PLEASANT VALLEY — East Fairmont basketball’s leading scorer from last season in forward Trey Rogers is now gone after graduating last spring. Ditto for point guard Aiden Slusser. Forward Luke Pollock and guard Ethan Harvey have also graduated after starting last season. Bees’ coach Tyrone Asterino’s son, Gavin, is also now in college.
All told, essentially the entirety of East Fairmont’s 2019-20 varsity roster has graduated after the Bees’ 11-12 campaign last season, which ended with a loss to rival Fairmont Senior in the sectional semifinals.
“Pretty much all of us who are on varsity right now we’re on JV last year,” said East Fairmont junior Carter Saunders, with the Bees having graduated 10 seniors from last year’s squad. “We knew we were going to have lots of spots open from seniors who left from last year, so us younger players have been working really hard in the offseason to get ready to take on the lead of playing varsity. I mean, none of us really played last year, so we’re all just kind of learning as we go and trying to pick it up as fast as we can.”
What is a shortened preseason tune-up this season due to COVID-19 — in comparison to most years — is the initial dive into the Bees’ mystery box for Coach Asterino, who is heading into his 31st season with the East Fairmont program.
“We’re going to be young, but our guys have been pretty resilient; they’ve came in and worked and have done the things we’ve asked them to do, when we’ve been allowed to do workouts of course,” said Asterino, who expects to have just two seniors on this year’s roster.
The Bees’ varsity squad will be comprised primarily of about eight juniors and five sophomores, Asterino said, none of whom have played varsity minutes in their careers to this point. Really, the only EFHS returnee who saw the court on varsity in any capacity last season is senior forward Adam Earls, who was a captain of the Bees’ football this fall, and his contributions were mostly as an end-of-rotation player considering the experience of last year’s team.
“If I had to scrimmage tomorrow, it’d be hard to tell you who’s going to be out there,” Asterino said. “We are a little bit in transition and it’s one of those things that will improve as people start to find their roles and we figure out where we’re at and what we’re doing, but we’ve got 16 or 17 practices before we play and two scrimmage games.”
East Fairmont opens the season Saturday, March 6, at home against Grafton, and then will be thrown into the fire immediately the following week when it faces a three-game gauntlet at North Marion, home versus Robert C. Byrd, and then at Fairmont Senior.
That opening week figures to be the most brutal stretch of the season for the Bees, considering their opponents and their collective growing pains in adapting to the varsity game, but Asterino and his staff of head assistant and JV coach Tony Corley as well as newly-added assistant Carter Devault, who was an all-state player for the Bees in the late 2000s, have a long track record of establishing a baseline level of play.
Year in and year out, Asterino’s Bees play hard on both ends and conjure stretches where their offense hums amid a flurry of high-post playmaking and whirring cuts and their defense thrives with high-energy, full-court pressure. Those swaths of efficient two-way play may be less frequent, and they’ll likely take time with such a young roster before they come to fruition, but the Bees will battle and make opponents work. They’re never going to simply be a walk over, no matter their experience level.
“Last year, even though it was a lower competition, we did play really well together and we won a lot of games,” said Saunders, “so we kind of know everyone’s strengths and everyone’s weaknesses and we can work with that and hopefully win some games last year. The speed of the game will be getting a lot faster and we’ll be learning to play a lot faster from when we were on JV, but we’re definitely trying to compete.”
“We talk all the time about winning the day, and we break down the word ‘WIN’ as an acronym for (W)hat’s (I)mportant (N)ow,” Asterino said. “What’s important now is that we have young players so from a staff standpoint, our teaching is very critical because we’re only going to lose two kids (after this season). So then next year, we’re going to have four returning starters.”
Asterino even forsook a couple of possible games this season — EFHS is scheduled to play 15 with the max allowed as 18 — for the purpose of more practice time with his team and thus more coach-to-player development within the program.
“(This group) has faced adversity,” Asterino said, “but we’re fortunate to be back and we’re going to work everyday and see where we go.”