CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — For Joe Schmidle’s University boys basketball team, much of this summer is about simplification and exposure.
The Hawks, with four starters returning from last season’s Class AAA championship team, have a strong understanding of their roster makeup.
Guards Kaden Metheny and K.J. McClurg give UHS two of the top ball handlers and scorers in the state. Toss in 6-foot-6 center Mike Maumbe, and the Hawks have a trio of rising seniors likely to play at the next level.
“We have an event in Washington, D.C., this weekend and another in Philadelphia next weekend. Those are pretty high profile things as far as recruiting goes,” Schmidle said. “So I just want to make sure everybody’s kind of on the same page so that when we get up there we don’t look bad. I just want to make sure that we’re ready when we get there. It’ll give those kids a better opportunity to maximize their exposure.”
In Metheny and McClurg, UHS returns a backcourt that combined to average 44 points a game a season ago, including a team-best 23.5 average from Metheny.
McClurg, meanwhile, was somewhat of an unknown at this time a year ago. He showed perhaps as much improvement as any player in the state en route to earning second-team all-state honors.
“Last summer we had to put a lot more stuff in. We ran so many different things this past year because of the personnel that we had,” Schmidle recalled. “When we saw how much McClurg had improved, it was like, ‘Holy cow.’ I had two guards that were so dominant, you want to try to have the ball in their hands as much as possible.
“So we adjusted a lot of things to take advantage of that and there was a learning curve there. It took a little bit longer with people accepting new roles and that kind of stuff. But this year, for the most part everybody is kind of in a similar situation. Guys have worked on their games, expanded their strengths and their skillsets are a little better and more advanced than they were last year.”
Although UHS had only two seniors last season, one was versatile forward Rodney Bucklew, who averaged 12 points and served as a perfect complementary player to Metheny and McClurg.
Rising junior Ryan Niceler should take on an expanded role in the future, while guard John Ross Mazza transferred from Bridgeport and is a quality threat on the perimeter.
“We’re looking great. We lost Rodney Bucklew and that’ll be a big loss for us,” Metheny said. “He did all the little things for us, but with John Ross coming in, we’re excited about that. He’s adding a good bit to our team and we’re just taking last year and trying to bring it into this year.”
Schmidle has been impressed with the improvement of both Niceler and Maumbe, who played last season at 190 pounds, but has since added muscle.
“Mike’s one of those guys who doesn’t take days off, especially in the weight room,” Schmidle said. “He’s been working hard and knows that’s going to be a big part of him going to the next level. He’s about 210 pounds now and his weight is in his shoulders and arms. You can’t tell because he’s so darn tall, but he has some big legs, too. His strength has really improved and you’ll be able to see that with his vertical leap and how well and strong he plays in the paint.”
“Ryan Niceler is somebody that was a role player last year and a lot of people didn’t hear of Ryan,” Schmidle added. “People are going to hear of Ryan Niceler this year and I can promise you that.”
The Hawks were present last Tuesday at the Flying Eagle Shootout hosted by Robert C. Byrd. The event allowed UHS to take on RCB, Martinsburg and Bridgeport in the same day as Schmidle’s team continues to add chemistry and camaraderie.
“Coming into last year, we had lost four starters. Nobody really knew about K.J., nobody really knew about Mike or Rodney,” Metheny said. “They really stepped up. We all knew they could do, but nobody else really knew what they could do.
“Going into this year, everyone obviously knows what K.J. and Mike can do. We have a target on our back because of that and we’re more experienced and seasoned, especially after winning a state championship.”