Wheeling Park unveils new-look roster for 2021 season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 51 weeks after defeating Morgantown in the Class AAA Region 1 co-final, the Wheeling Park boys basketball team will be back on the court to open up a shortened 2021 season at Parkersburg South on March 6. Veteran head coach Michael Jebbia will begin to put the pieces together for the Patriots when preseason practice opens on February 15.

“I have been able to talk with them and text with them some,” Jebbia said. “But it has been difficult. You are so used to routine, practice and game prep. It has been a difficult time. I am not minimizing what is going on. Decisions have to be made. I think this is the most confident we have felt as coaches with the February 15th start date. If we can get back to school in-person and it goes well, I feel like we will be okay.”

Like many coaches around the state, Jebbia has compiled a ‘Version 3.0′ of the Patriots’ schedule. Although teams can schedule and play up to 18 regular season games in a six-week window, most schools are aiming for 12-18 games.

“I usually enjoy doing the schedule. But I can tell you trying to hammer out the freshman schedule today has been really tough to do. Right now, we are at 15 games and I think that is right around where everyone is.”

While Wheeling Park and all West Virginia basketball programs have been shut down, maybe of the Patriots’ traditional rivals from eastern Ohio have been underway with their seasons for almost two months. Per MaxPreps, West Virginia is one of just five states east of the Mississippi River that haven’t begun their high school basketball seasons.

“We play St. Clairsville and Steubenville in Ohio and they are right across the river playing right now. So they see that on social media and on the news. So that has made it a little more tough on our kids.”

Wheeling Park went 19-7 last winter and they earned the No. 6 seed in the Class AAA state tournament before the pandemic canceled the remainder of the season. Park must replace last year’s leading scorer Alex Vargo, who has earned major minutes in his freshman season at Youngstown State.

“We are going to be a little bit quicker with D.J. Saunders (7.9 points per game) back at point guard. And we have Beau Heller and Shaheed Jackson, who had all-state type football seasons, they are very good athletes. We have a very good senior group of six or seven kids. We are not going to be as tall or maybe as explosive on offense but I think we will be quicker. We’ll try to press more.”

Jebbia has compiled a 233-113 in 14 seasons leading his alma mater. He remains Park’s all-time leading scorer with 1,651 points. Jebbia went on to score 2,067 at West Liberty. Now 41 years old, Jebbia says he still tries to jump into practice drills with the team, with varying levels of success.

“Sometimes when we are doing a close-out drill, they won’t know I am going to do something, the last guy will close out and I will try to go around them and score. The kids go nuts and stuff. But sometimes I will get my shot blocked.

“Two years ago, when we were walking through on game day against Parkersburg South, I hopped in there and I threw my back out. It ends at some point.”

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