Sophomore helps rebuilding Eagles

After losing 80 percent of its roster and being under the direction of a new coach, everyone surrounding the First Assembly boys' basketball program knew it would have to rebuild.

That's when sophomore shooting guard Andrew Wheet, who averaged 5.5 points per game last year as a shooter off the bench, started to take on a bigger role.

"We lost a lot of great players who were responsible for most of the success we've had the last few years and Coach (Dave) Murr," said Wheet, who was one of three returning players to start the year along with Kendall Grisby and Dante Simmons. "So we knew guys would have to step in and play bigger roles this year. I was excited about the challenge."

The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Wheet knew he would have to step into a scoring role on this Eagles' team and he did so from the start, scoring 17 points in his first game of the year to lead First Assembly to a 76-55 win over Calvary Baptist.

Wheet, who is averaging 20 points per game, caught fire the next four games, averaging more than 22 points a game, including a career-high 31-point outburst against Victory Christian.

In that game, Wheet scored 19 consecutive points, including six 3-pointers, in the second half to nearly bring his Eagle team back from a 22-point halftime deficit, falling just short in a 70-67 loss.

Despite the loss and a 4-5 start against a tough non-conference slate that included Davidson Day and Ardrey Kell, Wheet has emerged as a leader.

"The best thing about Andrew is more than anything he is a competitor who leaves it all out on the floor every game," said first-year Eagles' Head Coach Frankie Cantadore. "Even though he is just a sophomore, he has become a leader on this team because of the way he plays."

While scoring is Wheet's forte, he has also developed a solid floor game, averaging three assists, four rebounds, one steal and nearly one block per contest.

In First Assembly's win over Queens Grant in the CSS Hardwood Classic, Wheet showed his versatility, scoring 15 points while grabbing 13 rebounds to lead the Eagles to a 67-56 win.

"There's no question that he can flat out score and shoot," said Cantadore. "But he does a lot more than that."

Wheet and the Eagles now hope to focus on challenging for a playoff spot and the Metrolina Athletic Conference title. First Assembly got off to a 1-1 start in conference play.

After going 39-2 in the MAC the last three years, the Eagles know it won't be that easy as state power Northside Christian has again established itself as the favorite.

While the roster is relatively new, Wheet has a lot of help from seniors Jon Allison (10.5 points per game), Will Nork (12.3) and Dante Simmons (7.8) as well as junior Nate Cantadore (10.6) to help share the load.

"We know we have a lot to live up to from what Coach Murr was able to build here," Cantadore said. "But I like the fact that we've sort of had to start over and build our team back up. It's a huge challenge."

If Cantadore and his team are going to live up to the Eagles' past, Wheet will be a big part of it.

Wheet, 16, is looking forward to continuing to prove at First Assembly and hopefully one day as a college basketball player.

"Basketball is what I love to do," said Wheet. "I've just started to prove that I can be a player. I still have a lot of work to do and a lot to prove at this level and I plan to become the best player I can."