CLEAR FORK — The last time Westside had a Big Three the Renegades went to back-to-back state tournaments and advanced to the semifinals twice, ending in overtime from the 2015 championship game.
It remains to be seen whether the Renegades’ current Big Three measures up to what was likely the school’s top graduating class led by Justin Cogar, Will Fox and Justin Kenneda.
But one thing is certain. Westside will lean heavily on the junior trio of Jace Colucci, Ethan Blackburn and Daniel Reed. The trio has experience and has emerged as the leaders of the Westside squad.
“We will go as far as they take us,” coach Shawn Jenkins said. “They’re going to have to up their games from last year, and they know that. I think that they will.”
The thing Jenkins likes about the three is that they all bring different aspects to the game.
Colucci is an athlete first and foremost.
“Jace is a slasher, a cutter to the basket, and his athleticism is going to get him extra points,” Jenkins said. “He can score off offensive rebounds. Honestly, I think he can get 10 points off rebounds alone. He’s going to get to the basket.”
Last season Colucci averaged 7.2 points per game and scored in double figures in seven games, with a season-high 15 against Liberty. He had five games with nine points. Jenkins sees him in the mode of a 10-10 guy.
“I’m not saying he will get a double-double every night, but he is capable of it,” Jenkins said.
Ethan Blackburn is the resident shooter of the three.
He is the team’s leading returning scorer at 10.0 points per game, and he had a team-high 38 3-pointers. He scored in double figures 10 times including a season-best 20 points in a Hatfield-McCoy Shootout battle against Lincoln.
“Ethan is long and crashes the boards well and obviously he can shoot,” Jenkins said. “He’s not afraid to take the big shot, and he can knock those down.”
At the point will be Daniel Reed (9.7 ppg, 24 3s), who brings a different mentality to the position.
He is a scorer, who spent some time at the point last season. He had 13 games when he scored in double figures, including a career-high 25 against PikeView, and he scored in double figures in five of the last seven games.
“He is definitely going to be our point guard,” Jenkins said. “He has a quick first step. During some of our open gyms some of our former players would come by and play, and they’d come to me and talk about his first step. He is quick as lightning. He’s a scorer, and he looks to penetrate, but he can get the ball to the open man.”
During last year’s 8-15 season, a down season after another outstanding senior class led the Renegades to the 2017 state tournament, the trio was just getting their varsity feet wet.
Against a competitive schedule, Jenkins threw the youngsters into the fire to see how they would respond.
They had their moments, but the season would be about what Jenkins expected.
Back also is 6-4 Tommy Milam, a junior who played well at the end of last season. He scored 48 of his 69 points in the final eight games of the season, including a career-high 12 in a loss to Wyoming East in the Section 1 semifinals at the Raleigh County Armory Convention Center. He also had 10 against Oak Hill in a regular-season game.
“I love him right now,” Jenkins said. “I think he is only going to get better. He has spent a lot of time improving his game. He can step out and shoot the ball as well. I spent a lot of time telling him he has the green light to shoot that mid-range jumper. He is probably the second best shooter we have. He did it in the summer and fall. He does it in practice. He just needs to do it in games.”
The fifth starter might come down to who the opponent is. Jenkins is high on 6-5 sophomore Shandell Adkins.
“He really just needs to play,” Jenkins said. “He didn’t start playing basketball until his eighth grade year at Oceana, so he has a lot to learn. But I really like his game. He is long. He is a kid who throws his arms up and all of a sudden he is 6-7, 6-8.”
Another big is Mikey Newsome, a 6-4 scrapper who could move into a pivotal role for Westside.
Evan Colucci, who averaged 3.5 points and had an 11-point effort against Liberty, gives Westside some versatility at guard. He also had 12 3s on the season.
“He hit some big shots for us last season, and he’s going to do that again,” Jenkins said.
Austin Cline (2.1 ppg) gives the Renegades some defensive versatility at the guard spot.
“We have some players, and I have some options,” Jenkins said. “A lot of what we do will be based on our opponent, or we just might play who is playing well at that time.”
The time is now, Jenkins said.
“I can’t use the excuse that we are a young team anymore,” Jenkins said. “It’s time for these guys who were young to up their games. They have that experience now. It’s up to us to put them in positions to be successful, and it’s up to them to take that experience and use it. We still will be a young team, but we have guys who got their feet wet last year on the varsity level. They should know what to expect.”
Assistant coach Jeremy Warrix, also the golf coach and baseball coach at Westside, has stepped down to take some time off in the winter, and Noel Cogar will take over as an assistant coach. He formerly coached at Oceana Middle School.
The Renegades open against Princeton in a season-opening classic tournament at Westside that will include Liberty and Lincoln. Westside will play Lincoln the next night before a regular season match with Liberty.
They will also join with Wyoming East in the newly formed E-Z Stop Classic, formerly the Family Heathcare Classic. The Renegades will face Patriot High School, who is coached by a former player of Jenkins’ brother John, a long-time coach in Virginia. The other team, T.C. Williams, the school on which the movie “Remember the Titans” is based, is coached by former WVU standout Darryl Prue.
The Renegades will also play in the Hatfield-McCoy Shootout again this season at Williamson.
2019-20 Westside High School
Boys’ Basketball Schedule:
Dec. 13: Princeton, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14: Lincoln, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 20: Liberty Raleigh, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 27-28: at EZ-Stop Classic at Wyoming East, TBA
Jan. 2-3: at New River Shootout, TBA
Jan. 7: at Pikeview, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 10: at Hatfield/McCoy Shootout at Williamson, TBA
Jan. 11: at Eastside, Va., 2 p.m.
Jan. 14: Tug Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 17: at Wyoming East, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 21: at Shady Spring, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 24: Oak Hill, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25: Mingo Central, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 31: at Liberty Raleigh, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4: at Oak Hill, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7: Wyoming East, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 11: Pikeview, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 18: at Mingo Central, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 21: Shady Spring, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 25: at Tug Valley, 7:30 p.m.