Patriots Look for Bounce Back Season
By JOSH STROPE
WHEELING — Wheeling Park isn’t used to too many 9-15 seasons, but that is just what happened last winter for Coach Michael Jebbia and his Patriots.
What Jebbia, entering his 12th season in charge, is hoping for this year is a quick turnaround and so far, he likes what he sees.
“Last January was a tough stretch for us where we lost five games in a row and had a couple beatdowns, but we improved from late January into March,” Jebbia said. “The biggest thing is ‘are we going to be able to close the gap on Morgantown and University?’ We fill find out soon enough because they are in the schedule fairly early.
“Last season we only had two seniors and it wasn’t an ideal situation where we had to play sophomores more than we wanted, but in the long run you try to find positives. We will look a little more like a Triple-A team this season. I think the guys have more confidence. Last year in some of the games we were just trying to survive. This year, I think we will be a little bit smoother.”
Wheeling Park brings back two starters in Jack Stakem and Keondre’ King.
King was the leading scorer for the Patriots at 12.3 points per game. The 6-foot-4 junior is athletic with a solid mid-range game.
Stakem is the returning point guard, a quick player and solid defender that will be relied on heavily to control the pace of the game. The 5-9 junior averaged 6.7 points.
Also in the starting lineup will be 6-4 sophomore Alex Vargo. A letterwinner as a freshman, Vargo scored more points than any freshman in school history (111), averaging 6.5 points per game and shooting 47 percent from 3-point range and 89 percent from the line in roughly half a varsity season.
“Jack started every game last year, Keondre’ started every game last season, and Alex, we let him progress as the season went along,” Jebbia said. “From Jan. 15 on, he was first guy off the bench with the varsity and kept getting better as the season went.
“Alex and Keondre’ are the basketball junkies who spend everyday in the gym. Keondre’ has put on some weight and got a lot stronger. He is starting to come into his own. Alex Vargo is up to 6-foot-4 and 186 pounds.
“Jack is really starting to understand what it takes to be a true point guard. Last year when we were struggling, I think he felt he was the one that had to step up. This year I think he feels that we have some more scoring around him and he will be able to create. Very quick and athletic.”
Brian Goodwin (6-foot, wing), TJ Reed (6-2), and Caleb Smail (6-3) make up the seniors.
Also looking to see plenty of playing time is 5-10 junior De’Vaughn McWhorter, a left-handed guard who can shoot the ball well.
Donovan Goddard is a 5-10 junior who is a good defender and plays with a lot of energy.
“Donovan played a lot for us and Goodwin and McWhorter are letterwinners so we have some experience,” Jebbia said.
Tristen Bittner (6-5, junior) is the Patriots’ tallest player and will play inside and can help with the rebounding.
David Croft (6-foot, wing) and Te’Von Minor (5-9) are the remaining juniors.
Sophomores that look to get into the rotation are Alex Dunlevy (6-0, guard), Dustin VanSickle (6-3, post), Robert Edmonds (5-11, guard) and Travis Zimmerman (6-4, forward/center).
“A lot of these guys played quality minutes last year and there won’t be the deer in the headlights look we had last year,” Jebbia said. “We played really good defense last season (allowed an average of 59 per game), but we had trouble scoring (53 points per game). Keondre’ and Alex are going to be able to score the ball, but we need someone to step up and be that third or fourth guy that can help us out.
“De’Vaughn McWhorter is a very good perimeter shooter. He made some big shots for us last year. Brian Goodwin is a kid that has a lot of offensive skill. One guy I think our fans are really going to like is Alex Dunlevy. Plays with no fear and is all over the court.”
Jebbia is assisted by Gene Ammirante, Jerry Ammirante and Terry Payne. Shaun Black and Josh Yost are the freshman coaches.