Kyle Wheeler has always been one of those basketball players who does a bit of everything.
Now, with teammate and leading scorer Ryan Badowski expected to miss at least three weeks with a hip flexor injury, the 6-foot-5 Brunswick senior will have to do a lot of everything.
“There’s no question he’s our most valuable player this season,” 17th-year Blue Devils coach Joe Mackey said of Wheeler. “Now we’re going to have to count on him even more with Ryan out.
“He can impact a game in so many ways. He’s one of those Magic Johnson players. He’s a rare five-tool player at the high school level. He can score, create, rebound, pass and defend.”
Wheeler, who has started since he was a sophomore and played every position but center, is averaging 14.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 blocks for the Blue Devils. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, 32 percent on 3-pointers and 76 percent at the line.
Most important of all, he’s switched from shooting guard to point guard, in part because of Badowski’s injury and in part because Mackey simply wanted the ball in his hands.
“I don’t want to be a guy who can just score or pass or rebound,” Wheeler said. “I want to do a little of everything and help the team win. That’s what I try to do every night.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, who are 6-7 overall and 1-3 in the rugged Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division, that hasn’t happened nearly as often as they envisioned.
“We just haven’t shot the ball well,” Wheeler said. “We’ve had some pretty good looks at the basket, but we just can’t seem to put them away. There are games where it seems like we click, but then the next game we come out and don’t make them.
“We just need to play harder on both ends of the floor and step up and knock down open shots.”
Wanting to know what more he could do to help, Wheeler had a 90-minute meeting with Mackey following a Jan. 6 loss to Richmond Heights.
“It was one of the better conversations I’ve ever had with a player,” Mackey said. “He didn’t blame teammates or coaches. He just wanted to know what I had in mind to help us get better. When he left, I remember thinking, ‘That kid really gets it.’”
It was after that meeting that Mackey became firmly convinced he had to make Wheeler the point guard. The veteran coach had considered making the move in the preseason, but held off because Wheeler was coming off Tommy John surgery on his elbow and wasn’t in the greatest shape.
“Kyle has such a high basketball IQ,” Mackey said. “He understands the offense and how we want to play better than anyone on the team. He’s our best facilitator. He’s not a true point guard, but he sees the floor as well as anyone I’ve had in quite some time.
“We were looking to tweak some things. We need to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
An All-Gazette pick a season ago, Wheeler’s first assist tonight will be the 200th of his career. He needs 14 more to move into fifth place all-time at Brunswick.
The senior is fifth in career 3-point attempts at the school with 274. With 82 makes, he needs six more to move into fifth in that category.
Wheeler also ranks fifth in career free throw percentage at 75.5 and, with 525 points, needs to pour in 190 more to move into fifth in that category.
“Kyle doesn’t need to score to impact a game,” Mackey said. “He makes my job a lot easier as a coach. Kyle’s all about team.”
For all his talent and accomplishments, Wheeler might end up playing baseball in college. A pitcher and first baseman, he was throwing 84 mph as a sophomore and playing on the varsity, but broke his hand early in the season.
Wheeler then blew out his elbow in summer league play and missed his entire junior season, but is hoping to make up for lost time on the diamond this spring.
Right now, though, he’s only concerned with helping the Blue Devils get better on the hardwood. A team that had extremely high goals to start the season, Brunswick is hoping to follow the lead of Medina, which went 5-15 a year ago but came together to win the Copley Division I District and reach the final of the University of Akron Regional.
“I still think we can make a nice run,” Wheeler said. “We want to get everything rolling before we get into the tournament. With the schedule we play, we can beat anybody at our district.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.