SHINNSTON, W.Va. — Fairmont Senior boys basketball coach David Retton knows his returning players will hear it if they haven’t already.
So, too, will the fresh faces on the Polar Bears, who have played in the Class AA title game five straight seasons.
Just don’t expect anybody on the FSHS roster to hear it from the veteran coach himself.
“Someone asked me is it a rebuilding year,” Retton said. “I said, ‘I don’t know what a rebuilding year is, because then you’re labeling your kids.’ These kids have enough labels and they’ll have enough people telling them. I told them, ‘Don’t think anything, because we have a blank slate and a white canvas. Whatever team we’re going to paint and make, that’s going to be our team.’
“They have a choice to believe what other people are telling them. But if they believe that then they’re selling themselves short.”
The Polar Bears will undoubtedly look much different next season.
They’ll have to replace perhaps the most accomplished senior class in the basketball-rich history of Fairmont Senior. It featured 2019 Evans Award winner Jalen Bridges, fellow first-team all-state selection Zyon Dobbs and Dasilas Jones, a guard who welcomed a challenge and was a second-team all-state pick as a senior.
“We had one starter returning (point guard Darhius Nunn) when we won (Class AA) in 2016,” Retton recalled. “That team achieved unbelievable things. My point is not that this team is going to do what that team did. My point is simply this — we don’t know.
“What this team can achieve is going to depend on how hard they work, how smart they work and that’s the exciting part of building a team for every year. I don’t wish I had those guys back. They’re great kids, did great things in our program and played in four state championship games. They’re tremendous, but they’re gone. These are the guys that we have and we’re excited to work with them.”
Retton’s group will have plenty of chances to develop chemistry over the summer. The Polar Bears played in the Cougar Shootout at Lincoln over the weekend and will participate in two more shootouts during the three-week period. Additionally, Fairmont Senior is hosting its annual summer league that features varsity competition two days a week.
While four of the team’s starters on the Class AA runner-up squad from last season were seniors (the fourth being center Patrick Laxton), the cupboard isn’t exactly bare for the Polar Bears.
Athletic forward Jaelin Johnson was an honorable mention all-state pick as a sophomore and is the lone returning starter. Johnson played a pivotal role last season, but will likely headline this year’s team.
Guards Trey Washenitz and Bryson Flowers are also back and both saw time in a reserve role.
“I’m not a guy that compares teams,” Retton said. “I just know we have a great group of kids that are working extremely hard and they want to become good. We’re not good right now and that’s OK.
“There isn’t anything to play for right now except to work on our games and improve. I feel we’re doing that. So far, it’s been a great summer for us. I just hope the next two weeks it continues.”