Oak Glen looking forward to playing a normal schedule in 2021-22
NEW MANCHESTER — A lot of area basketball teams experienced hardships last season trying to play through a pandemic.
Not only did Oak Glen lose out on several games, including not getting to compete in the tournament, the Golden Bears also had to deal with a lot of injuries in going 2-9 in the abbreviated, delayed season.
“We had some injuries and then COVID hit us at the end,” Golden Bears head coach Jerry Everly said. “We didn’t get to play our last three games or the playoff game.”
This season, things seem to be back to a much close sense of normal for Everly and his team.
“It feels great so far,” he said. “The guys are working towards staying healthy and trying to be as safe as possible, wearing masks and everything. It just feels almost back to normal this year, as normal as it can be.”
From the team least year, four seniors departed. Three of them missed significant time, though, as Jacob Clark missed most of the season with an injury, Brayden Mineard missed the season with a football injury and Gage Patterson missed the second half of the season with an injury.
Normally, that means the young guys get a chance to gain experience, but an abbreviated schedule also put a damper on that, too.
“It was tough to lose those guys,” Everly said. “In a normal year, that would have given our young guys a whole year to get experience and learn.
“They kind of got thrown to wolves playing 11 games in a month, and that was our season. Where, normally, they would have been able to get a whole season under their belt.
“They did play a lot over the summer and get experience that way. That is something that should help us.”
Putting in that extra time over the summer and getting experience in different ways is something Everly thinks the pandemic has highlighted the importance of and will benefit the Golden Bears this season.
“The situation has really emphasized the importance of getting experience any way you can,” he said. “It has kind of changed things. We were able to go to team camp again this past summer after not getting to last year. We weren’t able to have a summer league last year, we did this year.
“(The pandemic) hurts development. Our sophomores now, it kind of feels like they’re freshmen.”
Everly and company have six seniors on this year’s team in Dylan Conley, Chaise Clark, Jontae Howard, Ethan Arner, Danny Bridges and Camden Cunningham.
“We have six, but I wouldn’t say we’re just senior-heavy,” Everly said. “Dylan Conley is a good athlete, a real-good football player, but this is his first season playing basketball. He wrestled last year. Camden Cunningham hasn’t seen a lot of varsity time. Danny Bridges is playing for the first time since his freshmen year, but he is a real good athlete.
“The senior leadership will come from Jontae, Ethan and Chaise.
“Chaise is a leader. He’s done a great job over the summer and he’s vocal on the court. He gets us set offensively and defensively. He’s the guy we probably lean on the most. Jontae is going to be a force underneath. He’s a big guy and has played varsity since his sophomore year. We expect big things out of him.”
Joining those six are a pair of juniors who look to contribute in Tristan McCauley and Jared Hissam.
“Tristan hasn’t seen much varsity time, but he will get a chance this year,” Everly said. “Jared played a lot of varsity ball last year and should have a good year this year. We’re looking forward to seeing them play.”
Preston Cole and Alex Dennis are sophomores in the mix that also have the veteran coach excited.
“I’m really excited about Preston and Alex,” Everly said. “They’re both going to get to play a lot of varsity time and they have done really well in practice. It is going to good for them to get out there and get experience under their belt so when we lean on them in the next couple of years, they’ll be ready.”
Asked about the overall strength of his squad, Everly had pointed to quickness.
“We have three guards that are quick and play well together,” he said. “We should be able to shoot a little bit, too.”
While not focusing on any one goal for the season, the main goal is simply come together and play as a team.
“We’re not really setting goals with this group, we’re just trying to see how well we can get together and gel as a team and fight through adversity,” Everly said. “We’re trying to build a team atmosphere. They big key right now is getting these guys to come together.
“We want them to take advantage of being able to play a full schedule again and enjoy it. Playing a full schedule is a big deal and hopefully we can accomplish that. Playing in front of a crowd again is another thing we’re really looking forward to.”
The closeness of the group is another aspect that has him optimistic.
“This is a good group that really enjoy being around each other,” Everly said. “They push each other to be better and they help each other. That is something that has been a big positive. Some of the seniors have taught the other guys our offense and defense and been vocal about what we want to do.”
After last year’s altered schedule, a few familiar faces return to the Golden Bears slate this season.
“We really missed playing the Ohio teams,” Everly said. “We’ve got Beaver Local twice, Wellsville twice, we play Steubenville Central, we’ve got Toronto back on our schedule again and we play East Liverpool once. That’s good to be able to get those rivalries back.”