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Early playoff exit providing motivation for revamped University boys’ basketball team

MORGANTOWN — It’s not too unusual for a team to focus on a season-ending loss during an off-season.

The problem for the University High School boys’ basketball team is that one loss was really ugly.

UHS dropped a 60-55 decision to Buckhannon-Upshur in the first round of the Class AAAA sectional last year, and it’s a loss that has stuck with coach Joe Schmidle and his team all off-season.

“A lot of it was immaturity and lack of leadership,” Schmidle, in his 10th season with the Hawks, said. “I wasn’t starting any seniors last year and we had a younger lineup. We didn’t really have any postseason experience and I think we didn’t show up ready to play against Buckhannon. There was no excuse for that.”

Considering that the Hawks opened last season with a 68-48 win over the Bucs, it’s easy to understand how they could have looked past that sectional contest.

This year, Schmidle and UHS appear to be focused on the task at hand, which is improving on a 13-10 record and getting as far in the tournament as possible.

“I really like this team,” Schmidle said. “I think we have some guys who have stepped up and become leaders. A lot of these kids have worked their tails off and want to be in the gym.”

A great example of that work ethic is 6-foot-1 junior Demarcus Bandy, who Schmidle said might be one of the most-improved players in the state.

“He is going to be the guy that people are going to be like ‘Where did this kid come from?’” Schmidle said. “He is still a little raw and has to improve, but he is working really hard on his game. He relied on his athleticism last year; this year he has become a basketball player.”

Bandy said he played travel basketball this past off-season and really worked on his mid-range jump shot, all while remembering that loss in sectional play.

“We remember that loss,” Bandy said. “We all tell ourselves that will never happen again.”

Part of the optimism that comes from both Schmidle and Bandy is the experience of last year and the returning players.

Bandy will likely be joined in the starting lineup by seniors Luke Hudson and James Fortney-Garbart. The rest of the starting lineup may vary from game to game, but Schmidle said he has a deeper team this year than he has had in previous seasons.

Hudson, who started games last year, has plenty of game experience on the football field as well as the UHS quarterback. However, the loss to B-U last year still bothers him.

“That game last year kind of made us all realize that nobody on our team has ever been to the state tournament,” Hudson said. “We all believe that we are a good team and most importantly, we all want to win and going to the state tournament is all the motivation we have needed as a group to get to work.”

Senior John Coleman “hustles his but off,” Schmidle said, and is in better basketball shape than a season ago, while fellow senior Carson Ford might be the best 3-point shooter on the UHS squad. Zach Demidovich, a 6-foot-6 junior, provides the only real size for the Hawks while junior Ethan Jackson returns to the program after taking last year off.  Junior Noah Kleeh is expected to be one of the better shooters on the team while sophomore Jack Byrer and freshman KK Lewis will also see quality minutes this season.

Schmidle said he will carry 14 players on the team, with many seeing action on the junior varsity as well.

University opens play on Dec. 8 when it hosts Morgantown, Parkersburg, and Kentucky school Holy Family Catholic for the BFC Tip-Off Classic. The Hawks will also make a trip to Charleston, S.C. for the Carolina Invitational, which features 54 teams, later in December.

“I think we are going to be right there in the sectional,” Schmidle said of the end-of-the-season tournament. “I just hate to say we are the favorite, but we have as good of a chance as anybody. Bridgeport is always decent, B-U beat us last year and has everybody back. I just think that we are going to be a much-better team this year.”


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