Former Girard coach back to state with Mentor

Bob Krizancic has seen life from both sides of the boys’ state basketball tournament.

Needless to say, the Mentor Cardinals coach prefers what he experienced in 1993 as coach of the Girard Indians. In his final season at the school, Krizancic led the Indians to the Division II championship, marking the first and only time a boys’ team from Trumbull County has captured the honor.

Krizancic wasn’t as fortunate when he led the Cardinals to the Division I state tournament in 2010. Mentor lost to Cincinnati Moeller, 66-59, in the semifinals.

Krizancic took something from each of those two experiences. He hopes what he learned will pay off against the 28-0 Columbus Northland Vikings, the state’s top-ranked team.

“I think one of the things is we’re definitely prepared,” Krizancic said. “Maybe that’s just the age we’re living in. We were able to get film and almost all the information we needed almost immediately after we won. That’s changed from a couple years ago.

“What we’ve done explicitly from when we got here in 2010 and when I was at Girard is different because I was gone at Girard the next year. After we lost in 2010 we felt like there was some unfinished business. The expectations have gotten bigger and bigger here. We have some real mature young men. I sense confidence.”

The Cardinals (23-5) will face a major challenge against the Vikings Friday at 5:15 p.m. at Value City Arena in Columbus. Northland has a history of success dating back to its Division I championship team of 2009 that included former Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger. The Vikings were the Division I runner-up in 2011.

Northland has a balanced attack led by 6-3 senior guard Armani Towns, who averages 13.5 points. Derek McKeithen, a 6-4 junior, averages 11 points, and Jaylen Tucker, a 6-6 junior, averages 10.6.

There’s no question that the Cardinals will be the underdog, which is a role Krizancic doesn’t mind playing.

“Northland has been one of the more elite teams the last few years,” Krizancic said. “We’re underdogs, but we feel our schedule has prepared us. I like our chances. I know we’ll have to do some things well, but given our schedule and how we’re playing, I like where we’re at.”

The Cardinals received a boost 15 games into the season when 6-3 junior Brandon Fritts returned from an injury. The addition of Fritts’ 13.3 scoring average sparked the Cardinals to a relatively easy tournament run to date, including a 60-46 win over North Canton Hoover in the regional semifinals and a 76-56 win over Shaker Heights in the regional final.

“By the end of February he was in basketball shape and healthy,” Krizancic said. “Defensively, we really started to play well. We’re much taller and longer and defending much better.”

What really excites Krizancic is the way the Cardinals have handled the basketball. The turnovers are down, which was a big reason for the easy wins in the regional.

“In four of our five losses we turned the ball over a lot in the fourth quarter,” Krizancic said. “We’ve learned to take care of the basketball. We’re taking better shots and playing smarter. Anytime you’re doing that when you get to state, it’s great.”

Krizancic wears a commemorative ring in honor of the 1993 Girard team at every game. Kris Kelly, who played for that team, designed the ring. Engraved on the inside is the word “Together.”

Krizancic is likely to give that ring a few twists Friday so he can see the engraving.

“I’ve worn it every game since I left Girard,” he said. “Not to show off but to remind me of where I want to get to and what I want to accomplish.”