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Isaac Esparza and the Wolverines are standing pat to begin their season in 2021.

With the rise of COVID-19 numbers painting the state of Idaho a deep red, many are concerned that the rest of the 2021 prep basketball season might not happen.

Regardless of the outcome of this troubling time, the Wood River High School boys’ basketball team will practice, scrimmage and game-plan as if this season still has legs.

As 2020 comes to a close, the goal for the remainder of the basketball season is to resume in January of 2021.

That said, nothing is a guarantee as Blaine County—along with much of the rest of Idaho—is still in the red, “critical” coronavirus risk level according to both the Harvard Global Health Institute and the South Central Health District.

First-year head coach Eli Stein and athletic director Kevin Stilling have been on the same page since the COVID-19 restrictions first caused stagnation in the season. For now, they’re bringing in referees to have game-like scrimmages.

The goal is to give the Wolverines something to gun for rather than basic practices.

“We draft teams and make it a real competition and treat it like a game,” Stein said. “The kids love it. There’s a lot of fight, and there’s high energy. We are getting at it the best we can. The kids want to be great and get better day by day.”

Stein, 25, hails from Memphis, Tenn. and replaces John Radford, who stepped down after 11 years of coaching the Wood River program.

Stein’s youthful energy will be key in connecting with a team that lost eight seniors from last year.

Last season the Wolverines finished the 2019 year with an 11-13 overall record (5-4 home, 6-9 away, 6-7 league) and finished with the No. 6 seed in the now-defunct Great Basin 10 conference tournament. The Wolverines will instead play in the new Great Basin 7 conference.

The team will definitely miss the contributions of Johnny Radford, who graduated from WRHS as the all-time leading scorer in Wolverine history with 1,393 points.

However, Stein is confident that his young team will be able to put up points in his motion-based offense, which will also feature hints of an old-school Princeton style.

Stein has only six upper-classmen on the varsity team, four of whom are seniors. Tyler Petersen leads the senior class for the Wolverines.

“[Tyler] shows a lot of leadership with the younger team,” Stein said. “He’s taken that leadership role with a new culture.”

Other seniors are Isaac Esparza, Elias Svennungsen and Carter Gil.

So far, the game-like scrimmages have paid off and have given Stein an extra look at players that he might not have been able to see prior to their first game.

During those scrimmages, sopho-more Korbin Heitzman and freshman Cooper Fife have impressed the new coach.

“Korbin is one of the best shooters we have,” Stein said. “He can get off his shot at any moment. He plays hard and he’s going to be fun to watch.”

Stein added that Fife is one of his most interesting players. Only a freshman, Fife is a great ball handler, Stein said. In late game scenarios, Fife has proven that he can be trusted with the ball when it counts.

Should COVID-19 risk levels drop below red and into the orange, the Wolverines aim to begin their season Tuesday, Jan. 5. The WRHS squad is scheduled to host Filer at 7:30 p.m. at the WRHS gymnasium.

Email the writer: sports@mtexpress.com

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