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Boys basketball: Capital not where it should be

Perhaps it's talent drying up at the school, or the competition has stiffened, but the Cougars are searching fruitlessly for the magic that brought the program back-to-back state championships more than a decade ago.

It's hard to say if that magic will ever return to the 14th-largest school in the state in terms of enrollment.

Right now, that's a question better left unanswered, because the evidence clearly says no.

Six appearances in the State Tournament since winning the 2001 Class AAA championship includes five semifinal losses for Capital and no berths in the last two years.

Yes, Virginia, the Cougars are being left behind.

St. Albans Coach Marshall Kiser has his most talented team in his four years with the Red Dragons, but the way their nine-point victory over the Cougars transpired on Tuesday tells me everything I need to know about the plight of Coach Carl Clark's program.

I'm not running down St. Albans, but Kiser's team finished the game without its two best players - Nathan McNeil and Thad Moss - and saw Taylor Clark foul out.

That's not a good sign for Capital, which has shown the ability to exploit situations and turn them into blowouts.

Capital sits at 1-3 - its second such start in the last three years.

The Cougars have won at least 20 games five times in the program history - two of those were the state championship seasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

Quite frankly, it's hard to put an identity on the Cougars if you watch them play. Organized chaos typically identifies pressing teams, but when it comes to Capital, there is nothing organized about the way it does things on or off the court.

As other teams go through cyclical challenges in talent, many stay at or near the top of the state high school basketball food chain. The ones that don't are moving that way.

George Washington has superstar guard Luke Eddy and a bevy of supporting players, but the Patriots will win games they aren't supposed to. Last year they came an eyelash away from winning the state title - overachievers to say the least.

Riverside is the Kanawha Valley's sleeping giant, injected with energy from young and enthusiastic Coach Dusty Herscher.

South Charleston has more talent than any team in the Valley, Nitro is up-and-coming under Coach Bryan Faber and, despite a defeat to state power Beckley, Hurricane has shown signs of life under Coach Lance Sutherland.

Clark puts the blame on youth. He will work with different lineups for much of the season until he comes up with one that sticks.

He hasn't found one in recent years.

"We have a bunch of young kids and even the seniors that we have are young as far as varsity basketball," Clark said. "The only player that had any really experience was Carrington (Morris) and we lost him half of the year last year. That hurts a kid and he was a sophomore last year.

"It's all about learning. The kids have to learn and accept their roles and stay positive."

Clark is in his 19th season as head coach at Capital. He has more than capable assistant coaches in J.R. Kinney and Ahmed Witten, but there's something missing among all the talent that walks the halls on Greenbrier St.

I can't, and won't, go the route that Capital Principal Clinton Giles chose in 2007 - to say Clark must resign.

Still, there's something missing on the floor at Capital High School.

Other basketball programs have made positive strides, but the Cougars have remained stagnant in recent years.

Maybe it'll change, but when you watch them play, it seems to be the same story on a different day.

I don't know about anybody else, but basketball in the Kanawha Valley is much better when Capital is a state championship contender.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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