The coronavirus pandemic has shut down a lot of AAU basketball events this summer, meaning a player like Poca’s Isaac McKneely hasn’t been crisscrossing the region attending tournaments, camps, showcases and the like.
However, that means McKneely has been able to spend more time with his Poca teammates during the Secondary School Activities Commission’s extended summer workout sessions. And that’s OK with Dots coach Allen Osborne, who has watched McKneely get “bigger, stronger and more athletic’’ in the last few months.
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound McKneely has already fielded 17 scholarship offers from Division I programs as he prepares to enter his junior season, 10 of those coming from Power Five conference schools. West Virginia and Marshall are among those offering McKneely, who averaged 22 points, four rebounds and three assists last winter.
“He’s been getting some big-time offers,’’ Osborne said, “and if there’s a better player in the state, I need to see him. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and more athletic, and I’ve talked to a lot of [college] coaches about Isaac. Kentucky called last week. He’s really worked hard and has continued to develop. I’m pleased with him.’’
McKneely isn’t the only Poca guard receiving attention from college recruiters. Noah Rittinger, a 6-3, 170-pound senior, has been offered by Idaho and Marshall, and Wofford has also shown interest. Rittinger averaged 11.5 points, three rebounds and four assists last season. Like McKneely, his assist-to-turnover ratio is solid at 2.68 (99 to 37); McKneely’s is 2.50 (75 to 30).
Osborne senses some frustration from college coaches who’d like to kick the tires on McKneely and Rittinger, but can’t watch them play this summer because of COVID-19 concerns. The only visibility has come when McKneely attended a pair of national adidas circuit events with his Wildcats Select AAU teammates, first in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh in June, and then in Cleveland earlier this month.
The tryout-type formats for select players allowed them to run drills and then they’re divided onto teams and played games. Those events were livestreamed, allowing college coaches to take a look and make some determinations.
As for the rest of his Dots players, Osborne is pleased with what he’s seen as his team nears the end of its annual three-week summer practice period. Due to the pandemic, schools aren’t allowed to work out against other teams, as has been the case in past years.
“It’s hard to practice when you don’t play games,’’ Osborne said, “but the individual improvement and team improvement have been amazing. They’ve worked really yard, and it’s been good for us. We’ve had some great turnouts — 18 to 20 kids a day — and we’re pleased and thankful to do it. A lot of states have shut down and they don’t let them do anything.’’
Last season, Poca was 21-3 and ranked No. 6 in its class when the season was suspended on the night the Class AA regionals were scheduled. They were never resumed. The Dots’ lone losses came to a pair of defending state champions — University (AAA) and Chapmanville (AA) — along with a 55-53, two-overtime setback to Logan, the team Poca was scheduled to host in the regionals.
Have no fearSpend some time watching the Schmidt brothers play at Cabell Midland and you come to the same conclusion about both of them — they compete with a certain flair. Some might call it toughness, others cockiness. But one thing’s for certain — they never back down.
Perhaps that’s why Chandler Schmidt, entering his junior season, is already becoming one of the state’s most-decorated players. Last season, he averaged a team-best 17.8 points, led the Knights into the Class AAA state tournament for a second straight season and was selected to the All-State first team. Younger brother Dominic Schmidt, also a guard, averaged 11.8 points in his freshman season and displayed unlimited shooting range.
Cristina Schmidt, their mother and also a Cabell Midland assistant coach to J.J. Martin, said she instilled that chip-on-the-shoulder playing style to her sons at an early age.
“One thing I’ve always said to them as players,’’ Cristina Schmidt said, “is to not ever show any kind of fear. I’ve said that to all our players this year. Don’t ever let anybody see you play timid. When [opponents] see that, they know how they can play against you. I want my boys playing tough and I’ve told them, ‘Don’t ever feel like somebody’s better than you.’ Go at it hard, go at it strong.’’
That attitude has worked so far for her sons, who helped the Knights go 21-4 this past season and earn the No. 4 seed for the state tournament, which was shut down by COVID-19. Cristina Schmidt, who also serves as one of the trainers for her sons, has an extensive coaching background, including a stint as the head women’s coach at Calumet College in Indiana.
Cristina Schmidt realizes there occasionally can be limits for her sons’ strong-willed style.
“Sometimes, it gets a little too much,’’ she said, “and I’ll have to go [tone it down]. But I love the way they come out with good confidence. People say to me sometimes, ‘Don’t you think they’re too cocky?’ I think it’s confidence, and sometimes I feel like you can’t give that to kids. They have it enough to know they can play the game.
“I think we instilled that into our team this year, and it came out pretty good.’’
Dragons’ differencesThe landscape keeps changing for St. Albans in boys basketball. Fresh off their first state tournament spot since 2004, the Red Dragons now face an entirely different path if they want to repeat their success.
When the SSAC adopted a two-year pilot program that divides boys and girls basketball into four classes instead of three, SA went from competing against Region 3 rivals such as Capital, George Washington and South Charleston to a whole new lineup of potential postseason opponents.
Now lodged in Region 4 Section 1, St. Albans has Hurricane, Parkersburg and Parkersburg South as sectional foes, and the opposing Section 2 sports Cabell Midland, Huntington and Spring Valley.
“It’s going to be much different for us now,’’ said Bryan England, SA’s coach. “It’s still tough, but it’s a complete change. Cabell Midland’s loaded, Huntington always has athletes and Spring Valley always plays hard. On our side, Lance [Sutherland] always does a great job with what he has at Hurricane, coach [Mike] Fallon is back at Parkersburg South and Parkersburg is one of the biggest schools in the state. It’s going to be a dogfight.
“We’ve beefed up the schedule a little bit to try and make us ready for the postseason. We’re going to Musselman to play in a tournament and we’ve added Parkersburg South in the regular season.’’
St. Albans was set to take on defending AAA champ University last March before the state tournament was shut down.