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Developing depth key for University High to secure top seed in sectionals

MORGANTOWN — The depth of the University boys’ basketball team has been on display during its late-season run.

The Hawks won their last five games of the regular season, outscoring opponents 359-251 in the process.

“I think we’re playing with some confidence now,” UHS head coach Joe Schmidle said. “Of course, our schedule was a bit easier than it was in the first 11 or 12 games, but we’re in a good position now. We took on some pretty good teams in that stretch and we earned some nice wins.”

The last few games of the season gave Schmidle opportunities to empty the bench and get some fresh legs on the court. There were chances to rest the starters and nurse some injuries sustained throughout the 22-game season.

The Hawks went 15-7 and earned a berth in the OVAC Class 5A tournament. Even with a defeat to two-loss Dover (Ohio) in the OVAC semifinals, on Feb. 8, University went 10-3 since the calendar hit 2022.
“I feel like we’re eight or nine deep now and we’ve had a nice cycle of players getting time since about the first of the year,” Schmidle said. “We’ve dealt with some injuries and some players have had to step up and they’ve filled in well.”

There were some question marks in the Hawks’ starting rotation to start the season, most notably at the guard positions, due to the graduation of Tracey Brooks and Ryan Niceler and the departure of Blake Barkley. Seniors Elija Jackson and Diego Reyes assumed starting positions, but have been banged up at times throughout the year.

Sophomores James Garbart and Rafael Barcinas have played well down the stretch.

“James Garbart starts for us most of the time,” Schmidle said. “He’s a good all-around player and he’s helped out on the offense and defensive side of the ball. He’s a pretty good defender.

“Rafael Barcinas has come off the bench to start for Diego Reyes since Diego has been hurt on and off. He’s done a really nice job of stepping in and doing what he’s asked and he’s been able to do some nice things.”

Juniors Charles Nemacek and Jaeden Hammack are also delivering when called upon.

“Charles Nemacek is starting to find his confidence and he’s coming into his own lately,” Schmidle said. “He’s really helped us, especially on the boards.”

Hammack, a standout receiver on the successful University football team, will be playing college football, but his focus at this time is getting better on the hardwood. After seeing some strong minutes as a sophomore, he fully embraced a starting role after shaking off those football feelings.

“After football, the first couple practices were very rough for me,” Hammack said. “Football condition and basketball condition are two different animals. It took a while to get back into basketball shape.”

Added Schmidle, “He’s really adjusted well and I think he learned a lot from the seniors who graduated last year.”

Hammack is averaging 7.1 points per game, along with 2.3 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game and 1.1 steals per game.

“Jaeden Hammock played a lot for us last year in a reserve role but he’s been a really consistent starter for us this year,” Schmidle said. “The last four or five games have been some of the best we’ve seen out of him. He’s coming into his role and played really well on both sides of the ball.”

Team leaders are the two returning starters from last season, big men Aaron Forbes and Garrison Kisner. Kisner averages 16.1 points per game and 5.9 rebounds. Forbes averages 10.5 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and is the team leader with 3.2 assists.

“We’re trying to stay in shape while we nurse injuries and that’s not an easy thing to do,” Schmidle said. “We’re working on fine tuning some things. We’re not doing much different than what we have been doing.”

The Hawks earned the No. 1 seed in this week’s Region I, Section 2 tournament, which begins Tuesday.
UHS will host Preston, which it just defeated last week. The No. 2 seed is Buckhanon-Upshur and Bridgeport is the No. 3 seed.

UHS beat Bridgeport at home and Buckhannon-Upshur on the road in the regular season.
The Hawks made it to the Class AAAA state tournament last year, falling to Huntington in the opening round. They were state champions in 2019.

“We have one end goal, a state championship,” Hammack said. “Anything less we consider failing. We’re at the point in the season where it’s win or go home. Everyone is 0-0 and anyone can be beat on any given night. We’re going game by game for that end goal and we are starting to understand what it takes to get there.”

Story by Matthew Peaslee