COLUMBUS — Way before he thought about coming to Shawnee State University, DeLano Thomas was busy helping put Columbus’ Beechcroft High School on the map as one of the premier forces in all of Ohio during his high school playing days.
Having played on the first of Beechcroft’s three OHSAA state Final Four units in 1999, Thomas has always been well-aware of the alums that have repped the Cougars’ uniforms before, during and after his time.
That includes today, where one of the best Beechcroft talents in recent memory will have a chance to make his own statement at Shawnee State — just as his head coach ended up doing.
Elijah Bishop, a key figure on Beechcroft’s run to the 2018 Columbus City League Championship, has made the decision to join the Shawnee State men’s basketball program for the 2021-22 season.
He joins Jaiden Guice as Central Ohio products to join the squad, and also becomes the latest in a long line of former Beechcroft standouts to end up at Shawnee State — including Thomas, Andrew Devlin and Nick Gouch among others.
“It means a lot to have this opportunity,” Bishop said. “Coach (DeLano) Thomas has been recruiting me and stayed on me. It only feels right to come here. I’m real excited to run it back for another championship.”
Ballin’ out at Beechcroft
A two-year starter for Beechcroft, Bishop’s improvement was paramount in helping the Cougars successfully collect the City League title as a senior.
Bishop — who averaged 7.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals on 57-percent shooting as a junior — improved in every statistical category as a senior, dropping 10.9 points, six rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 56-percent shooting during the 2017-18 season.
In making those improvements, Bishop added to a loaded Beechcroft squad that had five players average at least 10.8 points, three rebounds and 1.5 steals per outing en route to running the table in City League competition.
Jelani Simmons (Youngstown State), Datrey Long (Urbana) and twin brothers TherRon and Teon Jennings also averaged in dub-figs for the Cougars, which won a Division II Central District championship and led Beechcroft to a school-record 25 wins in its first 26 contests — before falling in the OHSAA Division II regional semifinals.
“It was fun,” Bishop said. “We won the City League my senior year, and really turned Beechcroft around. Coach telling me what his team (1998-99) did and how successful they were makes it even better knowing that I was a part of a team that was also great at Beechcroft. Our coaches pushed us. They had us working hard and were helping us get better everyday. We believed that we could be better and got better every day because of their direction.”
Columbus State comes calling
Following high school, Bishop spent a prep season at Dohn Prep in Cincinnati — before making the decision to head back to Columbus for junior college basketball at Columbus State.
There, Bishop blossomed into a star.
As a freshman, the once-raw talent emerged as the go-to guy for Columbus State during the 2019-20 season, averaging 16.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.4 steals per game on 55.5-percent shooting from the field and 40.7-percent shooting from three-point range.
Bishop tied for or led Columbus State — also with the mascot name as Cougars — in points per game, rebounds per game and steals per game while finishing third on the team in field-goal percentage and assists per game and fourth on the squad in three-point field-goal percentage.
In the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Great Lakes District championship game against Rock Valley (Ill.), Bishop had a game to remember.
The 6-7 freshman posted a 30-point, 14-rebound outing on 11-of-14 shooting, helping break a game — which featured 11 lead changes — open.
Columbus State ultimately took home an 83-75 victory to obtain its fifth-ever NJCAA National Tournament bid.
Not surprisingly, Bishop’s performances were followed by a laundry list of accolades.
In addition to winning NJCAA National Player of the Week honors following the district title-winning victory, Bishop was named as the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference’s (OCCAC) Freshman of the Year, an all-OCCAC first-teamer, and an all-NJCAA Region 12 selection to go along with NJCAA second-team All-American honors at the Division III level.
“Dohn Prep helped me get ready for college basketball by humbling me,” Bishop said. “It made me hungry and gave me something to prove. Going to Columbus State helped me improve as a basketball player, so when I got there, setting standards like becoming an All-American and getting recognized every week was something that became mandatory for me to do, in my mind.”
For Bishop, the future is simple in words — to repeat on what the Bears did last season.
However, the future Health Science major knows that he and the Shawnee State men’s basketball program — now being the hunted party instead of the ones hunting as part of SSU winning the 2021 NAIA National Championship — will have to continue keeping that tight bond that the Bears developed throughout the 2020-21 campaign while parlaying it into success in the 2021-22 season.
“I know it’s going to be cool,” Bishop said. “We all want to win. Coach Thomas has been loyal to me and has stayed in touch with me. I’m going to be on top of all of my grades, and hopefully go pro after this year. I just need to put in the work and be the best me for my family, my teammates and my coaches.”
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