This winter season has had its fill of exciting moments so far. The young guys in the Richmond, VA area don’t play around when it comes to on-court competition. In the case of pretty much every basketball season, this season has flown by. Each hoops season can take up to about 4-5 months, longer than most other sports, but I can’t believe we’re already in January. It’s almost like high school basketball takes up a lot of time in a 12-month span… but, at the same time, it goes by quickly. Anyways, now in the mid-way portion of my first scouting season, I’ve been privileged to see the majority of the 804 programs in action. Tournaments/showcases have helped in this, especially. With a good feel for how things have been operating this winter, I’ve put together some thoughts about the Richmond season so far. This includes both the good and the bad.
WHY ARE WE NOT TALKING MORE ABOUT LCA?
It perplexes me how one of the most talented 804 teams hasn’t received all that much attention. I guess one could say that the varsity squad over at Life Christian Academy (LCA) (Chester, VA) has made some ‘quiet noise’ this season. Their biggest headline came back in early December, when the Eagles took on high school phenom LaMelo Ball and his SPIRE Institute team, hosted at Virginia State University. I traveled with LCA to cover that game, and left impressed with the fight they put up. They more than held their own against the nationally-ranked program, providing their own various highlight plays (you can find my full recap of the game on phenomhoopreport.com, titled ‘SPIRE Institute vs. Life Christian Academy (12/5/18).’ Ten days later, they headed north towards D.C. to represent the state of Virginia in the ‘National Monument Hoopfest’ at Woodrow Wilson High School; an event put on by ‘The Grind Session,’ one of the top premiere high school basketball showcase leagues in the country. LCA head coach Richard Mason has a lineup full of next-level talent: with wings, Marchelus ‘Chi Chi’ Avery ‘20 and Dominique Finney ’20, floor general Antonio ‘Spider’ Bridy ’19, and forward Logan Washington ’20 all producing big on a nightly basis. Richmond audiences, don’t miss out on the exciting Eagles, currently 8-3. They’re more than worth the ticket.
Two of the Other Most Underrated Teams in the Area
While LCA could use some more recognition, it honestly doesn’t even compare to two other slept-on programs: Petersburg High School and Lee-Davis High School. Both teams have similarities in their play and place a group of hungry competitors on the floor whenever it’s game time. I saw Petersburg win the annual ‘Tri-City Holiday Classic’ three-day tournament during the last week of December, hosted in their own gym. A week later, they picked up a noteworthy win against Highland Springs, pretty easily. I’ve seen Lee-Davis play twice; once in the preseason and against Mills Godwin around Christmas time. Lee-Davis especially caught my eye in their bullying defense and how fast they play. I see both of these teams having the potential to make a run in the state playoffs soon. Their talent speaks for itself: D’Monte Brown ‘19 (Petersburg), Nayson Massenburg ’19 (Petersburg), NaQuan Greer-Lyons ‘20 (Petersburg), Elijah Jones ‘20 (Lee-Davis), James Wallace III ’20 (Lee-Davis), and Avery Fusco ‘19 (Lee-Davis) all have looked promising. Petersburg stands at 12-2, while Lee-Davis has had its best start in decades, at 9-3.
Prep League, Watch Out for Collegiate…
Most took note of how Collegiate’s business-like approach to this season when the Cougars went on an exceptional run to capture the ‘Times-Dispatch Invitational’ (TDIT) title back in late-December. It was their first TDIT championship since 1998; proving that this year’s squad has the chance to do something special. The VISAA state tournament will obviously arrive here soon enough, but right now I’m more curious to see how Collegiate makes their way through the competition in their conference, the Prep League. Northwestern University signee and 2018 All-Prep League member, Robbie Beran ’19, has looked nothing short of one the top forwards/players in the area so far. His other fellow Cougars, Cody Patterson ’19, Mac Macdonald ’21, and Jackson Watkins ’19, all create some havoc as well. Still, the coaching IQ of head coach Del Harris appears as the team’s biggest weapon. A big test will happen tonight (1/15), as Collegiate takes on the defending Prep League champs, Trinity Episcopal School, whom they lost to in the conference championship last February.
