Inside the Program: Beaver Falls Boys' Basketball
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Few teams that start a season 3-4 have high hopes of winning a WPIAL championship. But Beaver Falls, the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked Class AA team, has recovered well from a sluggish start and is in prime position to compete for a WPIAL crown. Under coach Doug Biega, the Tigers have won 11 consecutive games, dating to Jan. 8, and each of those wins have been by double-digit margins. Beaver Falls (17-5, 12-0) will play the winner of the California-Fort Cherry game Wednesday in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
Beaver Falls has one of the most storied boys basketball programs in the WPIAL. The Tigers have won seven WPIAL championships -- six in Class AAA and one in AA (2005). Beaver Falls also won two PIAA Class AAA championships, one in 1970, the year of the Tigers' first WPIAL title, and one in '94. They also won a Class AA championship in 2005, the year of the Tigers' most recent WPIAL title.
The Tigers struggled early this season -- in part because they played a difficult schedule and in part because their top player, 6-foot-7 junior Sheldon Jeter, was recovering from a bone he broke in his hand in a preseason scrimmage. The Tigers have won all 11 games since Jeter's return. "He has not stopped since the day he broke his hand," Biega said. Jeter took a couple days off after the injury then started an intense rehabilitation program that got him back in action as soon as possible. Biega said Jeter's work inspired his teammates -- not just to play well in his absence but to continue to fight after his return. Jeter is receiving interest from a number of Division I colleges, including Penn State, West Virginia, Rutgers, Indiana, Wisconsin and Duquesne. Biega said he tells college coaches the same thing every time they make a visit to scout the lengthy swingman, who continues to improve. "They ask if Sheldon can compete in Division I," he said. "I tell them the Sheldon you're seeing is the worst Sheldon Jeter you're going to see."
Like many smaller schools, the Beaver Falls basketball roster is stocked with football players. The most noteworthy is senior forward Devin Cook, who played linebacker at Beaver Falls and has signed with Pitt to play football. Biega said he can count on Cook to be a physical player. "If there's a loose ball, Devin does not hesitate to go get it," Biega said. "He plays collision positions." He added having football players gives the team more strength -- physically and mentally.
Having a lot of football players also contributed to the Tigers' slow start. Beaver Falls lacked the conditioning to play basketball at a high level early in the season. During that time, Biega said, rival coaches took shots at Beaver Falls in the media. Some said the Tigers were beatable in section play. Biega said they spoke too soon, considering his team was still recovering from the fatigue of football season, and he used those comments as fuel. "A lot of people were taking shots at us early," Biega said. "That really did motivate me and it trickled down to our team."
Beaver Falls has long been known to have some colorful nicknames for players on the team. This season's squad is no different. Sophomore point guard Drew Cook is lovingly called "Princess" because, Biega said, "he was a little soft when he got here." The most interesting nickname belongs to Jeter. Biega was scouting a game and trading texts with his wife. She asked what time he would be home, and he replied "I'll be home in time to tuck in 'Cuddlebear,'" Biega replied. "Cuddlebear" is the couple's 1-year-old son, Jack. But Biega was also trading texts with Jeter that night and accidentally fired that text, meant for his wife, to Jeter. Since then, Jeter has become "Cuddlebear" on the team. "He'll probably kill me for saying it," Biega said.
First Published February 18, 2011 12:00 am