With everything that West Fairmont’s boys’ basketball team went through during a tumultuous season a year ago, the Polar Bears still managed to piece things together when it mattered the most.

West began the postseason without three starters, plus, both teams the Polar Bears met in the Class AAA, Region III tournament had swept them in the regular season.

Regardless, David Retton’s squad got past North Marion in the sectional championship and then completely shut down Preston for the regional title.

Those two wins qualified West for the state tournament for the first time since finishing runner-up in 1998.

West lost in the state quarterfinals to eventual and now two-time defending AAA champion Huntington to finish with an 11-14 record.

“The lessons that they learned as the year progressed, fighting through adversity and everything that they went through as far as injuries goes a long way in building a team,” Retton said. “Through that comes a lot of character. The kids handled it very well. Then to top it off and finish how they did was a great reward.”

Now the task for the Polar Bears is to translate last year’s experience into success on the hardwood this season.

West returns plenty of leadership as well as new faces this year. However, the Polar Bears took a big hit to their lineup when senior center Ben Kettering suffered a knee injury in football, which will sideline him for the season.

“One of the things that hurts us the most by not having Ben is his leadership,” Retton said. “We were looking forward to what he was going to bring to our team. He finished the basketball season strong last year, had a great football season and had a lot of confidence coming into another basketball season.

“So he’s absolutely going to be missed.”

The Polar Bears have lost their first two games of the season at home against Class AAA preseason No. 3 Bridgeport and Wheeling Park — two teams that advanced to the state tournament a year a go.

“We have to do a better job of finishing the game, and we didn’t do that,” Retton said after losing to Wheeling Park. “We made improvements from the first game to the next. So we learn from this one and move on to the next one.”

Matt Pellillo, Lex Janes, Zac McCullough and Joey Buonaiuto return the most varsity experience.

Pellillo really became the leader of the team last year during West’s run to the state tournament. He scored 20 points in the loss to Wheeling Park Saturday night.

“Matt’s a very hard-nosed, physically tough kid,” Retton said. “He’ll get knocked down and bounce right back up. That’s a great quality for a leader to have.”

While Janes and Buonaiuto bring a physical presence to the Polar Bear lineup, McCullough came into his own as a sophomore shooter.

“Zac is a really outstanding shooter,” Retton said. “Every time he shoots it, I feel he has a great shot at making it. That’s how much confidence I have in his shooting.”

Retton, though, expects McCullough to do a little more than score as a junior.

“He’s developing into a good rebounder and a guy who can defend,” the coach said. “We hope he continues to improve, as well as all of the guys, from last year.”

But with every new season means a new supporting cast.

This year, the new cast of characters are names like Nathan Angeline, Kyle Raikes, Bregan Besedich, Carl Simms, Marquis Hilson and James Haldeman.

Angeline, a senior, is the most experienced out of the bunch, but he has a much different role now.

“It’s drastically changed from last year,” Retton said. “I really liked the way he shot the ball against Wheeling Park. The points may not indicate that, but when he shot the ball he had a confidence factor there.”

Now it’s just a matter of getting some early-season wins so West can turn the building process into a successful journey by the time March rolls around.

“We compete and play hard,” Retton said. “Now we have to compete and succeed, not just compete.

“I’m excited about what lies ahead. I have that confidence in them.”

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

Trending Video

Recommended for you