NTL BOYS' BASKETBALL: WYALUSING LOOKING TO RECAPTURE LAST YEAR'S MAGIC
(2021-01-10)BY CHRIS MANNINGNorthern Tier Sports Report
The stars aligned for the Wyalusing boys’ basketball team a season ago.
They started the season 11-1 as they embraced a team concept where everybody had a defined role and they fulfilled that to the best of their ability.
While they came up short of a division title they did reach the District IV, Class AA title game, falling to Bloomsburg 60-41.
Last year’s success, where the sum of their parts was greater than the whole, really opened the players’ eyes to what they can achieve.
“We focused on each other and played as a team as much as I’ve ever seen in any sport,” Hunter Moss remarked. “I’ve never been on a better team than I was last year. We were all just focused in. If anybody scores we’ll take it, we don’t care who scores.”
They hope things can be similar this season as they return most of their key players, will bring a few up from JV and saw Kashawn Cameron come back after taking a season off.
“We’ve got a lot more guys than we’ve had in the past,” said coach Brent Keyes. “But gelling them together is going to be harder from a coaching perspective.”
Easier said than done as they essentially have one week of practice before the season starts later this week.
They return their top two scorers in guard Grady Cobb (13.7 point’s per game) and center/forward Mitchell Burke (11 points per game). Burke also led the team in rebounds at 7.5 per game and second in assists with 2.6 a game.
He was just as versatile at the other end, guarding everybody from Canton’s Ben Knapp to Athens’ Aaron Lane.
“It’s definitely a luxury to have them back,” Keyes said about his returners. “Mitchell, this will be his third year starting varsity, Grady, it’s his second year starting varsity, but he’s played a ton of basketball. Both of these guys have worked really hard at basketball and are great basketball players.”
Burke is seen as one of the top leaders around the league and, despite last year’s success, he feels they could have done better.
“The district final game was not what we wanted,” he said. “So it motivates us to get better this year and we know there’s a lot of room to improve. Last year we did go 0-4 against Athens and Troy so we would like to get back at them.”
Burke’s ability to play above his 6-foot, 2-inch height allows Wyalusing to have versatile line-ups.
“They definitely do have height on me but you just have to play hard, play aggressive and outwork them,” he said about facing bigger players.
Cobb was one of last year’s surprises as he showed the ability to move without the basketball to get open looks all over the court.
“I’m trying to do the same things,” Said Cobb. “It all comes down to teamwork. If my teammates are not getting me the ball when I’m having a good night, or I’m not getting it to whoever’s having a good night - it’s all about the team.”
Role players Abram Bennett and Moss also return while Keyes expects senior Lucas Milne to step up as well.
“I was basically the sixth man last year,” said Moss, who, one some nights, was the lone sub for the Rams.
How well these players fill their roles will likely determine if Wyalusing recaptures their magic from a year ago.
“Coach tells us to come in, be great teammates, coachable and work as hard as we can,” said Milne. “Hopefully, we can achieve our goals.”
New players Keyes will look to integrate are Nolan Oswald, Blake Morningstar, Anthony Rohan and Cameron.
“All these guys could grow into their roles and we could do something special,” remarked Milne.
Their biggest losses are forward Matt Brown (10.1 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game) and point guard Shane Fuhrey (4.9 points per game, 2.9 assists per game).
Whose going to replace Fuhrey is the biggest question as the Rams get ready for the season.
“We’ve got to find someone who can consistently handle the ball for us,” explained Keyes. “Shane handled the ball for us predominantly throughout the last two years, and he played a lot of minutes both years. He wasn’t our most prolific scorer but very reliable with the ball, very reliable on defense, and we could just really count on him to distribute.”
While Wyalusing has players who can handle and defend opposing point guards it comes down to filling Fuhrey’s role and doing the things he did.
“We have some really talented guys that can come in and do that, but how are they going to fit?” said Keyes. “Are they going to be pass first? We just don’t know that, so we’re going to have to gel them together.”
Right now, though, it’s about overcoming an uneven pre-season. They’ve been stopped twice due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and are still getting used to going up and down the court with masks on.
“It’s definitely different,” said Cobb. “The masks are a big change, but we’ve got to do what we can to try to get better.”
That’s made it difficult for Keyes to figure out how best to us his team’s newfound depth.
“It’s going to take game time to get them to gel together and that’s something that would have happened in the summer if we had a summer league and a team camp and all that,” said Keyes. “It’s going to be a work in progress, probably will be for everyone.”
The players, though, see the value in having a deeper team.
“Say someone is in foul trouble, if someone subs in for him it’s not going to be that bad because they’re going to know their stuff,” explained Burke. “They’re going to be able to play aggressive.”
That’s not the only change Wyalusing has - they will be playing in the NTL Small School Division this year as their numbers dropped.
Most years that would mean an easier schedule - they only have to play the big boys once - but this year Division-II might be as tough as Division-I.
D-II champions NP-Liberty bring most of their team back. Canton, last year’s playoff surprise, brings back much of their team, as does fellow playoff surprise Sayre. NEB might be the most consistent program in the NTL and Cowanesque Valley has some good athletes.
“The small school is really as good as it’s been since I’ve been in the NTL,” said Keyes. “There’s no nights off anywhere in the league.”
Cross-over games will be tough, as well, with defending league champions Athens while Troy, Wellsboro and NP-Mansfield return much, if not all, of their line-ups from a year ago. Towanda also has a breathe of fresh air with Ryan Napp returning to the bench.
“I love competing against the large school teams and coaches,” said Keyes.
It’s shaping up to be an exciting year - if they can ever get on the court.
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