Twitter: @HHS_HOOPS_VA

 

Hopewell High School (Hopewell, VA)

Classification: Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 3, Region A

2018-19 overall record: 18-5

 

 

One of only three schools in VHSL Class 3 to again represent the 804 area, I’m expecting greater attention to soon center on the Hopewell Blue Devils. Honestly, it’s a thought that crossed my mind well before I even began this year’s ‘open gym tour.’ The varsity program has already achieved pretty remarkable success by only losing a total of nine games in the past two years yet they’ve gone about their business in a fairly underrated fashion. The curtain closed on them back in February to end their 2018-19 campaign earlier than expected so I’m sure they’ll come back hungrier with a bigger collective edge. There’s some new faces this year who will need to find their niche and replace talent that has departed. Once that happens, which I don’t see taking long to occur, Hopewell should become one of the top entrants in both their respective region and state classification.

 

 

What We Know

  • The Blue Devils always have goal-oriented drills and strong instruction throughout the course of their preseason workouts. It’s something I first noticed last year during this same ‘open gym tour’ and again transpired when I made a Thursday visit last week. Hopewell already knows what they want to accomplish defensively, as far as reacting to certain scenarios and being able to properly hedge screens. Many reps on that end have already started before official tryouts, which I view to be something that puts them ahead of the game. It never does any harm to start prepping early on for what one will more than likely come across in the future. Aside from the defensive focus, Hopewell spent their afternoon session getting a lot of shots up with two-man drills, fighting to pass through/over traps, finishing in transition, and playing full-court games.
  • I’m perceiving this year’s group as one that may be a bit smaller and younger than the 2018-19 roster. Still, Hopewell has enough experience in its returners to pave the way. Four players graduated, while five seniors and five juniors could all arrive back. In addition, two newcomers to the school also started for their old varsity teams. Even the youngest of prospects in attendance for Thursday’s workout held good maturity and comfort in their abilities. Everybody sticking to each of their own limits and competing with grit should help Hopewell in the long run. Teams can always depend on that over age, size, and much else.
  • The team’s offense will presumably start with their guard play. I noticed that more scoring options could now rest on the perimeter…meaning greater trouble for opponents. During full-court action to end off the day, Hopewell’s guards shared the ball nicely as well. Personally, that observation had me pleased, as it’s nothing new to often see talented guards start on the same team start to butt heads due to point-hunting. In terms of the Blue Devils’ bigger guys, there’s only a couple with size but they should operate well inside the paint. That particular group will need a guy (or more) to take on a defensive presence likewise to what 6’7” Izeah Parker ’19 (current UVa-Wise basketball first-year) showed last year.
  • After falling short of the Region 3A championship and state tournament appearance that both happened in 2017-18, motivation should come without problem. This may arise for Hopewell from a pursuit to build off of the unsatisfactory finish to their past season. Also, they may already be looking into the bigger picture of knowing the chance to control their regional competition. Along with maturity, there’s enough IQ within returners and potential newcomers to make something special happen. Chemistry by Hopewell’s newbies will act as the main key of importance.

 

Who to Watch

* Obviously, with weeks left until tryouts, the roster remains unofficial. Still, several guys stood out during my visit, whom all I feel can make notable contributions if they fill a roster spot.

 

Elvin Edmonds IV ’21 – It can be argued that no one shoots the three-point shot better than the 6’2” Edmonds IV. Obviously, this may sound like a stretch for others who are hearing it for the first time, but I’ve stated before that he has some Steph Curry in his game. Playing either on or off of the ball, Edmonds IV knows how to move and get open in half-court sets for jumpers from anywhere on the floor. He has a quick release, finishes with either hand, uses a quick first step, rebounds, and gets steals constantly. Physically, I wouldn’t say the junior possesses outstanding athleticism but indeed keeps getting stronger each time I run into him and has gotten back to full health after spending the summer with nagging knee pain. Being honored in 2018-19 with All-Metro second team, VHSL Class 3 all-state second team, and 3A all-region first team selections should indicate the guard’s status as one of the state’s best in his class. He averaged 21.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.2 apg, and 2.5 spg as a sophomore. VCU, Old Dominion, James Madison, Winthrop, Towson, and Hampton have all offered, while many other NCAA Division I teams maintain interest.

 

Dennard Hutchinson ’20 – Probably the most imposing force back for the Blue Devils, I’ve scouted Hutchinson several times this past travel season and could see notable progress made as the weeks passed by. His aggressiveness, activity around the basket, ability to step out, and physical traits all stood out again during Thursday. At 6’5,” Hutchinson should immediately become this year’s best rebounder and hustle guy for the team if he performs similarly to his summer play with Team Loaded 804 17u. His inside-and-out capabilities have grown stronger and finishing skills remain as his best attributes, in my eyes. After posting season averages of 5.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg for his junior year, Hopewell will likely need for him to take on a greater role of holding down the interior. He’s looked impressive in recent fall showcases for local prospects, hinting that he’s ready for a big final outing.

