In a season that’s already provided plenty of surprises in Kanawha Valley boys basketball, including the suspension of the state tournament, there’s one more coming.
For the first time since the Gazette-Mail started selecting All-Valley teams in 1982, two athletes share Player of the Year honors — and they’re both underclassmen.
George Washington 6-foot-1 junior guard Mason Pinkett and Poca 6-3 sophomore guard Isaac McKneely split the distinction as they headline the five-player All-Kanawha Valley boys basketball first team. Other first-team picks include 6-2 senior Austin Dearing (Hurricane), 6-51/2 junior Aiden Satterfield (Charleston Catholic) and 5-10 senior Quaysean Sutton (South Charleston).
The remaining All-Valley honors went to St. Albans’ Bryan England (coach of the year) and Ethan Clay (defensive player of the year) and Capital’s De’Mahjae Clark (rookie of the year).
Pinkett and McKneely each rose to fame as the Gazette-Mail rookie of the year in their freshman seasons (Pinkett in 2018, McKneely in 2019), but the super-smooth Pinkett had to recover from a largely lost sophomore season in which he missed 17 games with a knee injury. He rebounded nicely this season, leading the Patriots in scoring (17.3 points per game), assists (69), 3-pointers (52) and minutes played. He also shot 42 percent on 3-pointers.
GW coach Rick Greene marvels at the consistency of Pinkett, who has led the Patriots to a 19-5 record, including 12 straight wins, a No. 4 ranking in the final Class AAA state poll and a berth in the state tournament as the No. 3 seed.
“He’s a guy we can lean on,’’ Greene said. “We have other kids who have scored in the 20s before, but he’s consistent. We know what we’re going to get from him — anywhere from 17 to 19 points and he’s going to have a good floor game. Also, we know that he could maybe have eight points, but when the game comes down to the line and we need to make a shot, we feel comfortable with him taking it.
“He has the ability to let the game come to him. If other guys are scoring, he’s OK, but if we need a bucket, he has the ability and temperament to step up and become a little bit more aggressive offensively. He has a great feel of the game going on out there.’’
Pinkett bailed out the Patriots in two games this season against rival South Charleston. He hit a pair of free throws with less than a second remaining to give GW a 61-60 victory against SC early in the regular season, then pulled off an instant replay in the sectional semifinals. Pinkett’s two foul shots with 4.6 seconds left handed the Patriots a 75-74 nail-biter win over the Black Eagles.
“You’ve got to prove certain things,’’ Greene said, “and the thing he proved to everybody is that he’s great under pressure. He’s not scared to take that shot. You see a lot of guys on anybody’s team who are OK shooting the ball the first 30 minutes of the game, but those last two minutes, all of a sudden they want to start setting screens. He’s not like that. He’s not flinching at all, and that’s rare.’’
McKneely has already carved out an accomplished career with the Dots and has yet to complete his sophomore season, standing less than 30 points away from 1,000.
He led Poca in scoring as a freshman (17.1) as his team went 19-7 and reached the Class AA state tournament. This season, McKneely and the Dots have elevated their game, going 21-3, earning the No. 6 ranking in the state poll and are scheduled to host Logan in a Region 4 co-final.
McKneely tops the Dots in scoring (22.0), steals, deflections and also averages four rebounds and three assists. He’s incredibly efficient, shooting 51 percent from the floor overall, 44 percent on 3-pointers and 80 percent at the foul line. His assist to turnover ratio is a robust 2.5.
“Isaac has really grown up,’’ said Poca coach Allen Osborne, who pointed to McKneely’s contributions in his team’s 41-39 triple-overtime victory against Winfield in the sectional finals.
“That game, he makes a huge block, gets a big 3 late and has a great assist [on the winning basket]. He’s really making plays and stepping up at critical times. It’s rare for a sophomore to do that.’’
Osborne, who’s been coaching at Poca 40 seasons, said McKneely has all the physical tools and the right mindset to succeed in the sport.
“He’s in here at 6:30 in the morning shooting and working,’’ Osborne said. “He’s got a great work ethic. He’s a special player now, but he’s going to be even more special. The next two years will be exciting for him. I enjoy watching him get better every day.”
Here are capsule looks at the other first-team All-Valley players, along with the rest of the award winners:
Dearing: The rebuilding Redskins centered their offense around him this season, and he consistently delivered, averaging team highs of 22.7 points and 8.0 rebounds. He scored at least 14 points in every game except one when he injured his thumb in the opening minute and sat out the rest of the way. Seventeen times, he had 20 or more points in a game and five times he scored 30 or more points. Dearing also led the team in 3-pointers (54) and steals (32) and shot a team-best 70 percent on free throws.
Satterfield: He’s grown 3 inches since his sophomore season, but has maintained his quickness and athleticism, making him a hard guard at any level, especially in Class A. He tops the Irish in scoring (19.1), shooting 51 percent from the floor and 74 percent at the foul line, while also averaging 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals with 31 3-pointers and 23 slam dunks. Has saved some of his top games for the toughest opponents, including 33 points in a win at Wheeling Central and 19 points and 10 rebounds in a home victory against AAA contender Cabell Midland.
Sutton: His electric quickness and deep 3-point shooting range combined to make him one of the top players in the Kanawha Valley. He averaged 21.2 points per game, five rebounds, five assists and two steals, hitting 52 goals from 3-point range and shooting 71 percent on free throws. Sutton scored at least 12 points in every game he played, with high outings of 33 points against George Washington and 30 against Cabell Midland. He had a knack for drawing fouls at the right time, averaging almost eight free throw attempts per game.
Coach of the yearThe coronavirus that short-circuited the state’s postseason basketball tournaments wasn’t the only surprising element to this season. The resurgence of St. Albans was another eye-opener.
Under England, their third-year coach, the Red Dragons have gone 17-8 and qualified for the Class AAA state tournament for the first time since the 2003-04 season, when Tex Williams was the coach and his son, Adam Williams, was a senior and the team’s leading scorer. SA this season posted its first winning record in 10 years and just its second since that 2003-04 season.
England instituted a defense-first attitude that caught on with his players, and they have allowed an average of just 48.4 points per game this season, holding 14 of 25 opponents under 50 points.
Along the way, St. Albans picked up some landmark wins, especially in the postseason. A sectional semifinal victory at Capital ended a 10-game losing streak against the Cougars that spanned more than eight years and a Region 3 co-finals win at Woodrow Wilson that halted a 17-game losing streak to the Flying Eagles. SA’s previous win versus Woodrow came on Dec. 17, 2002.
In earning the honor, England edged out George Washington’s Rick Greene, Poca’s Osborne and Charleston Catholic’s Hunter Moles. Greene and Moles led their teams to state tournament berths and Osborne’s Dots are in the regional co-finals.
Defensive player of the yearClay, a 5-11 senior, was the embodiment of St. Albans’ defensive-minded approach, drawing the assignment to watch the opponent’s top player. He led the Red Dragons in steals (60) and deflections (41). He was no slouch on offense, either, averaging 12 points and 5.9 rebounds and tied for the team lead with 58 assists.
“He guards everybody’s best player,’’ England said, “and does so much for our team on the defensive end. He’s the best defender in our conference in my opinion and also does so much other stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.’’
Rookie of the yearA 5-7 freshman, Clark was installed as Capital’s starting point guard right at the outset of the season as Cougars coach Matt Greene set out to replace 10 of his top 11 scorers from the previous season.
Clark didn’t disappoint, averaging 9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.3 rebounds while leading the team in steals and deflections and finishing second in minutes played. He scored in double figures 11 times, with a high of 16 against South Charleston.