Linsly Enjoying Common Bond of Basketball
Every varsity player stands over 6-feet
By SETH STASKEY
For the News-Register
WHEELING — Dave Wojcik has been around the game of basketball basically his entire life in one capacity or another.
Never had he experienced a season quite like the one 2020-21 presented.
Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced West Virginia prep teams into a spring season that didn’t start until early March, the Cadets finished with an 8-3 record.
“I am actually very pleased with what we did in basically half a season,” Wojcik said. “The kids were resilient and deserve a ton of credit. The hardest part was practicing three days and then being off for five days. We never had consistency.”
Seemingly, things appear to be back to normal for prep teams throughout the Ohio Valley and West Virginia.
“It feels good to be back to a somewhat normal routine,” Wojcik said. “The kids are excited to be back in the gym, knowing we should have a full season.”
As it pertains to Linsly, it might not just be a full season, but it could be a very good season for the Cadets, too.
Due to a solid offseason and, most importantly, the fact that basically the entire roster knows what is expected of them by Wojcik and the coaching staff.
“I really like my team,” Wojcik said. “I am not usually one to say that either because I try to downplay it. Our guys have done an unbelievable job in the fall league, summer league, etc. They’ve been working since the season ended.”
Wojcik has found himself working in the preseason to not only prepare his team for what lies ahead on the court, but making sure his group is “blended” off the floor.
After all, Linsly’s roster boasts players from six different countries, counting the United States.
“They have the common bond of basketball,” Wojcik said. “Trying to blend guys and get the pieces to fit together is a part of coaching. These guys get along well on and off the court and when both of those worlds are in line, you have a chance to have something special.”
Overall, Wojcik believes the Cadets’ biggest attribute is their chemistry.
“You can have the most talented team, but if (the players) aren’t connected, and don’t have chemistry, you’re going to have struggles,” Wojcik said. “Chemistry can get you through a lot and since we have it, that’s half the battle.”
Wojcik believes his team has the makings of a club that can really come out of the gates strong. The Cadets boast solid size with every player on the varsity roster standing at least 6-foot tall, impressive skill and solid athleticism.
On top of those characteristics, Wojcik knows his team will play “very, very hard” every night out.
“I envision us having four or five guys in double figures each night,” Wojcik said. “These guys are going to be very unselfish because they truly don’t care who scores. I believe we’ll be tough to guard because we can stretch the floor and we’ll be able to score off the dribble.”
Areas where Wojcik believes his team will continue to improve is with its defensive tenacity and its rebounding ability.
Depth certainly isn’t an issue since the Cadets could play upwards of 11 players nightly without much dropoff.
“I’ve never had a team this deep,” Wojcik said. “I have to do a good job of managing us because everyone can score, but I have to figure out what spots to play. The nice thing about it is these guys understand each other and they know when someone is off (in a game) and they also know when someone is hot that we’re going to get them the ball.”
Linsly will be led by senior guard Raef Wykes (6-2), who is coming off a season in which he averaged better than 17 points a game.
“Raef runs the show and he’s just an unbelievable player,” Wojcik said. “We’re definitely going to miss him when he (graduates) because he’s changed our whole culture. We’ve put a lot on his shoulders, not necessarily from a scoring standpoint, but just keeping the ship together.”
Senior sharpshooter Caleb Murray (6-2) returns a few inches taller, a little bit stronger and still able to knock down a trey from basically anywhere in the gym. He scored upwards of 15 points a night last year.
“Caleb has really developed his game in terms of being able to score off the dribble,” Wojcik said. “We’re expecting big things from him because he’s played in so many games and understands what we expect.”
Junior Nathan Coleman (6-5) has been a starter each of the last two seasons. He increased his scoring average last season and now Wojcik believes he will take another step forward.
“Nate is extremely athletic and he’s gotten bigger and stronger,” Wojcik said. “He’s worked onhis skill and will be a guy who can play multiple positions for us, rebound and handle the ball.”
Junior Gavin Jackson (6-1) transferred to Linsly after a big season at Trinity Christian in Morgantown. Wojcik got a first-hand look at his ability when he went for 29 against the Cadets last season.
“Gavin is really good,” Wojcik said. “He has a scorer’s mentality and can really score the ball.”
Junior Carter Anderson (6-5) is another who will see quality minutes after an “unbelievable offseason.”
Veteran George Donovic (6-3) is Linsly’s “jack of all trades,” according to his coach.
“George knows everything we run from every position,” Wojcik said. “He plays extremely hard and will see significant minutes.”
Lanky junior Riku Vilenius (6-7) is a swing player from Finland and will see extended minutes as a wing.
“Riku is very, very skilled, but he needs strength,” Wojcik said. “He can really shoot it, has a good IQ for the game and he’s a typical kid from overseas. He can dribble, pass and shoot it, but he has to learn the speed and physicality of the game.”
Sophomore Denali Jackson (6-1) figures to be in the rotation as well.
Wojcik is also high on freshman Will Taylor (6-1), who will see action.
The balance of the roster includes: sophomores JP Jones (6-0), Raymond Kovaleksy (6-3), senior Juan Rabinovich (6-1), senior Seamus Sun (6-4), sophomore Alex Taylor (6-1) and senior Brooke Zhu (6-1).
“The kids are ready to go,” Wojcik said. “We just need to continue to tighten some things up, figure out what guys I want to play together and who works well together.”
The Cadets schedule is once again challenging. They don’t open until Dec. 10 at WesBanco Arena against Weir, but they’ll play the likes of Fort Frye, Keystone Academy, Dover, Wash High in Washington, Pa., Monessen, Morgantown, University, Western Reserve Academy and the list goes on and on.
“We will play whoever wants to play us,” Wojcik said. “We tried to play the biggest schedule we could. There isn’t a game on there where I sit back and say ‘that game is a for sure win.'”
One noticeable absence from the schedule is Wheeling Central. The long-time rivals decided against playing at least this season for a myriad of reasons.
“I honestly wish we would all play,” Wojcik said. “I wish it was like when I played and we played everyone up and down the river, but times have changed. That’s not just basketball either. When you have schools around each other, we should be playing in every sport. Kids grow up wanting to play against their friends. That’s the fun part of it.”
Wojcik’s coaching staff includes Dave Koehler, Bubby Goodwin and Rob Zitzelsberger.