getting the win on opening night, a 71-52 victory over Ursuline.
"We talk about goals," Vlajkovich said. "I took this job to keep it at the level it was at, and, if I'm fortunate, to take it to a higher level. I don't say that arrogantly. It doesn't matter who took the job. The goal should be to maintain what Steve had here, and he would respect that."
Vlajkovich faces a tall order. Unlike recent seasons, there are no dominant big players to patrol the baseline as Rashid Gaston and Shaheed Davis, a pair of 6-8 post players, both graduated.
The Raiders also will miss talented guard Jesse Hardin, who supplied a great outside touch to go along with a strong game to the basket.
"I think your personnel have to dictate the style of play," Vlajkovich said. "We're not very big. We're not small, either. We don't have those 6-8 or 6-9 guys.
"All basketball coaches have core common beliefs. It's a matter of how you go about business. This team will look different than the past team, and that's due to personnel. We don't have a ram-it-to-the-post type of team. We shoot the ball fairly well. We're trying to play to our strengths."
The point guard will be 6-1 junior King Garner. Osha Jackson, a 6-1 senior, will join Garner in the backcourt.
Vlajkovich was pleased to see 6-2 senior Mik'quan Dorsey come out after not playing last season. Anthony Bell, a 6-2 junior, will be in the mix, along with Greg Jackson (5-10 senior), Tommy Perry (6-0 junior) and inside players Jautice McDonald (6-1 junior), Tyrone Howard (6-3 junior) and Free Stubbs (6-3 senior).
Shondell Jackson, a 6-3 sophomore, was expected to be a starter, but he suffered a knee injury in practice and could miss time at the outset of the season.
"In terms of the lack of size, sometimes it can be a bit of a strength in the sense that you're long enough to rebound," Vlajkovich said. "We can put five skilled guys on the floor and create matchup problems because those five guys can shoot and spread you out.
"The question is, are we big and strong enough to guard the interior and get rebounds. If our rebounding and interior defense hold up, we'll be fine."
With so much inexperience, the Raiders should improve as the season progresses.
"The talent level is fine. It's just the experience level," Vlajkovich said. "We can't change experience. We just have to grow quicker. That's what our focus has been on in practice."
The Raiders open the season Friday at home against Youngstown Ursuline. Vlajkovich is ready to rock and roll.
"I'm chomping at the bit," he said. "I'm excited to be back in a leadership position and overseeing an entire program. I enjoyed working with Steve, and he was good working with me. One thing I've learned about Warren is our kids love basketball."