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ALBRIGHT: AAU players may spoil four-class test run

High school basketball produced some exciting moments during the state championship games this past March.

Class A Webster County’s boys grooved its 28-0 way to the first state title of any kind for the Highlanders.

Chapmanville’s Obinna Anochili-Killen nearly threw up a triple-double in the Tigers’ Class AA title game win over Fairmont Senior, sealing back-to-back crowns.

Then in Class AAA, University conquered undefeated Martinsburg, led by its tenacious backcourt duo of Kaden Metheny and K.J. McClurg.

The fun doesn’t stop with the boys, though…

Huntington St. Joe’s Paige Shy and Parkersburg High’s Bre Wilson put on 3-point shooting clinics on a court notoriously difficult for ranged shooters. Shy nailed a new state-tournament record eight 3s as the Irish ran past Parkersburg Catholic in Class A. Wilson nearly bested her with seven down-town buckets from within the state silhouette at center court in the Big Reds thwarting of University.

The first of which left PHS head coach Scott Cozzens shaking his head. Her decisions became more accepted as she kept hitting from way downtown.

Class AA Fairmont Senior also cashed out on high note for team heartbeat Anysa Jordan on her way to Eastern Kentucky University women’s basketball team.

And the championship games, along with the announcement of the all-state teams and players of the year, would usually be where the fun ends for the hardwood sport until November.

The State Board of Education crimped that style Wednesday with a 7-2 approving vote for the two-year test run for a four-class proposal in basketball.

It is possible we have seen the end of private school dynasties in the lowest class or classes. The eight private schools most likely will be split between Class AA and A.

It is also possible this could be a move which impacts most sports in the state, if further implementation of the program expands beyond the cage.

Thus, altering the landscape of high school sports forever.

We won’t know until after the 2021-22 school year.

But it is also possible this was the wrong sport for the test run. Despite the fact, according to WVSSAC figures released to the Charleston Gazette Mail, basketball is the highest grossing sport in the state.

Quick.

Name one thing each of West Virginia’s six state champion high school basketball teams had in common this season.

Three. Two. One.

Each one featured Amateur Athletic Union players in prominent roles. All of the above-mentioned players spend their summers playing AAU ball, by the way.

Do you know what all teams are going to have in common next season?

Many of those same players will return to those leading spots fresh off a summer on the AAU circuit. Same goes for the runner-up in all three classes in addition to the third and fourth place schools.

Look at the local rosters of the West Virginia Thunder, Ohio Valley Red Dragons, SMBC out of Columbus, and Wildcats Select. You will see Mountain State players suiting up for all of them.

Names penned in the lineups include all-state players galore.

Some of these athletes, starters for their high school teams, come off the bench for their AAU programs.

You heard me correctly.

A number of our best participants sub in as they join players from other states on highly competitive travel teams. Not competitive against themselves, but competitive in general.

“It is a wake-up call,” said West Virginia Thunder seventh grade team coach Brian Mallory. “Players think they are pretty good back home but not nearly as good as they thought and the kid says ‘I have to get to work.’ They hit the weight room and learn to get their shots off quicker.”

He’s right.

Players are forced to get better on their own. Then, have the added excitement of seeing where they stack up when AAU rolls around next summer.

Yes, AAU ball isn’t just for college exposure like many believe. Refereeing remains minimal, but these kids are no longer playing the same game as many peers. College preparation is the whole point of these organizations in the first place. Programs teach the college game, then the kids go play the college game against opponents from like-minded groups.

Coaches are taking notice.

When Mychal Johnson, who played for the W.Va. Thunder, stepped on campus at Notre Dame, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw praised Johnson’s preparedness. She told Johnson’s father Scott, “She was one of the most mentally prepared freshmen she has ever seen come in to the college game offensively and defensively.”

High praise indeed for a coach closing in on 1,000 career victories. If future hall of fame leaders are taking notice, then the skills and knowledge these kids have must be a big deal.

Stopping this train won’t be easy, if possible, at all. Many AAU programs feature grade school groups now. These kids are coming in prepared to make a difference right away. Parkersburg Catholic’s Madeline Huffman, Parkersburg South’s Makenna Winans, and the PHS 2020 girls’ senior class are a few of the best local examples.

Parkersburg Catholic boys’ coach Rob Strcula realizes the difference these players make as freshman. “Having these kids helps a team progress early in the season,” he said. “You don’t have to re-teach a lot of things.”

A good player is a good player no matter what jersey they wear or what court they are on. In a sport where 1 or 2 kids makes a huge difference, multiple good players on the same team are going to play a big influence in the outcome.

In every game and season.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com

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