WHEELING - Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens is expecting big things from his Maroon Knights this season.
Big being the operative word.
Wheeling Central, 14-13 last year, including a berth in the West Virginia Class A state championship semifinals, returns it's two big threats, and both of them are big, as in 6-foot-5 senior David Park (18 points per game in 2013) and 6-3 sophomore Chase Harler (17.1).
Add to that starting point guard Thomas Stanley and the ingredients are in place for a big season at Central.
"I expect to have a good season, and I expect us to be better than we were last year," said Stephens, who has won four Class A state championships in 11 years on the Maroon Knights bench.
"We have some experience back and I really think we will be deeper than we were last year. Once we develop some of our younger kids I think we can go nine, 10, maybe even 11 deep."
On the Class A level, that is saying a lot.
It all starts with Park and Harler.
"Park is a big kid playing on the wing and that creates a lot of mismatches," Stephens said. "Both of them can take the ball to the basket and score and both are decent shooters. That makes it a tough matchup when you have two kids with that size who can take it inside and can also score from outside."
Stanley will reprise the role of point guard.
"He understands his role," Stephens said. "He does a good job getting guys in slots where they can score and he is also a good defensive player."
Senior Joe John, a 6-footer who did not play last season, and senior Alonzo Manns, 6-2, are expected to join the starting unit.
"John is going to play inside for us, and he will probably guarding kids who are bigger than he is, but he is a tough-nosed kid and that will make up for a lot of that,'' Stephens said. ''Alonzo was our first post off the bench last year and he runs the floor well and does a good job of finishing. If we can run the floor we may be able to pitch it out to him for some easy (baskets)."
The Maroon Knights are also a deep bunch.
Football standout C.J. Burch, who also didn't play last season, will be the backup point guard and senior Jonathan Droginske could also see time there.
Wheeling Park transfer Boyd Bibey, a junior, and Malik Merrick, a sophomore Linsly transfer, will see time off the bench on the perimeter. Both are capable shooters, Stephens said.
The first post off the bench will be 6-2 sophomore Brian Campbell.
Two freshmen, John Burkhalter and Gabe Rohmann will also figure in at some point.
"The sooner we get them acclimated to this level, the more depth we are going to have," Stephens said.
Once again a tough schedule awaits.
The Maroon Knights picked up a home and home with Martins Ferry and will also face section and region rivals Madonna and St. Marys on the the road. Also, Parkersburg Catholic will pay a visit.
"We probably have the toughest section and region in the state in Class A," Stephens said. "Up here we have Bishop, Madonna and Magnolia in the section and the other side (of the region) has St. Marys and Clay-Battelle. There are six, seven really good teams and only two can make it to Charleston."
Stephens likes his team's chances.
"If we get what we got from (Park and Harler) last year, and we get kids who can step up score eight to 10 points a game or around that, I think we will be a good team," Stephens said. "We have never been a team who has a kid go out and drop in 25 to 30 a game. We have to get offense out of some of the others and I think we can be good."