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Martins Ferry boys boast length, athleticism

Photo Provided PICTURED IS the 2020-21 Martins Ferry basketball team. Front row, from left, are manager Rico Beverage, Gaige O’Connell, Dallas Stemkowski, Landen Hores, Joe Green, Brendan Maine, Dom Shrodes and Jackson Carte. Back row, from left, are manager Gavin Little, Colby Shriver, Davian Ray, Zach Flesch, Logan Smith, Jaizen Miles, Alex Bennett and Peyton Hores.

MARTINS FERRY — When Derek Edwards looks back on the 2019-20 season, he finds a lot to be happy about. Unfortunately, he also found a lot of areas in which his Purple Riders need to improve, too.

As he prepares for year number five at his alma mater, Edwards believes there are pieces in place for the Riders to take steps forward, but he also realizes the number of challenges — beyond the 22-game schedule — has greatly increased for the upcoming season.

“We’re taking things day by day and almost hour by hour,” Edwards said. “We lost the spring like everyone else did, but we also got shut down in June and when we were able to restart, it was (basically) football season, so we really lost four or five months of preparation.”

The preseason didn’t treat the Riders well either. Shortly after the football season ended, Ferry shifted to remote learning, which triggered another shutdown of basketball.

“We’re doing our best to make the most of the situation,” Edwards said. “The way I see it is everyone is dealing with similar issues. We’re going to try to prepare the best we can and play as many games as we can.”

With the season just a few days away, Edwards is ready to shift focus to what he has on the floor and it’s a squad that is long and athletic. However, it’s also a team that he points out must shoot better from behind the 3-point line and also at the free throw line.

“We were abysmal from 3 last season,” Edwards admitted. “We do feel like we have some guys on this team who can be consistent threats (from the perimeter), but we’re still going to try to get the ball to the basket as much as we can.”

While the Riders want to slash and get the ball to the bucket, they must improve on the 57% foul shooting clip they posted last winter.

“I think we missed 16 free throws at Fort Frye (in the tournament loss),” Edwards said. “Shooting the basketball has been a struggle, really, since my first year. Sine then we’ve struggled from behind both lines. We’ve really made that an emphasis because we spend the majority of our practices shooting the ball.”

On top of shooting, Edwards also lists depth as a concern. While his team has to replace only the graduation losses of Dasyn Hores, Cody Olson, Mike Buksa and Caleb Olson from a 13-11 season, the Riders may employ just a seven-man rotation.

“We’re looking for other guys to step up,” Edwards said. “Finding additional contributors is important, especially this season, because beyond foul trouble and normal injuries, when you’re dealing with the pandemic, you never know what might happen. This (season) could be a real test of your roster from top to bottom. We’ve tried to convey to all of the kids that we need them all to be ready because we can never be sure when their number will be called.”

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Riders. Edwards loves his team’s size, length, athleticism and its defensive commitment.

“Our defense is always a strong point,” Edwards said. “If you can’t guard, you can’t play. That’s who we are. It’s not going to be fancy. Defense and rebounding are areas where we’ll hang our hats. Those types of things may not make the highlights, but they win games. We want to hold teams to one-shot possessions and try our best to take away their strengths and let our athletes play.”

Fueling the Riders attack is the return of senior Logan Smith (6-6). En route to earning a myriad of post-season honors, Smith poured in 18 points and collected nine rebounds a game last season.

“The expectations are high for Logan, and he knows that,” Edwards confessed. “He really came on and was a constant for us every game last season. We knew we could rely on him on both ends of the floor. He’s a dynamic athlete, who can guard all five spots. His versatility is what makes him so good.”

Junior forward Jaizen Miles (6-4) is another who had a strong 2019-20 season. He, too, is a versatile defender and possesses a skill set to make him a tough guard on the other end.

“Jaizen is a worker and I am really excited to see what he can do as a full-time starter,” Edwards said.

Junior shooting guard Davian Ray (5-11) is one of those players who will see an expanded role and be looked upon to provide additional scoring punch.

Senior Alex Bennett (5-10) is back out for hoops for the first time in a couple of seasons and will be in the mix at the guard spot.

At the point guard spot, the Riders will be turning to David Skavarka (5-11).

“By the end of last season, he was really starting to catch our attention,” Edwards said. “He was on the cusp of playing time last season. He’s another guy who can really shoot the ball and he plays with a lot of energy.”

A battle for the fifth starting spot is between junior Colby Shriver and classmate Zach Flesch.

“Both of those kids are knock-down shooters, which is something we’ve been missing,” Edwards said.

Supplying depth on the interior is junior Peyton Hores (6-2), who Edwards says “does all the dirty work.”

“Our goal is to be in the OVAC (Tournament) hunt, but we need to realize that our goals are more geared toward the end of the season and we need to continue to work toward those goals even if we happen to have a slow start,” Edwards said. “We need to keep our minds on specific goals and getting better each day.”

Junior Dallas Stemkowski is vying for minutes as well.

A large collection of sophomores are ticketed for jayvee duty. That group includes Dom Shrodes, Landyn Hores, Rocky Schau, Joe Green, Brayden Mamie, Jackson Carte, Gaige O’Connell, Devin Green and Laine Baker.

The freshmen class took a hit when Baron Lucy was injured late in football season. He’s expected to miss the bulk of basketball with an elbow injury.

Other ninth graders in the program are David McGuire, Mason Redinger, Turner Krol, Carter Bennett, Tristen Hill and Rocco Beveridge.

Edwards returns a quality coaching staff, including Ron Hill, Dave Edwards, Jeremy Shrodes, Mike Beck, Greg Kumse, James Edwards and Lucas Agnew.

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