Now that football state champions have been crowned, fall sports are officially over and basketball season is upon us. It is time to take a look at the statewide hoops landscape, starting with Class AAA.
I’m going to do the previews a little different this year. Instead of starting with favorites to win it all and working from there, I am going to go region by region.
First, a few overall notes about AAA:
-With the new reclassification kicking in this season, AAA is much, much smaller that it has been in the past with just 29 schools. This hurts the overall strength of AAA a little. Also, the regions are much smaller, with three sections containing just three teams.
-I think AAA will be down a little bit from previous seasons. The classification has lost quite a few really good players in recent years, many of which are playing basketball in college. Some of these teams will be young with good players coming up. We’ll see how quickly those guys can make a difference.
-Just a reminder that I do not always know who has transferred schools, which players might have decided not to play this season, who may be injured, and other factors that might affect the overall landscape. I just do my best.
Section 1: Brooke, John Marshall, Wheeling Park
Section 2: Buckhannon-Upshur, Morgantown, Preston, University
University returns the most of any team in this region, led by Geoff Hamperian and Ethan Ridgeway. The Hawks look to be in great position to make it back to state tournament for the first time since 1994 and potentially make some noise in Charleston.
Beyond University, it’s hard to tell exactly how this region will take shape. Defending champion Morgantown lost a ton from last year’s team. They return one starter in Nicky Solomon and 6th man Torin Hanson. I don’t know a whole lot about their younger guys, but I suspect they will be back in the mix.
Wheeling Park was also hit pretty hard with graduation. Perhaps the door will be a little more open than usual for the other four teams to make it to the state tournament.
Section 1: Hedgesville, Martinsburg, Musselman, Spring Mills
Section 2: Hampshire, Jefferson, Washington
Musselman is coming off consecutive trips to the state tournament and returns a lot from last year’s squad, including PG Cameron Stephens and big man Jake Stephens. The Appleman should have a chance this year to advance to the semifinals for the first time in AAA.
Martinsburg lost a little more to graduation than Musselman did, but I still expect the Bulldogs to be in the mix, led by outstanding PG Jessiya Villa. Devonte Redman is another strong returner that I look to have an expanded scoring role this season.
Beyond those two teams, I don’t know as much about the other schools in the region. The Eastern Panhandle is always loaded with talent, so I won’t be surprised if there is another team or two that emerges as a contender to win this region and/or advance to the state tournament.
Section 1: Capital, George Washington, South Charleston, St. Albans
Section 2: Greenbrier East, Princeton, Riverside, Woodrow Wilson
To me, Woodrow Wilson is the preseason favorite to win the state title. They lost only one starter from last year’s semifinalist in Nequan Carrington, but Breland Walton was really good off the bench for Beckley last year, and I expect him to slide seamlessly into that spot. Isaiah Francis was great for Woodrow last year, and I think Courtney Walton is primed to have a huge season. They also had some good young kids last year that should be ready to contribute more this year, and I was told by several different people that they had a great group in middle school last year, though I’m not sure if any will be ready to contribute as freshmen. The biggest drawback for Woodrow is that Ty Walton is out with a knee injury, probably for the whole year. If they can somehow get him back on the court late in the season, he could give them a huge postseason lift.
If Woodrow isn’t the favorite, then Capital probably is. Leondre Rogers is one of the best players in the state. Anthony Pittman, still just a junior, is freakishly athletic and just kept getting better and better last season. I think he has the chance to be one of this season’s breakout stars. I also look for sophomore Kerry Martin to shine in an expanded role this season.
George Washington will also be good, led by standout junior PG Justin Phillips. The Patriots are always well-coached, and I think they will be a really tough out come postseason time.
South Charleston is beginning life after Brandon Knapper. Tamon Scruggs is a top returner for the Black Eagles, and who I expect to be a pretty good team by season’s end.
St. Albans should be pretty good, but the path is now harder for the Red Dragons in the section with the Charleston schools.
Greenbrier East has some good kids back, and I think they will have the best chance at pushing Woodrow for the sectional championship.
Section 1: Parkersburg, Parkersburg South, Ripley
Section 2: Cabell Midland, Huntington, Hurricane, Spring Valley
There will be lots of new faces on the floor in this region. Huntington lost four of its five starters to graduation, but the one returner (Mikal Dawson) is really good. The Highlanders will also get a big lift from John Dawson transferring back from St. Joseph. It remains to be seen whether the Highlanders will be good enough to compete for a state championship, but they will be good.
Parkersburg South also lost most of its contributors from a year ago, but I’ve been told by many that they have a great young group coming. They might be a year or two away from competing for a title, but I know they will still fly up and down the court this year and have a bunch of guys that can shoot.
Parkersburg had a bunch of solid players last year, and many of them return. I’m looking forward to seeing how much Brenton Strange has developed heading into his sophomore season. He has a shot to be really good.
Hurricane will be in the mix again this season. Nick Muto and Braxton Dobert are two leading returners that will look to lead Hurricane to its fifth consecutive state tournament appearance.
Ripley would have been one of the overwhelming favorites to advance to the state tournament from this region before Chase Johnson opted to transfer to Huntington Prep. I think they will still be pretty good and Jamison Hunt will be a really good player for them, but the Vikings just won’t be the same without Johnson.