Tech starts life after MSC with rebuilt roster
It's not official, but WVU Tech will have a shiny new championship banner hanging from the rafters this year, celebrating what would have been the team's Mid-South Conference regular-season title from last season - if the Golden Bears hadn't been ruled ineligible by the league.
Save for the coach and a couple of players, that might be about all that's left in Montgomery from last year.
The Golden Bears lost seven seniors to graduation and are entering life after the Mid-South, playing as an NAIA independent in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
"In my opinion, we were never a good fit for the Mid-South," coach Bob Williams said. "Those Kentucky schools are private and full-funded for all sports and it was tough for us to compete. Now we have the chance to control our schedule a little more and we were able to schedule more in-state games than before."
No matter where or whom they are playing, the Golden Bears will bring an inexperienced roster with them, and growing pains figure to follow at least early in the season.
"Obviously, we're a work in progress," Williams said. "We have few experienced returners. Other kids will have to step up.
"We've got a lot of question marks here, but the kids are working hard and they're a great group of kids. Last year's team was so experienced and now we have so many new pieces and they're learning a new system. But we're excited, the school is excited, and we think the student body and the faculty are excited as well."
Tech will roll out enough local talent to have a lot of people in the Kanawha Valley and outlying areas excited.
Junior Brandon Burgraff (Williamson), sophomores David Ward (Scott) and Jaren Marino (South Charleston) and freshmen Cam Powell (Winfield), Eddie Gordon (South Charleston), Hunter Lambert (Lincoln County), Joe Saunders (George Washington) and Nicholas Lee (Mingo Central) will represent a hodgepodge of in-state players that will look to build upon last season's success.
Tolsia standout Jacob Copley was in many ways the prized recruit of this year's recruiting class, but the incoming freshman left school a few weeks ago.
Junior-college transfers Armond Perez, Jauries Thomas and Floyd Campbell are all listed at 6-foot-6, and if and when they are cleared to play should provide significant contributions this season.
To call West Virginia State's 2011-2012 campaign a failure may seem a bit harsh.
After all, the Yellow Jackets were able to patch together a 12-10 record in the West Virginia Conference to go with a 14-13 overall record, keeping their heads above .500.
But to State and coach Bryan Poore, those marks are not in the same stratosphere as what Yellow Jackets fans, players and coaches have come to expect in Institute.
As evidence, the 12-10 league mark was State's lowest winning percentage within the conference since the Jackets finished 10-8 back in 2003.
Injuries and inexperience contributed to State's down year, but with practice beginning on Oct. 15, Poore is confident is team is ready to return to the upper tier of the conference standings.
"Right now, with the workouts we're able to do and a little bit of team practice [2 hours a week], I like the makeup that we've got," Poore said. "I think this team will kind of get back to my style of teams - athletic, pretty versatile, and we've got some decent size. We've got a couple of 6-foot-7, 6-8 kids, and the kids we've got are strong, big kids. Even the 6-4, 6-5 kids are strong enough to play down low if we have to. We have some toughness, and I thought we lacked that at times last year."
Poore had a busy offseason, adding several players that will look to help the turnaround cause this year.
One is Ray Austin, who played junior college ball in Texas. Poore recruited Austin when he was playing in high school in Cleveland. And the 6-8, 220-pound junior forward could provide an important presence inside for the Jackets.
"He's going to be a really big help for us," Poore said. "He's big, athletic, strong, skilled, fast - he's just going to be good for us."
Fellow junior college transfers Dimitri Abner (6-4, 225) and Juan Johnson (6-2, 170) will both come in from Columbus State, the same school from which senior Brandon Ross hails.
Anton Hutchins (6-4, 190) will transfer in from Cincinnati State while Ravenswood High School's Ben Pannell (6-5, 190) and Victor Sharp from Warren (Mich.) Mott High School will begin their freshman seasons.
But perhaps the addition that could pay the most immediate dividends will be the return of former Charleston Catholic standout Bo King, who was dismissed from the State program prior to last season.
Poore said King asked for a second chance, and while he will not be under scholarship for this his senior year, he will be ready to contribute and has a lot of people rooting for him.
"I'm one of them," Poore said. "I hope he does right and graduates, and as long as he does all the things he's supposed to do, he will."
The University of Charleston is looking to reload after narrowly missing a conference championship and making an NCAA Division II tournament appearance.
Gone from that team are five seniors, including WVC player of the year P.J. Reyes.
But depth was maybe UC's strongest attribute, and five rising juniors as well as a few transfers will look to build off last season's 26-7 campaign.
Former Logan standout Paul Williamson will transfer in from West Virginia for his sophomore season to add some local flavor to the roster.
Meanwhile, Serbian Aleksander Kesic will transfer in from Division I Iona after playing for Huntington Prep in 2009-2010.
Quincy Washington will also come in from the junior college level after averaging 14.5 points for USC-Salkehatchie last year.
Coach Mark Downey did not return phone calls from the Gazette requesting an interview.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.