With the West Virginia high school boys’ basketball state tournament right around the corner (March 16-19) in Charleston, Metronews wanted to take a look ahead at some of the top contenders in each division. Here are some of the teams to watch for at the state tournament.
South Charleston (20-5)
This year’s state tournament will provide spectators their last glimpse at one of the best all-around athletes in South Charleston High School history with Pierria Henry.
During his career at SC, Henry has led the Black Eagles to two consecutive football titles (2008-09) and two consecutive appearances in the basketball state finals, losing to Woodrow Wilson in 2008 and Martinsburg in 2009. As a team, SC has made the finals three of the last four seasons.
Henry who will be heading to UNC-Charlotte next season to pursue basketball, netted 14 points, seven assists, 15 rebounds, five steals and one block in SC’s 71-57 victory over Huntington in the Class AAA Region 4 co-final. For the season Henry leads the Black Eagles in scoring with 20.6 points-per-game.
“I want to win a state championship," Henry said. "I want to win it for the community of South Charleston, South Charleston High School and the student body. It’s a great feeling to even just have on a uniform that says South Charleston Black Eagles.
Henry, a 6-foot-3 senior guard scored a career-best 47 points as South Charleston beat rival Capital, 99-96, in double overtime at the Mountain State Athletic Conference Night of Champions. He converted five 3-pointers and collected 12 rebounds, along with five steals.
Pierria Henry and fellow starters Moe Makhene and Trevond Reese got a late start on the season after the Class AAA championship football game was delayed in court for a week keeping them off the hardwood.
Ot and John Elmore each average a solid 10.5 points-per-game for third year head coach Vic Herbert.
SC will head into next week’s state tournament having won 14 of its last 15.
Wheeling Park (22-3)
This year the Wheeling Park Patriots will be looking to avenge their 63-48 loss to Logan in the state championship game a year ago. This task will not be easy however, considering the level of talent in this year’s AAA field. Seven of the top eight teams in AAA will be playing in the tournament this week.
Head coach Michael Jebbia’s bunch have been road warriors this season picking up big wins at George Washington, South Charleston, Morgantown and Preston, with their only in-state road loss coming at the hands of Logan in a close 63-62 defeat.
Despite earning a No. 1 seed, Wheeling Park had a scare this post-season when they lost to Morgantown at home 57-55 in the Region One, Section One championship game forcing them to play top-ranked Preston County on the road where they were able to escape with a 59-57 overtime victory.
‘We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,’ Jebbia said. ‘We’ve played in some big games. We’ve played in the state championship. We’ve played in the state tournament. Sometimes, things are just meant to happen.’
Bubby Goodwin, who used a 16-foot, fall-away bank shot with time expiring to beat Preston and take his team to the state tournament, is Park’s go-to guy on offense, averaging 20.0 points-per-game.
The Patriots are anchored underneath by 6’4 center Marqez O’Neal who earned second team all-state recognition a year ago, and is averaging 16.7 points and 8.8 rebounds this year.
If both Park and Woodrow Wilson advance out of the first round, the two will face off Friday evening at 5:30 in what is sure to be one of the best match-ups this post-season.
“With the athletes and basketball players we have, it’s just a matter of time before we can break a game open,’ says Jebbia.
In the last 10 seasons Morgantown High has made the state tournament 8 times, but failed to make the final round each year. In this year’s talented AAA state tournament field, the Mohigans have an outside shot to make the state finals for the first time since 1956, where they were defeated by Jerry West and East Bank 71-58.
The Mohigans enter this year’s tournament fresh off regional victories over Fairmont Senior and state tournament #1 seed Wheeling Park.
Taylor Price scored a game-high 29 points including the winning free throws with 1.5 seconds left while grabbing seven boards, as the Mohigans pulled the 57-55 upset victory over Park. Price, a 6’5 senior, leads a balanced Morgantown offensive attack with 15.2 points-per-game.
Six-foot-eight center Nathan Adrian is only a sophomore, but has contributed nicely this year for MHS coach Tom Yester, averaging 10.83 points-per-game along with 6 rebounds. Adrian’s height not only gives him to ability to alter shots in the lane, but also gives Morgantown a big body underneath to counter potential tournament opponents in George Washington’s 6’7" Tyquan Goard and Wheeling Park’s 6’4" center Marqez O’Neal.
