Sports Preview: Basketball season tips off in county
The 2013-14 high school basketball season got underway Tuesday night. While one team looks to replace a ton of graduated talent, another balances their senior losses with exciting returnees. Two other county teams enjoy an interesting nucleus, but have to play a murderous schedule. New conferences under VHSL reclassification won’t come into play until the postseason, as teams largely will play old district schedules.
Patrick Henry and Maggie Walker compete for a loose ball during the Patriots’ season-opener win Tuesday night.
Returning this year from a record of 5-11, 8-14 overall, the Patriots must find offense to replace the departed Kahlil Mock, plus role players Wesley Toro and Will Holman. The largest hole may be due to Hunter Taylor’s graduation, as he provided much leadership and drive to a team that struggled to find chemistry on-court last season.
Returning is 6-foot 7-inch center Lucas Pienkowski, who was plagued by foul trouble in several games last season. His presence on the floor can swing games in the Patriots’ favor. Javontay Straus gets an increased role in the backcourt along with Tarik McClain. Parrish Gordon will need to step up offensively, while Brandon Mayhew proved he could provide tough minutes inside.
New to varsity are junior forwards Spencer Lowry and Michael George. They bring needed size at 6 feet 4 inches and 6 feet 3 inches respectively. Tyler and Jasmine Pinder’s brother James comes in to, of course, play guard, and could become more of a factor as the season wears on. Fellow sophomore Jamal Foy joins as well.
Head Coach Randy Anderson, now in his third season, is looking to his defense and tenacity to create scoring opportunities.
“We must have strong, physical play from our forward and center positions and smart decision-making from the backcourt,” Anderson said. “Defensively, we will have to get after the ball a bit to help create easy offensive possessions.”
The Patriots began their season Tuesday at home against Maggie Walker and will not face their new Conference 16 rivals, Albemarle, Orange and Halifax, until February’s post-season tournament.
The Hawks went 5-9 last season in district play with an overall record of 9-9. Their biggest loss will be that of Trayvonte Brown, now at Richard Bland College, a diminutive guard with the ability to shoot from anywhere. But this also could be a case of addition by subtraction, as scoring opportunities may become more numerous for several talented returnees.
Jalen Elliott, a breakout star for the Hawks football team this fall, was the freshman sensation for Hanover on the court a year ago. Expect him to generate scoring, along with Jordan Wade and Cutch Ellis. Ellis’ height and ability to score both inside and outside could be key to developing multiple weapons for Hanover, making them harder to stop.
Other returnees include Blake Billups, Josh Harris, and Brennan Gary. More playing time could be in the offing for the likes of Tavon Weatherless, Trey Toliver and Ian Farrington. Newcomers include Jason Wade and Alan Dabney.
For head coach Darren Thornton, entering his third season in the Bird Cage, the formula for success is simple, but doesn’t mention general offensive opportunities.
“We must be consistent on defense,” Thornton said. “We’ve also got to hit our free throws.”
Opening night for the Hawks was Wednesday (after presstime) at home against Midlothian in the Conference 20 Tip-Off Tournament. A week later, they’ll host county rival Patrick Henry.
The Raiders’ record of a year ago (2-12 district, 4-18 overall) is a bit deceiving. They were competitive in rival games with Hanover and Lee-Davis, sweeping the Confederates, and lost a sure win at Hermitage. Finishing close games and keeping competitive against tougher talent could be key to the success of head coach Phil Reynolds’ sixth team at Atlee.
“We have only four returning varsity players, and our 10 newcomers, including seniors, have never played varsity basketball,” Reynolds noted. “The question will be how long it takes us to perform at the highest varsity level.”
Returnees are led by Brian Miller, a senior that Reynolds calls “one of the top players in the old Capital District,” and fellow senior Ross Gardner, who missed most of the football season with a foot injury. Brett Ayer and Andrew Dages also return.
Both varsity football quarterbacks, Reid McCoy and Travis Barton, join the hoops squad, along with senior Jake Hairfield, and juniors Jarris Hendricks, Corey Osman, Stephen Hurd, Matt Manley and Alex Rae.
Reynolds is high on sophomores R.J. Jenkins and Andrew Foster, as well as the returning Dages.
“We should be significantly more competitive this year; we have great potential for the next two or three years,” Reynolds said.
The Raiders participate in Douglas Freeman’s annual Rebel Invitational this week, beginning with a Wednesday encounter against Collegiate.
After going winless in their district and 5-17 overall, the Confederates were even more of an enigma last season than their rivals, the Raiders. A team with talent, grit, and aggressiveness couldn’t find a win in likely the state’s toughest district, the Capital. Lee-Davis (and Atlee) again will have to run the December-to-February Capital regular season gauntlet against defending state champion Henrico, 3A power Armstrong, Highland Springs and Varina, plus now-4A Hanover.
In head coach Robert Rice’s second season, there’s no way it happens again. Lee-Davis loses backcourt depth in Josh Brown and Jesse Tuck, but the returning core should excite “The Asylum” all season. Ladarien Autry was a summer league warrior, all of his focus on redemption for his team.
The senior will be joined offensively by fellow senior Tariq Caldwell and sophomore Irving Jones, both with height for inside play and the ability to stroke from the outside. Austin Diehr will battle inside for boards and second chance points. Tim Hewlett and Rondell Ramsey will be called upon for more minutes this season.
Coming onboard in Confederate Nation are sophomore Nick Reisenweaver, juniors Keidrell Grey, Marvin Lee and Tanner Croxton and senior Andrew Sergent.
“We must rebound and stay disciplined both offensively and defensively,” Rice noted. “Our size, depth, and inexperience could hurt us this year if we don’t step up and show mental toughness.”
The Confederates, after starting the season Tuesday in Dinwiddie, will welcome defending Group AAA State Champion Henrico Dec. 10.