WHEELING - Wheeling Central's Thomas Stanley is a case study in perseverance.
Last year Stanley, as a junior, began the season as a starter on one of the state's pre-eminent Class A basketball programs.
By midseason he was coming off the bench and playing two quarters of junior varsity basketball.
Wheeling Central’s Thomas Stanley shoots during a game earlier this season at the Stifle Fieldhouse.
Nobody had to tell the 5-foot-8 point guard it was a demotion.
He knew it and his teammates knew it.
They felt for their teammate, too.
"I felt bad, but he knew it was for the good of the team, and you never heard him complain about it one bit," said fellow senior Alonzo Manns, a teammate of Stanley's since middle school. "That's how he goes about things. He accepted his role and he earned a lot of respect for the way did that."
His attitude was noticed by the coaching staff as well.
"For a lot of guys it probably would have been tough, but Thomas decided he was going to take those two quarters of JV basketball and use them," assistant coach Chip Calissie said. "He was going to take those two quarters and make himself a better player. That's exactly what he did."
He was steady.
Maybe that is the word that describes Stanley the best.
Stanley and his Wheeling Central teammates open state tournament play Thursday when the top-seeded Maroon Knights play No. 8 seed Parkersburg Catholic.
Not only did he persevere in the end, he has thrived because he knows his role. David Park and Chase Harler are scorers. Alonzo Manns is the big man inside. Joey John does everything but score. For Stanley, his role is easy.
Play defense and play it hard.
"He is pretty good about calming things down out there," Coach Mel Stephens said. "He gets people where they need to be. And, he is probably one of our best on-ball defenders."
As a point guard he is part of a three-headed monster that includes Jonathan Droginske and C.J. Burch. Central coach Mel Stephens has gone to the three as part of a plan to wear down the opposing point and it has paid huge dividends for the Maroon Knights, who are 22-3 and take a 14-game win streak into the state tournament.
The theory is simple, and defense-based in its origin, so it fits Stanley, who is back to his starting role.
When Droginske comes in, he offers a player who can play any of four positions, so Harler, a whiz with the ball, can go to point. When Burch is on the floor, he can go to two-guard and Harler remains at point. It's all based on that defensive pressure at the top, provided by the three-headed monster.
Stanley relishes the role.
"I like the defensive part of my game," Stanley said. "If I score, that is a bonus. I know my role is to come out and play hard on defense."
Those are the things that stick with Stanley.
He gave a simple analogy. Against John Marshall, he scored 11 points but said he did not play well on defense. He did not forget that.
Likewise, he had a huge steal against Steubenville Catholic that gave his team a chance to win it late in regulation during the Undo's Tournament championship game in December, a game Central won in overtime.
"I know what my role is, primarily defense," Stanley said. "I couldn't care less if I ever scored a point. There are games where I don't score and as long as I have contributed a solid defensive effort, I feel like I have done my job."
Not that he doesn't do other things well. Point guard things.
One a team that features two potential all-staters in Park and Harler, Stanley's role in the offense can't be overlooked.
"He gets us set up and he plays defense as well as anyone," Park said. "A lot of what we are able to do comes from Thomas knowing where to go with the ball.
"I don't think we would have the numbers we have without Thomas out there," Manns said. "I know for me, he gets the ball to me in places where I can score."