Before the Mohigans can start to look ahead, they must first prepare for their first round match-up with the defending state champion Logan Wildcats. “Logan is the defending state champion, and for the first time in a long time they appear to be healthy now. They can play, and we’ve got a tough road,” MHS coach Tom Yester said
Yester is anticipating Logan’s use of the press to speed up the game and take Morgantown out of their rhythm early, “If teams try to press us, we’re going to try and break the press and score. We won’t try to beat pressure just to beat pressure, but we’re going to get the ball to the rim,” Yester said.
A victory against Logan on Wednesday would pit the Mohigans against the South Charleston-George Washington winner on Friday at 9 p.m.
“When you get there, you have to be pretty good and then a little lucky to get all the way through it,” Yester said. “It’d be nice if the luck went our way this time.”
Oak Hill (18-3)
When comparing the AA state tournament field to teams Oak Hill had to outlast in Region III play to get to Charleston, some might quip that from this point on it is smooth sailing for Oak Hill in their quest for a second consecutive state title. This season Region III produced four top-ten teams heading into the post-season (Oak Hill, Wyoming East, Shady Spring, Bluefield). Oak Hill and Region III Cinderella Pike View were the two teams that survived to see state tournament action.
The Red Devils bring a wealth of athleticism into this year’s state tournament lead by high-flying big-man Kalif Wright and lightning-quick shooting guard Deandre Leonard, both Division I prospects.
Wright, who has committed to NCAA tournament-bound Hampton University, led the Red Devils in points this season with 24.7 points-per-game while passing Stuff Lynch (1989-91) to become Oak Hill’s all-time leading scorer. With his ability to block shots and score from the low-post, the 6’6 Wright is a force under the basket on both ends of the court.
Wright’s counterpart Deandre Leonard has been on a tear toward the latter part of the season averaging 20.4 points-per-game during the last seven and 14.5 for the season. Leonard also became a career 1,000 point scorer this season, joining the list of Oak Hill greats such as former West Virginia University guard Tracy Shelton and former Marshall standouts Cornelius Jackson and Monty Wright.
Other starters include Kam Carroll (6.4), Javonne Staunton-Bailey (5.1) and Thomas Booth (2.8). Kyle Colon (2.4), Zach Nibert (3.9) and Noah Smith (4.1) come off the bench.
The Red Devils are certainly no strangers to state tournament play. 2011 marks the fourth consecutive season this group of seniors has played in the state tournament while en route to their fourth consecutive 20-win season. This season Oak Hill has earned quality wins over Wyoming East, Shady Spring, Bluefield and Poca.
Barring a catastrophic breakdown, Oak Hill is a lock to repeat as state champions in 2011, adding to their already storied basketball tradition.
The Skyhawks are one of three Cardinal Conference schools being represented in this year’s state tournament (Poca, Point Pleasant). Scott might be the one team in AA that stands the best chance of containing Oak Hill’s Kalif Wright and pulling an upset in AA if the Skyhawks are to meet Oak Hill in the finals.
Scott relies heavily on their post play and needs big-time performances out of their “twin towers,” 6-foot-7, 265-pound Justin Harmon and 6-foot-6, 220-pound David Ward. Together Harmon and Ward combined for 35.5 points-per-game this season, or exactly half of Scott’s offense.
In their Class AA Region 4 co-final vs. Sissonville, Harmon led the way with 26 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots. In the Region 4 championship it was Ward’s turn as he dropped 28 points in Scott’s victory over Tug Valley. The win marked their fourth victory over a state-ranked opponent during the last three weeks of the season.
Guards Jesse Belcher and Matt Dolan have shown the ability to make plays for the Skyhawks when defenses sag low on their two big-men.
This season head coach Jason Kingery’s club has earned quality wins over Tug Valley, Poca, Bluefield and Magnolia.
The Skyhawks last appeared in the state tournament in 2009, which ended a 66-year drought for the school, which is seeking their first state finals appearance.
Veteran coach Allen Osborne and the Poca Dots will be making their first state tournament appearance since 2002. Osborne has won two state titles on his way to becoming one of the winningest coaches in WVSSAC history.
The Dots have already tied a school record with 22 wins, but their strength of schedule leaves a lot to be desired having only beaten two teams with winning records during the season and suffering double-digit losses to both Bluefield and Oak Hill in the Big Atlantic Shootout in Beckley.