A Healthy Wheeler = More Than Likely Repeat for JM
Losing top 2020 prospect Isaiah Todd ’20 to transfer served as a big blow to the John Marshall (JM) Justices coming into this season. Yes, we’ve all heard by it now. Still, nobody counted the Justices out… they returned all of their talented guards: Levar Allen ’19, Jarius Ashlock ’19, Elijah Seward ’20, Aubrey Merritt ‘19 (recent Life University commit), and 2018 All-Metro first teamer, De’Marr McRae ’19. However, another blow occurred early in the preseason when fans learned standout 6’11” forward, Roosevelt Wheeler ’21, would have to sit out with a knee injury. As a result, the Justices continued on by learning to find success with a ‘small ball’ lineup; Ashlock stood as the tallest starter early on at 6’3.” Now, Wheeler has made a return back onto the active roster and will give JM a reliable post presence. He looked strong and confident when I saw him at the ‘Lawson Classic’ the other week. From the start, I felt that the Justices’ had a chance to repeat as state champions, but with Wheeler’s presence, it is now making everything look destined to fall in place. A 6’11” guy makes a difference for any team… especially one who works hard on both ends.V
Varina Has the Top Spot; Does This Really Surprise Us Though?
Slotted as #1 in both the ‘Times-Dispatch’ and ‘RVA Sports Network’ area high school rankings, Varina maintains the only undefeated record out there; now at 9-0. When looking at all of the firepower they returned from last season’s state championship team, I guess this shouldn’t really raise any eyebrows. The Blue Devils have one of the best starting lineups in the area. A sophomore backcourt of Jason Nelson ’21 and A.J. Williams ’21, both with a handful of offers, leads the offense. From there, wings Tyrese Jenkins ’19 and Kenard Richardson ’20 both can put up scoring numbers of their own, while forward Jordan Hernandez ’19 holds it down in the paint on both sides of the ball. Speaking of Hernandez, the 6’7” senior recently decided to continue his playing career at Virginia State University; I feel his playing style will definitely fit well with the Trojans. Only time will tell if an opponent enters the fold to knock Varina off of their perfect season so far. Whether they enter the postseason undefeated or not, I sense head coach Andrew Lacey’s group looks bound to make another deep run into the playoffs
Who’s the Deadliest Marksman?
Most will acknowledge how three-point shooting has evolved into one of the game’s primary styles of offense now. I mean, it works for the Golden State Warriors, right? So, that leads to a question of consideration: who shoots the best Trey-ball in the 804? Right now, I don’t have a solid answer, but a few players come to mind: Elvin Edmonds IV ’21 (Hopewell), A.J. Williams ’21 (Varina), Jordan Parham ’20 (Huguenot), Darius Jones ’19 (Hermitage), and Henry Davis ’19 (Midlothian). Davis put on the best individual shooting performance that I had a chance to witness so far; he knocked down six triples in a win over Clover Hill earlier this month. I’d like to see others’ choices for this debate.
What Needs Some Sharpening Up
The two biggest areas that I’ve noted in needing the most work, that all teams could use, involve free-throw shooting and limiting turnovers. It’s almost like free throws have become a lost art… rarely have I seen players consistently knock down both attempts at the charity stripe. They’re labeled “free” for a reason, so players need to take advantage when necessary. Don’t forget that free throws can win or lose you a game; I’ve seen it happen way too many times in the past.
In terms of turnovers, obviously they will occur at some point in games, I get that. Nevertheless, I, along with others likely, have learned how turnovers can be distinguished as both ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate.’ For example, one could categorize an ‘appropriate’ turnover occurring when a guard gets a paint touch and makes a solid look with a pass, but it ends up incomplete. ‘Inappropriate’ turnovers occur in various ways: trying to dribble through a full-court press, wasting time on the clock by playing 1v1 and getting stripped, making a fancy/no-look pass in transition, etc. So, obviously the ‘inappropriate’ ones need to diminish. More patience and unselfish ball movement can take care of this problem for the majority of teams.
Players, Don’t Mouth Off
One more small piece of advice and then I’m done lecturing. To all of my high school guys, STOP TALKING TO THE REFS. Simply put, it’s not a good look. Ask yourself, is a college coach really going to find amusement in me jawing with a referee? Bad calls happen, tempers flare up, the competitive side takes over; I understand all of that. I’ve had my own moments as a player too. Regardless, the amount of technical fouls I’ve witnessed this season has been alarming. Get rid of that bad habit now. I guarantee you that no college coaching staff will put up with that type of behavior in their program. Referees, coaches, fans, we’re all human. Don’t let distractions break you out of your on-court element.
Still a Ton of Unsigned Talent Left!
I mentioned this in my section on Phenom Hoops’ ‘High School Hot Takes for the Week of January 14.’ The 2019 class has a plethora of talent that still remains uncommitted to college programs. It’s important that this class doesn’t get overlooked by next-level programs. I’ve already mentioned a couple of seniors from above to keep an eye on, but I recommend coaches to contact me if they have an inquiries about available guys. There’s a plentiful amount that could serve as an asset to any program.
This is just how I’m feeling midway, temporarily. Expect to see a ‘final thoughts’ version once the season concludes in the next few months!