— By Taylor Kennedy
FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Defending Mountain East Conference Tournament champion Fairmont State is less than five months away from beginning its season.
“You roll with the punches,” third-year coach Tim Koenig said of what the offseason has looked like. “You have a general idea of your plan and approach, but every year is different because every team and league is different.
“This year is a little bit of pre and post COVID. More zoom and video team meetings compared to pre-COVID. We FaceTime with our overseas guys, but domestically we do everything in person.”
The offseason has been filled with a mixture of new faces, development and departures for Koenig.
Guard Dale Bonner, the Falcons’ leading scorer the last two seasons, announced in March he was entering the transfer portal. Bonner then caught many by surprise when he pledged his commitment to Division I defending national champion Baylor on May 4.
“We are extremely happy for Dale,” Koenig said. “It is great for him and our program. We are grateful for his time. That is something we had to address.”
The Falcons added seven players in this year’s recruiting class, including two of the top high school players in West Virginia last season — Fairmont Senior’s Jaelin Johnson and George Washington’s Alex Yoakum.
“They win,” said Koenig, the 2019 MEC Coach of the Year while at Notre Dame College. “We like that. Normally guys that win don’t care about statistics. You look at their stats and they are pretty darn good. They are winners. Sprinting the floor, high-fiving your teammates, chest-bumping guys, talking to guys, listening to coaches in the huddle, scrapping and crawling at loose balls.
“And by the way, Jaelin is a 4.2 student and Alex is a 3.7 student. How do you not want to get those guys?”
Johnson recorded 1,261 career points with the Polar Bears, which ranks fifth in school history. He was first-team all-state each of the last two seasons.
Johnson finished his prep career averaging 23 points, nine rebounds, and two steals his senior season. Fellow Fairmont Senior alums Trey Washenitz and Zyon Dobbs are on the Falcons, allowing Johnson to play with both again.
“From a physical standout point, I don’t know where he fits in position wise,” Koenig said. “I know he looked good in front of that press of ours. He is versatile. Some coaches see that and shy away. We don’t know where he fits in, but we think he is a basketball player.”
Yoakum went from being all-state honorable mention his junior year to earning first-team Class AAAA all-state honors. He led the Patriots in scoring, tallying 20.2 points per contest, which nearly doubled his 10.6 average as a junior.
Yoakum helped GW claim its second state championship over the last four seasons.
“We don’t know if he is a point or an off-the-ball guard,” said Koenig. “Time will figure that out. Go be a winner, and help your teammates win any way you can.”
Koenig and his staff are also welcoming two transfers, two other players from the high school ranks and one from Stockholm, Sweden.
“It is the most time we have had,” Koenig said when asked if this is his top recruiting class at FSU. “I don’t want to put a label on it. It could be. You are always hoping for that. You are hoping your next will be your best.”
Last season, nine Falcons earned MEC Honor Roll honors, including two making the MEC All-Academic Team (3.7-4.0 GPA).
Koenig’s FSU teams have averaged a 3.0 GPA or higher in each of his first two seasons.
“It is all a part of the puzzle,” Koenig said. “We want balance. Balance in our approach and daily lives. We want to get better. It may sound oversimplified. We feel like you get a little better spiritually, academically, basketball and your family. The guys are around each other and it is a family. Your immediate family then your basketball family — don’t streak from that.
“We want them to have a social life. We are not naive. If social life creeps up to the top, then we have a problem. That is how we approach it. I grade myself on that.”
Fairmont State returns 10 players from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, including second-leading scorer Isaiah Sanders.