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Unique obstacles for Beaver Falls boys basketball team

| Friday, Jan. 6, 2012

One of the WPIAL's most electric scorers drawing strength from, of all things, defense.

An assistant coach fired after he was charged with running a Beaver County cocaine ring.

Preseason hype projecting the Beaver Falls boys basketball team as Class AA champions, only to have the Tigers lay an egg on opening night.

It has been an unanticipated first month for No. 2 Beaver Falls, which has fought through adversity and, at 8-1 overall and 2-0 in section play, sits comfortably atop Section 6-AA.

"This team will not let anything derail its focus, which is to win championships, both WPIAL and states," coach Doug Biega said. "The more adversity they seem to encounter, the more galvanized and strong they become."

Biega welcomed back three starters from a team that reached the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA quarterfinals — most notably senior Sheldon Jeter, a 6-foot-8 guard who averaged 23 points and nine rebounds despite missing 11 games with a broken bone in his left hand. Jeter is a surefire Division I recruit with a top five of Wisconsin, Penn State, Northeastern, Duquesne and Kent State, but he has been having a bigger influence on defense. Beaver Falls is allowing 45.4 points per game, third-fewest in Class AA.

During Tuesday's 79-23 win over New Brighton, Jeter even took a charge — apparently a rare sight.

"My mouth dropped when I saw him on the ground, the ref calling a charge," said 6-foot-6 senior center Royce Watson, the team's most physical defensive player. "I said to myself, 'I've seen it all now. I saw Sheldon Jeter take a charge.' He's really bought into defense this year."

Beaver Falls boasts the second-best offense (71.3 ppg) in Class AA, but it's not just Jeter: Watson is averaging five points and 10 rebounds; senior guard Kevin Cancel, a transfer from Colorado who often shadows the other team's top guard, has been good for 10 points and six steals; and Drew Cook and Elijah Cottrill are contributing nine points apiece.

All are tenacious defenders.

"If one person gets beat, another should be stepping up to help," said Jeter, who's averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds after adding 25 pounds of muscle in the offseason, the result of an unorthodox training program that involved swinging sledgehammers and pushing around refrigerators. "Pressuring the ball is something that every Beaver Falls team has been known to do, and we're trying to live up to that."

Carlos Cleckley was a three-sport star — football, basketball and track — at Beaver Falls and eclipsed Joe Namath's school record for passing yards in a season with 1,520 in 1993, the fall of his senior year. He helped the Tigers win WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA basketball titles that winter.

On Dec. 16, Cleckley was arraigned on seven charges before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh, fired the day before once school officials learned of the charges. It does not appear that Cleckley's involvement in the drug ring spilled over into his coaching duties, but the possibility for distraction was there, especially considering the Tigers had opened with a 60-58 loss to West Middlesex.

The night of Cleckley's arraignment, however, Beaver Falls held section rival Quaker Valley to its lowest point total of the season during a 86-54 win, getting 33 points and 17 rebounds from Jeter.

"It just shows you," Biega said, "the focus that these kids had for a big game."

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