By Dave Morrison
BECKLEY – With Jace Colucci announcing his transfer from Westside to Woodrow Wilson earlier this week, the Flying Eagles
picked up a multi-sport athlete who will help out the football, basketball and track teams.
For a basketball program that has made just one state tournament trip in the last four seasons (that trip in 2018 during this span between 2017-2020) – not the gold standard by which Beckley basketball is typically measured – it is the continuation of an off-season trend that sees the Flying Eagles improving.
True, the team must replace leading scorer Richard Law (16.6) lost to graduation and second-leading scorer Ayden Ince (16.4) lost to transfer (to Greater Beckley Prep) but the cupboard is hardly bare.
The Flying Eagles, on paper at least (which at this point may be more reliable than the court thanks to Covid-19) look like a real contender in Class AAA basketball, or rather Class AAAA basketball, with the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (SSAC) set to debut its basketball-only four-class pilot program for the 2020-2021 season.
Colucci fits the bill as a prototypical Beckley-style basketball player right off the bat, a player who gives 100 percent on both ends of the court.
Last season at Westside the junior averaged 9.2 points per game, including a career-best 23 points against Mingo Central. He had nine double-figure games, two coming in the Renegades’ two postseason victories. Westside was scheduled to host Shady Spring in the regional championship March 12 when the pandemic abruptly brought those proceedings to a screeching halt.
Colucci, despite being undersized at 6-foot, was one of the team’s leading rebounders, by sheer determination. That also made him a good defender.
Although he scored just five points, one of his better games came in a 62-57 New River CTC tournament win over rival Wyoming East at the Armory. He and fellow guard Daniel Reed started getting out in transition. Driving into the paint, they continually drew help on defense and found big man Tommy Milam underneath for easy layups.Textbook basketball.
Colucci scored 409 points during his career at Westside.
And what of this Woodrow basketball team?
It starts with Ben Gilliam, a 6-foot-6 rising senior who averaged a double double last winter, scoring 15.7 points and grabbing 10.5 rebounds per game. He shot 65.1 percent from the field (157 of 241). With improvement at the foul line (56 percent) he will be a candidate for state player of the year. Coach Ron Kidd called him “the second-best big man in the state” last season, an obvious cap tip to graduated Chapmanville standout Obinna Anochili-Killen.
Gilliam has scored 545 points in his career at Woodrow, giving him a real shot, given natural progression, of reaching the 1.000-point club.
Then there is Kayden Slay, son of former Flying Eagles’ standout Bryan Slay and nephew of Woodrow Wilson’s state player of the year Tamar Slay, a two-time state champion, member of the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame and former NBA player.
A rising junior, Slay has transferred back to Beckley from North Carolina.
Slay, a 6-2 guard, has the ability to get to the basket and, in Beckley fashion, is considered a great defender.
Returnees include Maddex McMillen, a 6-2 rising junior who averaged 8.8 points per game and had 22 3s (most of any returnee) and played the most minutes of any returnee (averaging 28:32 minutes per game). McMillen also averaged 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists, both top two among returnees.
Others include Keynan Cook (2.3 ppg in 25 games, three of them starts) has grown to 6-5 over the summer), Dwayne Richardson (2.8 ppg, who appeared in 18 games, including 13 starts and Tauvea Davis (3.1 in 19 games, one a start).
Perhaps the wild card is Elijah Redfern, an incoming freshman. Not many freshmen would be considered to be a key in a program like Woodrow Wilson but not many freshmen have the potential of Redfern. Put it this way, he has been compared by some to be in the same class as past Beckley guard standouts like Tink Brown, Brian Nabors, Jamel Bradley, Mike Wilson and Andrew Johnson. That’s some outstanding company.
If he fills that promise, expect Woodrow to have a legitimate chance at raising banner No. 17 in the Armory.