It’s been almost four years since Wheeler’s boys basketball team won a state title. That’s a full-blown slump for a program with four state championships since 2002. But the forecast is promising now for a team with only one senior starter and an epic sophomore class.
Wheeler beat Walton 67-63 in overtime on Tuesday to improve to 9-4 overall, 4-1 in Region 5-AAAAAA. Wheeler is the region leader after Roswell (11-6, 5-2) somehow was beaten Tuesday by Lassiter (4-13).
Wheeler should pick up the pace down the stretch with the debut of 6-6 Jaylen Brown, who is rated the No. 1 sophomore small forward in the nation by Scout.com. Brown has been injured but is practicing with the team and is about a week away from playing, coach Doug Lipscomb said Wednesday.
The team’s leader player is junior Elijah Staley, who scored 23 points in the Walton win as Wheeler erased an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Staley, also the school’s quarterback, made two free throws to tie the game in regulation. Staley averages 22 points per game.
247Sports ranks Staley (6-6, 205 pounds) the No. 14 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the nation among juniors. Rivals ranks him among the top 150 basketball recruits in the country. It’s not clear which sport that he will choose, or whether he’ll try both in college.
“It’s hard to say what he will do, but he’s a very skilled kid, very athletic, very explosive,’’ Lipscomb said. “Football helps him as far as leadership goes. It’s a pleasure having him on team this year.’’
Wheeler’s other starters are point guard Austin Smoak (6-1 senior), guard Avery Patterson (6-2 junior), guard Trevin Steede (6-3 junior) and center Daniel Giddens (6-10 sophomore). Coming off the bench are guards Tim Sanders (6-2 senior) and Jerron Love (6-0 sophomore).
Love, Giddens and Brown make up perhaps the state’s most gifted sophomore classes. Giddens and Brown have offers from Georgia and Georgia Tech. Love, who played last season in California, also is a Division I recruit. He has played only two games after gaining his eligibility.
Lipscomb says that the recent addition of Love and the future addition of Brown won’t pose any special challenges for him or the team.
“They’re just coming off injury and becoming eligible,” Lipscomb said. “I’ve never had to deal with that, but the kids have a good attitude about trying to make contributions to the team, so I’m excited about having them.’’
As for the team, Lipscomb has the same hopes as usual.
‘’We hope to be at least a final four team,’’ he said. “That’s everybody’s hope. If we can continue to make progress, I like what I see. It’s a very good group that comes to work hard every day.’’