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With start date set, Poca returns loaded roster with Division I athletes

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –The wait continues for every high school basketball team in West Virginia to take the floor following Governor Jim Justice’s three-month shutdown of extracurricular activities. Justice announced Monday that March 3 will be the date that teams like the Poca Dots can finally return to play.

For the Dots and their veteran head coach Allen Osborne, the waiting is the hardest part.

“They’re hurting right now, I am not going to lie to you,” Osborne said. “They’re very disappointed and struggling. We have given them home workouts to do and they have been doing their own skill development stuff on their own. They’ve been going to private gyms and working out and they are doing the best they can.

“A lot of people downplay the role of sports. I am old-school. I see academics and athletics going hand-in-hand. There’s things you learn as an athlete and participating in extracurricular activities, you can’t always get in the classroom.”

Like most coaches, Osborne would prefer to have his players practicing under the supervision of his coaching staff. As of now however, no official team activities will be allowed until February 14.

“They are getting together as a team and are going to play pickup games in private gyms. These kids are playing. In this area, we’ve got kids going all over the place and playing. I talked to another coach in the Fairmont/Morgantown area and he has told me some of his kids are going to Pittsburgh and playing.

“We could have them in our gyms under our supervision going through the safety protocols and make sure they are safe and doing things the right way.”

Poca’s Allen Osborne (Photo by Chuck Roberts)

When the 2021 season eventually does begin, teams will have just 16 days to get the minimum required 14 practices in. Osborne says early in the season, managing minutes could be part of the game plan.

“We have to get them in the best shape we possibly can. And then I foresee that we will have to rest them during games. And we’ll have to develop a deeper bench and get a rotation so when they do get tired, we can get them in and out of games.”

Poca finished 21-3 last season and they were set to host Logan in the Class AA regional round prior to the pandemic closing down sports for the remainder of the academic year. Five of Osborne’s top seven players return. Isaac McKneely is the state’s most heavily-recruited player. Noah Rittinger has received Division I interest. Ethan Payne has signed with the Marshall football program and his younger brother Toby has eight Division I football offers.

“We’ve got four really good athletes. We think we have a good bench where we can go eight or nine deep. We’re pretty excited about the season. We just want to get it started. I think we can make a run. But we have to be good and we have to be lucky.”

McKneely averaged 22 points a game in his sophomore season. He has released a ‘Top 8 list’ in his recruitment with some of the biggest programs in the nation: Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Purdue, Virginia and West Virginia.

“Isaac went from 6-foot-2, 150 pounds last year to 6-4, 185 right now. So his body is developing. He has gotten bigger, stronger and quicker. Most of the time he is working on his skill development. He is working out at home and in the gyms. He is dedicated and wants to be a great player. His goal is to go somewhere and play immediately.

“The good thing is, we have him for two more years. But he is a great kid. He’s a 4.0 student and is focused and humble.”

Osborne has guided several Dots to Division I basketball programs, including Luke Frampton at Western Kentucky and Elijah Cuffee at Liberty. McKneely appears to be generating the most buzz amongst top-level programs.

“He is definitely the most-recruited kid I have had since I have been here. We’re had seven or eight Division I kids. He had about 25 offers and narrowed his list down to eight. Before his senior year, I think he’ll make a commitment. That is the plan right now.”

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