WHEELING - Four players with the same mission.
Four players who are going separate ways over the next month to build on what should be a very exciting season at Wheeling Park this winter.
The Patriots, expected to regain some of the old supremacy they once held in the ranks of Class AAA basketball, returns a plethora of talent.
Getting better at Park means four returning players - Ryan Reinbeau, Phil Bledsoe, Toddy-Goodwin-Rowe and Elijah Bell - the nucleus of what should be a very good squad this winter, are playing on four different AAU teams this summer.
Reinbeau, a third-team all-state pick, is playing on the West Virginia Wildcats Select team with the likes of Levi Cook, a WVU commit playing at Huntington Prep, South Charleston's Brandon Knapper, Point Pleasant's Wade Martin, Montrell Dixson of Mingo Central, Chris Shields, formerly of Hedgesville and Wheeling Central's Chase Harler.
That is quite a cross-state selection of talent run under the watchful eye of Scott Long and Jay Cinco, both of whom have garnered the respect of high school coaches around the state, which isn't always the case with AAU programs.
"Everybody on that team is an excellent player," Reinbeau said. "Our coaches do a great job. It's great just getting the chance to play for a team like that."
A 6-foot-3 shooter, Reinbeau has been inactive most of June after undergoing knee surgery but expects to return before his AAU team is done with a three-weekend excursion of games that starts in Myrtle Beach in two weeks.
"That's the plan," he said, prior to his team playing a summer league game Saturday against perennial power South Charleston. "Right now, it's hard to watch. I can shoot, I have some movement, but I still can't get up and down the court. I have to make sure it's good before I give it a go."
Bledsoe is playing with TOGS, based in Morgantown.
The 6-5 post has as big an upside as any player in the area, and, from what he has shown in summer league games (he had 24 points against South Charleston, as well as double-figures in rebounds), has added a mid-range jumper to his arsenal, making him even better than he was last season.
"It's something I worked on a lot, and I'm feeling more comfortable with it in games," Bledsoe said.
Bell, a 6-1 freakish athlete who is playing for the ESBY Greyhounds, which feature Huntington state-tournament breakout star Tavion Dunn-Martin (a team that has already won tournaments in Atlantic City and Washington, D.C.), might be the best on-ball defender in the state, and that is not an exaggeration.
"It's something I work on when I can," Bell, a junior, said. "A lot of it's instinct, but defense is something I take pride in playing."
Toddy Goodwin-Rowe, a 6-0 point guard who is spending the summer with the Fairmont-based West Virginia Reign, has grown by leaps and bounds from a talent standpoint and is getting better. He leads the team at point guard and likely will morph into one of the most exciting points in the area this season. He showed great floor awareness and a knack for scoring in Park's game against South Charleston, with 21 points and several assists.
"I know I have to play better than I did last year, and I'm working on that every day," Goodwin-Rowe said. "The more I play, the more confidence I'm getting."
Talk to the players and you get different answers as to whether or not it would be better to play together.
Each theory is different, those who like the fact that they are getting an opportunity to play outside the area, others who wish they could hone their skills together as they did a few years ago when Rod Lee ran a Wheeling-based program that featured the likes of Bubby Goodwin, Marqez O'Neal, Emil Popicg and Richard Hall. Perhaps Goodwin-Rowe said it best.
"It would be nice playing together for that chemistry," the point guard said. "But it will also help us get our confidence up individually. We can work on our strengths, improve and bring that back to the table when we come back together this season."
Coach Michael Jebbia doesn't seem to mind.
"The positive is they are all playing basketball with very good programs," Jebbia said. "It would be nice to see them playing together but they are going to get better. All four are playing with good teams that have credibility and with good people coaching them."
When not busy on the AAU circuit, the four have also joined forces this summer to form the nucleus of what could very well be one of the top-ranked Class AAA schools in West Virginia next winter.
Of course, they will have to get out of a tough region that includes the likes of Parkersburg South, Morgantown and Parkersburg, all expected to be good teams.
Then there are the teams you can always pencil in as contenders, South Charleston, Capital, Woodrow Wilson, George Washington, defending champion Huntington and Martinsburg, names from a very short list. Some of those schools will eliminate each other.
Perhaps Park fired the first salvo when it played South Charleston tough in a 65-60 overtime loss last Saturday at Park. Granted, it was a summer game. However, Park also was without Reinbeau, Bell (shoulder), Savion Johnson (football visit), Chalmer Moffett (who is taking a much-needed hiatus after starting in three sports for Park during the recently concluded school year) and Richard Cummings (who was battling the flu). That is likely five of the top nine players and probably two or three starters. Bledsoe, Goodwin-Rowe and returning starter Trenton Smith played and the Patriots even started a freshman who hasn't taken the his first class at Park, Jimmy Zecca, Jake Laing, who had just played in four football 7-on-7 games and a baseball doubleheader and Nick Vargo, who has been away from basketball for the last two seasons.
When they come back together, the sky is the limit for this squad.