In covering both the ‘Tri-City Holiday Classic’ (December 2018) and ‘William W. Lawson, Jr. Classic’ (January 2019) this season, one particular team caught my eye in the back-to-back events: Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ). The Vikings showed out with their breathtaking pace and style of play during the four total games I watched them compete in; wearing opposing teams down in each contest and not taking terribly long to do so. TJ also makes my list of programs I’ve deemed fairly underrated this season. After a 62-58 loss to Douglas Freeman High School last night (2/5), they currently hold a 13-11 record with the regular season soon about to close. Things continue to look promising for the Vikings… this could result as their first winning season since 2013 and I could see them making a strong push into the playoffs. They’ll just have to stay the course; something that their senior captain, Teon Tiller ’19, agrees with. He’s back and better this year, playing as one of Richmond, VA’s top scorers/two-way guards.
It’s safe to say that the Tiller family has a bit of clout in the TJ basketball program. Outside of Teon’s stellar play throughout his own career, father Travis Tiller also had a strong career as a starter back in the 1990s. Teon also has a younger brother who can potentially take the keys next. Regardless of the family tree, Teon focused the most on the team’s approach to this season in order to finally start achieving goals the program’s held for the last several years. Hard work’s been nothing new to the Vikings’ returners, but now they’ve learned how to build off of past experiences.
“Well, last year we were young so that made it more of a learning year and coming together,” Tiller explained. “But, since last season ended, our guys got together to put in a lot of work during the summer. Most of us played AAU on the same team, which just helped the chemistry even more. The summer was key in putting in work, and that’s when we started to set our goals as well.”
The results look satisfying, as one can sense an excellent camaraderie and confidence within this year’s group. As one of five seniors leading the pack, Tiller knows how to set the tone right as games tip-off. I was stunned when watching him play back in those aforementioned events… he’s a BLUR on the court. In the three-day ‘Tri-City Holiday Classic,’ the 5’8” guard scored more total points than anyone, including a ridiculous 36 against Petersburg High School. His quickness makes him one of the tougher guards to stay in front of and he plays with strength/body control when attacking the rim for finishes. Tiller’s most impressive attribute involved how he could draw foul after foul; he has both the IQ and physical play to do so. As a primary ball-handler, he shows a tight handle and can also set up those around him for both perimeter and paint looks. He’s currently ranked fourth in the area’s top scoring leaders with over 20 points per game. Still, his defense arguably sets him apart. Even he himself will acknowledge he takes the most pride on that end.
“Yeah, people look at my scoring, and I know I have the ball in my hands a lot to make plays. But, I’m mostly a defensive guy, honestly. I like to get my nose on the ball and get steals.”
Picking off steals never really comes with ease, yet Tiller makes it look like a day in the park. I’m not sure of his average, but I’m assuming he can average four steals a night at minimum if he wished to. His way of getting steals is simply… different; it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get a double-double of points and steals more than once. With his defensive prowess speaking volumes, Tiller knows what else he’ll need to keep improving in his game as he continues along in his basketball career.
“I feel like I need to keep working on consistency with my jump shot and getting stronger. Obviously, in college, you need to get in the weight room whenever available. I feel like I finish around the basket ok, but that can step up too. I watch a lot of college and NBA basketball so I can pick apart things to become better at my own game. I like to study Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker in the NBA.”
One could determine part of the reason for Tiller’s passion for the game out there on the hardwood having to do with how this opportunity wasn’t presented the same way a year ago. As I briefly mentioned earlier, the guard’s back this year… back from an injury that kept him sidelined from a good chunk of the 2017-18 season. Thankfully, health hasn’t appeared as an issue at all; Tiller plays the majority of minutes in the starting lineup and shows no clear signs of uneasiness.
“I was in a cast for about six weeks last year with an ankle injury… I think I missed about sixteen games total and only played in six. During the summer, I had to get the strength back in my ankle. I did a lot of my workouts outside, spending time to focus on proper running and agility. Earlier in this season, I always made sure to tape it up, ice, and do other exercises with our trainers. I also would go to CryoRVA (Cryotherapy), where they do isolation. Now, I feel good playing out there.”
I’m sure Tiller’s teammates also feel good having their leader with them to keep the ball rolling. As the postseason approaches in a few weeks, TJ realizes their goals established back in the summer will start to fully come into play.
“For the postseason, I just tell my guys that we have to stay focused. We need to keep our head high to reach our goal of winning states. It starts in practice, taking that seriously, and staying together through it all. Our team is big on DETAIL, which is pretty much our motto. We need to do all the small necessary things, like not having many turnovers, playing with IQ, and taking charges too. (Head) Coach Warren says it all the time: have good details, do the little things.”
Undoubtedly, treating everything with detail improves a team’s chances of winning the ultimate prize. I like that motto of the Vikings… a short noun, yet full of meaning.
Recruitment’s going well for the senior guard, as his explosive play this winter has attracted the attention of several programs at the next level.
“I’m talking to some college coaches right now. Bluefield State, Livingstone, and South Georgia Tech have all offered. I’ve been in touch with Hampton, Norfolk State, Chowan University, Shaw University, Eastern New Mexico, and others. I’m planning to commit after the season, around March or April.”
Obviously, one rarely can give assurance to specific future accomplishments, as nobody can determine what the future holds. Still, Tiller promises to bring one intangible to a college program that lands him.
Those who do not already know may also find it intriguing to learn Tiller not only excels at basketball. He also puts in work on the diamond at TJ in the spring semesters.
“Yeah, I play shortstop and second-base for our baseball team here. Right after basketball finishes, I get about a two-week break and then head right into it. We did pretty good last year; went to the playoffs and lost in the second round. I think we finished 16-7. We lost three or four seniors from last year’s team but most of the guys are coming back and we have some good ones joining up from JV too. I think we should be pretty good.”
Sounds like not much free time for his final year of high school. I’m sure Tiller wouldn’t have it any other way, however, as a true athlete. He has several more things on his checklist he wishes to complete before graduation.
“School’s going good right now, I have a lot of A’s and some B’s in my Ivy and Honors classes. Trying to finish out with a strong GPA. On the court, I want to be a state champ, of course, and also hopefully get nominated as ‘player of the year’ in our conference.”
Winning both on and off the court, I expect Tiller to keep paving the way over there at TJ. His ‘dog’ mentality in approaching everything in life should keep helping him find success as he progresses into the next stage after high school. That mentality, along with his evident confidence, makes the future look bright.
So then, where does Teon Tiller see himself in ten years?
“Hopefully I’m in the NBA, but if not I hope to be working as an athletic trainer somewhere.”
If you haven’t seen Teon play yet, hurry before it’s too late! Electrifying on the hardwood.