Allen Osborne’s return to the bench was an unqualified success at Poca, as the Dots went 19-7 last season and advanced to the Class AA state tournament.
Now, despite heavy losses, they hope to prepare for an encore. That’s due in large part to the buzz created by Isaac McKneely, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard who’s already receiving Division I attention.
McKneely led the Dots in scoring last season as a mere freshman at 17.1 points per game and Poca became one of three Kanawha Valley teams to qualify for the big show at the Charleston Coliseum — the others were Capital and George Washington in Class AAA.
He might be the lone returning starter, but the Dots are still expected to flash a lot of talent besides McKneely. Nate Vance, a 6-6 senior who averaged 9 points last season at Winfield, is on the front line along with 6-2 junior transfer Noah Rittinger, who scored 12 points in Poca’s opening win against Nitro on Tuesday.
Brothers Ethan Payne and Toby Payne, integral parts of Poca’s football team that went 11-1 and reached the playoff quarterfinals, are also out for basketball after not playing last season. Ethan Payne, who averaged 10 points as a freshman two seasons ago, sat out last year as he recovered from a hip injury suffered in football. He tallied 15 points with seven rebounds in the opener.
Also playing key roles will be returning guard Preston Barr, who reached double figures in points four times last season, Jackson Toney, the leading scorer on last season’s junior varsity squad, and Jacob Blizzard, a senior out for the first time.
“We’re trying to get all the pieces together,’’ Osborne said. “Basically, it’s a new team. Isaac’s obviously a good player and we’ve got a lot of depth and we’ve got good size. We’re pretty excited about the season.’’
Poca plays defending Class AAA champion University at the Morgantown Classic on Friday.
n Capital was an interesting team in 2018-19, since for much of the season the balanced Cougars didn’t have even one double-figure scorer on the squad. The highest scorer on the team ended up at 10.3 ppg as Capital routinely shuttled 10 to 12 players into the lineup.
Well, coach Matt Greene will have to keep the turnstiles spinning this season, since football players Kerion Martin and K.J. Taylor, two of just three underclassmen with regular roles last season, are not out for basketball. Martin suffered a shoulder injury toward the end of football season and needed time to rehab before he enrolls at Marshall, where he plans to sign for football.
Capital lost nine seniors off last year’s 21-6 team that reached the state tournament semifinals, meaning 6-1 senior guard Karrington Hill (9.8 ppg) is the lone returning player with any amount of experience. Greene said Hill will take the role of team leader, but expects heavy contributions from players such as 6-4 junior Daimarquis Brooks, out for the first time.
“This year, it will be by committee a little bit,’’ Greene said. “It’ll be really different. We’ve got Karrington, but we’ve got a lot of guys who can complement what he does very well. We’ll definitely be a lot younger and a lot smaller. Three-quarters of the program will be freshmen and sophomores. But saying that, I like the nucleus that we have. Me and the coaches have talked that we’re on ground zero right now as far as program building terminology, with so many new people we’ll be depending on.’’
Others in line for lots of playing time include senior guard Ekia Wicker, sophomore guard Garrett Stuck and freshman guard De’Mahjae Clark.
n George Washington went 20-6 last year, losing in the opening round of the state tournament to Cabell Midland 64-62 in an epic overtime battle. The Patriots lose All-State guard Bunky Brown (26.4 ppg), but return most almost everyone else from their 10-man rotation.
The top returning scorer is 6-3 junior Mason Pinkett, who averaged 15.1 points in nine games before being sidelined for good by a knee injury. Others back with experience include 5-11 senior guard Gus Eddy (8.1), 6-5 senior Evan Hughes (6.8), 6-3 junior William Gabbert (6.3), 6-2 sophomore Taran Fitzpatrick (5.2), seniors Trey Ritchie and Jack Ingold, junior Alex Yoakum and sophomore Zane McCarty. Junior John Goetz moves up from junior varsity.
“I really think we can have that [balance],’’ said GW coach Rick Greene. “The way we play most of the time, we share the ball pretty well and that lends itself to more balance anyway. Different kids can shoot and it’s going to be whoever’s hot then, or matchups, or whatever. Right now kids are sharing the ball and being very unselfish, and we’d like that to continue.’’
