Two years ago Bluefield was the young team following the graduation of a talented senior class.
The Beavers still managed to make a run to the state tournament and followed it up last year with a run to the Class AA state championship game.
They ultimately fell to a loaded Poca team that featured UVA signee Isaac McKneely but gained valuable experience.
With the core of their team returning including all-staters Caleb Fuller and R.J. Hairston, the Beavers are poised to win their first state championship since claiming back-to-back title in 2013 and ’14.
“These kids the last two years have grown in a lot of different ways,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “They’ve got basketball skills, size and they’ve applied themselves very well. They came and worked in the gym in the summer and listened to the coaches, coach (Tony) Webster, coach (Doug) Miller and coach (Jody) Fuller and they know what we expect to do on offense and defense and our philosophy. Right now we’re real excited about going into the season.”
The goal is to hoist the state championship trophy and cut down the nets on the final Saturday of the season but Large admits there are 27 other games they’d like to win and see where they stand before they even talk about a title.
“Obviously it’s in the back of our minds,” Large said. “We’re not going to talk about it right now because it’s too early in the season. We’re trying to prepare ourselves for a great regular season and have ourselves well prepared to win the sectional tournament until it arrives.”
On top of returning several key players, the Beavers have a head start because of football. Most years Large doesn’t have his complete team until late November or early December because the football team plays deep into the playoffs. The early exit this season made sure Large had his full roster available from the first day and it’s helped.
“Usually the football team doesn’t get back until the first week of December,” Large said. “We’ve got a jumpstart this year on our plays, rotation and defensive scheme. We’ve ben able to get a lot of things in and we’ve had two really good scrimmages against Hurricane and Capital and we’re very pleased with that outcome. Now we just have to keep working and get ready for the opener against PikeView.”
The Beavers do have holes to fill though. Jae’on Flack was the team’s starting point guard and Chance Johnson’s defensive effort and length made him a key part of the team’s pressure defense packages.
Large has been pleased with the potential replacements.
“Sencere Fields has really looked good in our scrimmages,” Large said. “Will Looney has really looked good on the boards and R.J. Hairston is a force to deal with both offensively and defensively. And then you’ve got Caleb Fuller who’s very consistent shooting and gives you 110 percent up and down the floor. You’ve got Kam’Ron Gore who played a big role in regionals and in Charleston. We expect good things out of him and we have Glen Keene off the bench who’s developed over the summer. We feel really good about that first seven.”
The Beavers aren’t perfect but Large doesn’t have any major concerns. He believes they play well together, are coachable and are experienced and tested.
“Any time you put a team out there there’s going to be some weaknesses. We’re not perfect by any means,” Large said. “We try to evaluate that and whether it be blocking out or rebounding or running the court there’s a lot of different things you can improve on like foul shooting. There’s so many phases of the game that you have to evaluate yourself every day.”