Wharton Boys Shooting For 20 Once Again

The Wharton boys basketball program has churned out 20-win seasons for 15 straight seasons under coach Tommy Tonelli, and once again he has a roster strong enough to reach that total in 2020-21.

Just as long as Covid doesn’t get in the way.

Elijah Barnes (left) moves over to PG this season, while Trevor Dyson is the Wildcats’ top rebounder. (Photos: Charmaine George)

The fall sports seasons at Wharton and Freedom survived the pandemic’s effects due mostly to the fact that they were mostly outside events. The winter season, however, means indoor sports like basketball. Even before the season was a week old, the Wildcats had gotten into a preseason classic and a regular season tournament (going 1-1 to start the season) due to teams bowing out due to Covid.

With a total of only 23 games scheduled this season (not including an extra tournament game or two, as well as the Class 7A, District 7 tournament, there will be little margin for error when it comes to Wharton again reaching 20 wins.

Last year, the Wildcats finished 25-4 and a captured a third straight district title.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Tonelli says. “Literally, you can only take it day-to-day and can’t look too far ahead, or you’re potentially setting yourself up for disappointment. You can get shut down in the blink of an eye.”

If the season is unmarred by Covid, Tonelli thinks he has another strong team, led by returning starters Elijah Barnes and Trevor Dyson.

Barnes averaged seven points a game and was a top defender last year playing primarily off guard, but as a senior this season will take over the point guard duties. Dyson, a junior forward who averaged 11 points and led the team in rebounding, is coming off a standout season, his first as a starter.

“They will be two guys we rely on this year,” Tonelli says. “They are both very skilled, can do a lot of different things on the court and are team leaders.”

Sophomore guard Chandler Davis is hoping to carry over a strong 2019-20 campaign — where he emerged as a starter towards the end of the season — into a prominent role as a full-time starter. And, Tonelli is expecting big things from junior forward Carlos Nesbitt.

“I think he (Carlos) is really ready to have a breakout year,” Tonelli says. “He’s really starting to blossom and find his confidence. “

Junior guard Jordan Brown, who is coming off a knee injury, and Kay Julius, who is currently in the starting lineup, were both on varsity last season although neither received a lot of game experience. And, sophomore forward Reginald “RJ” Bell was a junior varsity standout. The three, along with a promising group of sophomores, help give the ‘Cats a deep rotation.

Freedom Boys Trying To Unlock The Hoop

Ken Angel took over Freedom High’s boys basketball program in 2018-19 and promptly went 25-4 in his first season with a senior-laden team. But, Angel quickly learned that whatever high school basketball giveth, it can taketh away, following graduation. Last season (2019-20), the Patriots dropped to 6-19.

“It was a tough season,” says Angel.

And, one he says the Patriots have no intention of repeating.

Angel has begun the rebuilding process at Freedom, and will do so around senior guard Jack Stone (pictured above) and junior guard Josh Germain.

Stone, the team’s leading returning scorer from last year at 10 points per contest, saw playing time on that 25-4 team, and knows what it takes it win. He is the team’s best shooter, and scored 26 and 20 points in a pair of preseason classics.

Germain is a slasher who Angel thinks will be one of the team’s top scorers. Senior forward Javil Hamlet will be Freedom’s top player in the post.

A focus on scoring points has been a point of emphasis for Angel during the offseason. Last year, the Patriots scored 50 or more points in their first three games, and managed to equal that number only four more times the rest of the season. 

The defense, however, was pretty stout. The problem was that the Pats actually lost games in which they allowed only 25 and 33 points.

“Defensively, we were good,” Angel says. “I wish I knew the answer to the question (on how to score more).”

Even so, Angel says he expects marked improvement this season. 

“We have quite a few seniors this year,” Angel says, “it’s just a matter of who is going to step up. Last year, we had seniors, but they just didn’t get a lot of playing time the previous season. But, we’ve been in the gym, played as many fall league games as we could, and have gotten better and stronger. It’s going to be a hard road for us, but passion and heart can go a long way and these guys are hungry and aggressive.”

Wharton Girls Ready To Break Out

With Freedom unable to field a girls basketball team this season, Wharton will be the only show in town for the 2020-21 season.

And for coach Terry Thompson, it should be his best team yet, as it assumes center stage. After back-to-back 8-win seasons, the Wildcats return every player but one from last year’s team.

“Our biggest goal is to play physical and play disciplined basketball,” Thompson says. “If we do those two things, we’ll be okay. And, we hope to be competing for a District championship. We think we have the depth to be more competitive (with last year’s champion Plant, which ended Wharton’s 2019-20 season with a 72-4 massacre).”

Marinique Redding

Marinique Redding, an All-County selection last year, is the top returner. The senior forward scored 16 points in a season-opening 51-25 win over Spoto. Junior forward Leah Jessup added eight rebounds, and senior point guard Candice Green had six steals. The play of these three veterans will determine how far the Wildcats can go this season.

Wharton also does have depth. Senior captain Jenna Onderko is “the glue” that keeps the team together, and Thompson is hoping for a breakout season from junior Nilaja Bythewood. Her sister Nielle, as well as Candice Green’s freshman sister Nina, also are expected to produce this season.

“Our defense is our strength,” Thompson says. “But offensively, for the first time, we have multiple people that can score the ball. This year, our offense is a whole lot better, and so is the team.”

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