 

Cartier Strickland ’21 – It only took me a couple of minutes to realize the seriousness of Strickland’s hops…he only stands at around 5’11”/6’0” but can rise high for neat dunks. Other than his leaping ability and downhill speed, the junior also had the best shooting day on Thursday. Playing the two-guard spot, he splashed in three-pointers from different areas with ease, while showing a great off-ball feel. Hopewell’s coaching staff explained to me how Strickland already has proven in this preseason how opponents cannot afford to treat him lightly by keying on Edmonds IV. The other weekend, when the Blue Devils returned to participate in the King’s Fork High School Fall League (Suffolk, VA), Strickland dropped 28 points in response to an opposing team face-guarding Edmonds IV. That prolific scoring should very well continue into his first full year as a varsity returner after being pulled up from the JV squad in the midst of last season.

 

Antwone Blackwell ’20 – Another high leaper, I first took note of Blackwell’s springy athleticism around this time last year when the 6’6” forward got his head at the rim multiple times during my 2018 open gym visit to Hopewell. Fast forward to now and his bouncy groove hasn’t declined in the least bit; he still floated above the rim better than anyone else in all drills and full-court runs. Also, Blackwell still looks like a workhorse for rebounds on both ends similarly to Hutchinson. I liked how hard he played on each possession during Thursday, which led to him outworking pretty much anyone who stood on the opposite side of the ball. However, I’d say the senior is still fairly raw, as I noticed the same trait last season. He’s still working to transform his athletic gifts into refined skills and continues to try finding a way of slowing down when necessary. Regardless, others can appreciate his style and hustle. Heck, they will find even more appreciation and excitement once they see what tricks Blackwell can pull off in the air when given space. He doesn’t jump, he RISES.

 

Kaleb Coleman ’20 – Hopewell landed a BIG prize when the 6’0” Coleman enrolled for his senior year…I’ve viewed him as Richmond’s best facilitator since I began scouting last August. It truly takes an actual, physical viewing to see how superbly the lead guard can dish out the rock. He has eyes in the back of his head and vision up the entire length of the court that transcends past what a typical high schooler displays. Now, with the chance to have a couple of dangerous scorers around him, Coleman could fit right into the team’s offensive tempo and excite audiences with his transition success. Whether it involves piling up assists or slashing to the rim, he excels the best when pushing the ball to get defenders in a footrace. As far as settling in the half-court, Coleman also plays smartly for the right reads consistently. His jump shot still appeared a bit streaky on Thursday, as he made some and missed some, but I think he’s reached a point where he’s more comfortable seeking out those attempts.

 

James Pelham ’21 – At 5’9,” Pelham also entered school grounds as a new face back last month for his remaining two years of high school. He competed on the Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, VA) team last year and it’s easy to see the disciplined approach in his game that probably stems from past learning experiences in that program. He’s shifted from a Fork Union Blue Devil to a Hopewell Blue Devil now, however, and can undoubtedly provide extra scoring tools. He did a bit of everything on Thursday: finishing at the rim, making jump shots, running the floor, communicating, defending, and knowing the right plays to make. Pelham’s body control helps him finish against taller competition and I like how he doesn’t try something that’s out of his element. Describing him best would be, ‘a guy who knows what he can do and gets it done with little trouble.’ I’m interested to see more of how he performs in this upperclassmen stage.

 

Where You Can Find Them

  • Richmond Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament; December 20 – 23, 2019
  • Tri-City Holiday Classic‘; December 2019

 

A Word from the Head Honcho

“We actually should have a lot of new pieces. Some kids either graduated or transferred out from last year’s group. The expectations, of course, will be to play hard, play smart, and put ourselves in an opportunity to fight for the state title. I believe we should have enough pieces to contend this year. Ultimately, we want to achieve that state title but it’ll take each practice and each game to go one step at a time.”

– Head coach Elvin Edmonds III (4th season)

 

Outlook

Scouting reports will have Edmonds IV’s name highlighted with great detail, of course, but opponents will find themselves in a pickle if they solely focus on the junior guard. I’ve analyzed Hutchinson and Coleman several times and can say they’re clearly next-level guys. Blackwell has a chance also if he keeps making strides. As far as Strickland and Pelham, they showed serious promise on Thursday and it wouldn’t surprise me if they emerge as two other lethal perimeter threats. To reiterate Coach Edmonds III’s words, there’s no reason why Hopewell shouldn’t aim for the highest goal of high school hoops this year: that shining state championship trophy. They’re already making proper steps and should only go up from here by staying healthy and fixated on the prize.

 

 

 

A new season = a new light of ‘hope!’