Quick rundowns of the Kanawha Valley’s other teams, with last season’s records in parentheses:
Buffalo (8-15): The Bison were set up nicely for a bounce-back season with all four of their leading scorers returning, then senior guard Nathan Gibson — last year’s top scorer (13.0) and 3-point shooter (62 goals) — was lost for the season with a knee injury. Returning for coach Adam Scott are Alec Hanshaw (11.6 ppg), Noah Thompson (11.1), Jackson England (9.0) and David Whittington (4.0).
Charleston Catholic (14-11): Optimism abounds under first-year coach Hunter Moles with the return of key players such as 6-5 junior Aiden Satterfield (12.5) and 6-1 junior Zion Suddeth (10.9). Baseball standouts Marshall Pile (6-3 senior) and Thomas Blaydes (6-0 senior) are back on the court after not playing basketball last winter. Other contributors will be 6-2 senior Garrett Ware, 6-4 senior Marc Spiegel, 5-11 sophomore Ferris Murad and 5-8 junior Anthony Minardi.
Herbert Hoover (13-10): Josh Stricker takes over as coach and three of last season’s top four scorers are back in seniors Grant Bonner (13.1, 45 3-pointers) and Josh Swecker (9.3, 47 3s) and 6-4 junior Trey Chapman (8.8 points). Other contributors are expected to be senior Maven Mullins, juniors Christian Buckley, Frank Early, Dalton Roush and Jack Copenhaver and freshman Eli Robertson.
Hurricane (17-6): Coach Lance Sutherland said the Redskins “will be very young’’ outside of veteran point guard Austin Dearing (16.3) and forward Austin Womack (9.3). Curtis Cooley is the only other senior on the roster. A pair of African players, 7-foot-2 Bol Kuir and 6-10 Gabriel Beny, competed with the Skins during the summer practice period but were never ruled eligible to play varsity ball. They are now attending South Charleston but not playing.
Nitro (16-9): Wildcats coach Austin Lowe has some rebuilding to do following the loss of eight seniors, including all five starters. A pair of sophomores brings the team’s most experience — Kolton Painter (6.1 ppg) and Trevor Lowe. Painter scored 20 points and Lowe 14 in Tuesday’s opener, accounting for all but three of the team’s points. Cam Foster is the lone senior listed on the roster and sophomore Trey Hall transfers in from Winfield.
Riverside (2-20): Taylor Woods takes over as Warriors coach, and he’s greeted by the return of 6-0 senior Javante’ Elzy (15.9) and 6-4 Jeremiah Mason. Quinten DeMello, a 6-0 senior, transfers in from recently-shuttered Valley, where he averaged 11.3 points last season. Alec Hess, a 6-2 senior center, also has varsity experience.
Sissonville (4-18): Some experience returns for first-year coach Ben Pannell, including 6-4, 250-pound senior center Brody Danberry, who averaged 10.1 points last season. Others who saw varying degrees of playing time last season are junior guards Dylan Griffith and Wyatt Ervin and sophomore wing Dylan Lucas. Junior Elijah Thompson and Ripley transfer Jameson Shaffer will also contribute.
South Charleston (7-14): Josh Daniel returns to his alma mater as coach and tries to turn around last year’s rare losing record for the Black Eagles. Senior guard Quaysean Sutton averaged 17.5 points in 10 games last season with 24 3-pointers. He is being counted upon for scoring, along with 6-6 senior Shaiqwan Brown, senior guards Harold Pannell and Bradley Jones and 6-7 junior D.J. Johnson. Coming off the bench will be sophomore Darius Dawson and freshman Bryson Smith.
St. Albans (10-13): Coach Bryan England returns nearly his entire roster, including 5-9 senior Rodney Toler (15.7 points, 59 3-pointers) and 6-3 junior Jaimelle Claytor (12.2). Others back are Ethan Clay (9.0), Bones Johnson (7.5), NuNu Claytor and Braxton Good. Drew Reed (6-3 sophomore), Cooper Lane-Sturgill (6-2 freshman) and sophomore Jamison McDaniels will also play.
Winfield (11-13): The Generals welcome back senior Christian Frye (11.4), but lost two regulars to transfer and two others opted not to play basketball this season. Other starters are expected to be 6-5 senior Donovan Craft, junior point guard Ethan Kincaid, senior Hunter Morris and junior Blake Morris. Sophomore Daven Wall should get appreciable minutes.