by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
The Hudson football and basketball programs followed similar roads during the last three years.
On the gridiron, Ben Gedeon led the way for those three seasons. The Explorers went 4-6 his sophomore year, which included a 4-1 record in the second half of the season to grab a share of the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division title. Over the next two years, Gedeon helped Hudson finish 10-2 and 9-3, respectively, with two more River Division titles.
On the hard court, it was Gedeon's classmate Zack Brandy who led a young Explorers club to a 7-14 mark in the 2010-11 campaign. Brandy then led the squad in scoring for three straight years.
Brandy ended his career with 1,038 points (fourth all time) and helped Hudson to a 13-9 record in 2011-12 and a school record 20-5 mark and first River Division title last season.
Can the two stellar clubs continue to follow the same path?
Despite the graduation of Gedeon, who is now playing football at the University of Michigan, Adam Coberly, Tim Kennedy, Leighton Antonio and a host of other letterwinners (including Brandy), the football team finished 10-3 this year.
The basketball team also lost 68 percent of last season's scoring after losing Brandy (now at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea), Gedeon, Alex Mushock and Steve Boslet and the rest of the seniors.
"We not only lost a tremendous amount of basketball talent with that senior class but also a great deal of leadership," said eighth-year head coach Jeff Brink, who is 80-73 at Hudson. "They were great role models for the program as well. That is part of the business. You move forward.
"We have a solid program. The JV [junior varsity] team was very successful [20-1 last season] and the freshman team was successful [17-3]. That does not always equate to varsity success, but it shows we have kids that can hopefully transition to be solid varsity players."
This season, Hudson will be led by four returning letterwinners. They are John Zuccaro, Kevin Zullo, Derek Schwarz and Mitch Guadagni.
"Kevin Zullo, Mitch Guadagni, John Zuccaro and Derek Schwarz are the guys who are going to be the foundation of this team," Brink said. "Throw into that mix the guys off the JV level and a couple young kids that we think can contribute and we have a chance for a successful season."
Zuccaro, a 5-foot-11 guard and a safety on the football team, is the team's only returning starter. He averaged 6.1 points per game as a junior.
"John is a consummate leader," Brink said. "He has played for three years. He does everything we ask -- defend, handle the ball and score. He's a good all-around player."
Zullo, a 6-3 senior guard, averaged 5.1 points per game and knocked down 51 three-pointers last season.
"Kevin came off a tremendous preseason," Brink said. "He has been in the gym the last couple months and has been working hard. He has become a much versatile player. He's more than a three-point specialist now."
Schwarz, a 6-5 senior forward, averaged 4.3 points per game on the JV team as a junior.
"Derek gives us that size element that we need," Brink said. "He gives us a legit post threat and plays great post defense and is a good rebounder. We don't have a lot of size so we have to keep Derek healthy and on the floor."
Guadagni, a 6-2 junior guard and the football team's starting quarterback, averaged 5.4 points per game as a sophomore.
"Mitch had a great season for us last year," Brink said. "He was our defensive player of the year. Coming off football, the biggest question is his health status [he has been dealing with a high ankle sprain that he suffered in the season-ending loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius]. We are kind of in a holding pattern the next few weeks to see how he heals. We expect Mitch to be a key contributor."
The rest of the squad comprises players who contributed to the JV squad.
Ian Laver, a 6-2 senior forward, averaged six points per game last season.
"Ian is a good mid-range shooter and pretty athletic for a post player," Brink said.
Chris Koscho, a 5-9 senior guard, averaged 4.4 points per game as a junior.
"Chris is a very good rebounding guard," Brink said. "He might be our quickest player. He gives us an opportunity to be more aggressive defensively."
Jack Sullivan, a 5-8 junior guard, averaged 5.3 points per game before a broken hand cut his sophomore season short.
"Jack will be our point-guard sub," Brink said. "He is s good ball-handler, distributor and defensive-type player."
Brendan Burdett, a 6-3 junior guard, led the JV team in scoring last season (seven points per game).
"Brendan is a swing guy who can play the post or wing," Brink said. "He is a good perimeter shooter who really developed over the summer. He has come a long way with hard work. He can step in and give us scoring."
Kyle Ator, a 6-2 junior forward, averaged nearly four points per game as a sophomore.
"Kyle has really bulked up from football," Brink said. "He can go in and use his body inside but also can handle the ball well enough to step out on the perimeter for us as well."
Matt Hutcheson, a 6-3 junior forward, reminds Brink of former blue-collar player who made his name with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"Matt is our Kurt Rambis-type of player," Brink said. "He gives us physicality. He rebounds the ball well."
Zack Meder, a 5-8 sophomore guard, played point guard for the freshmen team.
"Zack is probably one of our best scorers in our program right now," Brink said. "He can shoot threes and beat people off the dribble."
Isaac McGillis, a 6-6 sophomore forward, is expected to get minutes for both the varsity and JV squads.
"Isaac can give us a big guy in case we need size off the bench," Brink said.
While the varsity team has a lot of new faces, the coaching staff remains intact. Assisting Brink with the varsity for the second year is Bruce Thomas. Grant Spaite is the JV head coach and Jeremy Tawney returns as the head freshmen coach. Also returning is Ken Bauza, who is the director of basketball operations.
New to the staff is volunteer assistant Steve Manna, who worked with the Western Reserve Academy boys basketball team last season, and Mushock, who is an assistant coach for the freshmen team.
"Grant Spaite has been a varsity coach for years and Bruce Thomas had a long coaching career at Streetsboro and has been a varsity coach for several decades," Brink said. "When you have a couple guys with that amount of varsity experience, it's definitely a plus on any bench."
The Northeast Ohio Conference River Division could be up for grabs again this season. Hudson came back from a 2-2 start to finish 8-2 and take the crown.
"[Cuyahoga] Falls is probably the favorite," Brink said. "Stow is going to be very good. Brush reloads every year. Solon is a very athletic team again. Twinsburg has a lot to replace, but they have athletes and a good coaching staff.
"There is a transition period when you are losing a large portion of your lineup, but a sign of good program is when you have people who can step in and take that next step.
"I think we are one of those teams that on a given night can play with anybody on our schedule. The question is are we going to be consistent because our schedule is tough."
The Explorers are scheduled to make their season debut against River Division rival Solon Dec. 6 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium. Varsity tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.