Poca is led by first team all state guard Jason Cuffee who has shown the ability to take over games if he needs to. Cuffee, a 6’3 guard who signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Wright State, leads the Dots in nearly every statistical category while averaging 23.2 points-per-game. He is also the tallest player on the undersized Dot roster.
Role players like Matt Perkins, who is Poca’s second leading scorer with 10.7 points-per-game, and Hunter Hawley will play a critical role in the Dots success in this state tournament.
For Osborne, Cuffee and the rest of the Poca Dots to make a state finals appearance they must beat six-seed Pike View in the opening round to potentially set the stage for a grudge-match with Cardinal Conference rival Scott with whom the Dots split a pair of games this season.
“I’m just tickled to death for them that they get to play in the state tournament because they deserve it," says Osborne.
Wheeling Central (14-11)
Over the last 10 seasons no team has dominated the single-A field like Wheeling Central. The Maroon Knights have appeared in seven state finals, winning six during that stretch.
The Knights enter state tournament play as the No. 5 seed posting a modest regular season record of 11-11. Their relatively low seeding is due in large part to their rigorous regular season schedule which includes much larger schools such as Wheeling Park, Magnolia, John Marshall, Preston, Scott and numerous teams from southeast Ohio.
‘Our kids sometimes pay a price during the regular season because of the tough schedule we play,’ Stephens pointed out. ‘This is why we do it. Fortunately, their attitude remained good all season. They never got down on themselves despite some tough losses.’"
The Knights are led by their versatile big-man, 6-foot-5 Shane Greskevitch. When Central isn’t pounding the ball down low to Greskevitch, look for guards Joel Jarrett and Shane Livingston to make plays off the drive and hit shots from the outside.
Brandon Ingram has also emerged as a scoring threat for the Knights as of late, netting 24 points during the Region One, Section One Class A championship game vs. Madonna.
‘This is a good group,’ Stephens said of his team. ‘We’ve gotten it handed to us a few times this season. We played Park when they were No. 1, we played Preston when they were No. 1 and we played Trinity when they were No. 1. They’ve gone back to work the next day knowing that it’s not so much about the last game and it’s more about the next game and realizing what our goal is at the end.’"
In a wide-open single-A field Madonna has just as good a shot at winning the title as anybody, and Parkersburg Catholic coach Joe Garrett agrees. "I think Madonna has a shot at winning the whole thing," Garrett said. "They are deep and have good shooting. They also have strength inside." Madonna defeated Garrett’s Crusaders in the Class A, Region I contest, 58-39.
In that regional match-up Madonna’s Clay Rokisky scored a game-high 18 points. The junior also displayed the ability to shoot from outside and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. "Everybody talks about who is the best big man in the state, and Clay wants to prove that he is up there," teammate Chris Perna said of Rokisky.
Madonna also has the tools to get it done from the outside as well as the inside. Perna, a senior guard, is the Dons’ top 3-point threat while Josh Egyud has proven that he can score in a variety of ways for Madonna.
Like their Class A counterparts, Wheeling Central, Madonna has also played their share of tough, out-of-class competition such as Weir, Oak Glen and a number of southeast Ohio schools.
Under the guidance of head coach George Vargo, Madonna will be eyeing their first state finals appearance since 1980.
This season marks the third time in four years Trinity has made the state tournament. The previous two seasons they were knocked out in the first round.
Trinity is looking to reach their first finals appearance in school history despite having had to play most of their season marred by controversy. Trinity’s second leading scorer, A.J. Mayle, was initially ruled ineligible because of a residency issue, but Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gajout issued a permanent injunction on March 4, effectively overturning the SSAC’s ruling. Mayle has since played in the postseason, but the SSAC has not given up on its case and Trinity could possibly be forced to vacate any wins earned while Mayle continues to participate.
Trinity has had better luck on the court as they have plowed through their schedule this season going 23-2. Their only losses this season came at home vs. Bishop Walsh, Md. and on the road against third-seed Madonna. Trinity beat Madonna 80-57 earlier in the season.
Down low for Trinity center Chris Martinez is a force leading the team with 16.3 points-per-game.
The trio of guards in A.J Mayle, Jordan Selders and Cody Triplett combined to knock down 108 threes for the year while preventing opponents to sagging on Martinez.
In a single-A field that is up-for-grabs, 2011 could be the year that Trinity wins their first state title in their brief history.