Monacan High School (Chesterfield, VA)
Classification: Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 4, Region B
2018-19 overall record: 14-9
When I made my trip to the nice athletic facilities of Monacan last October for this same ‘preseason tour,’ the Chiefs put on an enjoyable open gym that mainly had them play full-court games for two hours. This year, however, there’s a clear different approach to the offseason; the players and coaching staff are focusing less on pickup and more on finding out where players fit in best for future execution on both ends. Wednesday night saw the 16 players in attendance go through periods of conditioning, defensive drills, offensive sets, and skill work all before 9 p.m. arrived. The emphasis of getting in shape and understanding how things will operate in the system looks like the main area of focus right now. It’s a good tactic and there’s plenty of intangibles to like in this year’s potential group of players.
What We Know
- Monacan had a good start to their 2018-19 winter; winning six of their first seven games. They traded wins and losses around the latter part of the season before falling to Huguenot High School (Richmond, VA) in the Region 4B tournament’s opening round. A final record of 14-9 capped off a solid overall year but I’m sure the team felt they didn’t reach their full expectations. Personally, I felt they had enough pieces to compete as a state tournament opponent. The good news is most of those pieces now come right back into mix, as standout Jonathan Mondrey ’19 and Taylor Green ’19 graduated as the only two seniors.
- So, when speaking about intangibles, communication in the gym stood out immediately once I stepped foot inside. Head coach RJ Spelsberg stated that he’s never had a collection of players act more vocally as a whole…not even his state championship squad in 2015-16. For some teams, it’s hard to get that trait out of more than one or two players. If Monacan continues to find vocal leadership from the majority of everyone on the roster, they’ll see some results happen in different ways. Constantly talking on the court goes a LONG way, especially past the high school level. It continues to be a seriously underrated facet of the game.
- In the annual ‘Steward Basketball Summer League,’ hosted by The Steward School (Richmond, VA) back in June – July, I thought the Chiefs looked good in their outside perimeter shooting. They have a couple of targets around the perimeter who can spot up for quick releases. This doesn’t just happen from their guards/wings, but also taller front court players. Three-point shooting plays a much larger role in the game today so, if Monacan can continue those summer league shooting performances into the regular season, it can make them a threat after crossing half-court.
Who to Watch
Justyn Fernandez ’21 – Now as an upperclassman, Fernandez has shown greater growth over the past year and looks like one of the team’s most capable of breaking out onto the scene. He’s developed physically more than anything…taller now at 6’4,” jumping out of the gym with ease, and appearing much stronger. Filling into his frame goes along smoothly with his nose for the ball and finishing skills. Coach Spelsberg sees an ability in Fernandez to become one of Monacan’s top options in multiple positions. He can maneuver both inside and out to take complete advantages of mismatches; something that the team will likely need from him quite often. If he can keep working to gain complete comfort in that jumper…oh, man. We could be seeing another special one arising in Region 4B.
Walker Posey ’20 – Again taking on the responsibility of the lead guard spot, I’m glad Posey’s back as a veteran piece that the Chiefs can rely on. He has good intelligence, makes tough rebounding plays, knocks down shots, and pitches the ball ahead. I absolutely feel he’s the best facilitator returning back to Monacan and conducts the offense well by communicating to his peers where they need to be. Also, his shot looked a bit quicker in that summer league noted above, especially compared to when I saw him in 2018-19. Playing poised looked like a strong point of Posey’s game last season and that should continue even better now that he’s entered his senior year. The 5’11” guard averaged 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds a night for his junior campaign.
Ja’Mais Werts ’21 – My first scouting of Werts happened more recently than any other upperclassman on this list; back at the ‘ASSIST Top 48’ camp (8/17/19). His 6’6” lengthy frame and defensive approach should make him a good paint protector for the next two seasons. Long arms, timing, and focus all help in that area. Offensively, I liked how he plays with high energy and doesn’t ever really rush his opportunities with the ball near the basket. Right now, it’s clear that Werts can shoot well at his position and score with a soft touch. On the face up, I think he could become a problem due to his height, as that helps him shoot easier over smaller defenders. As long as he keeps putting in work inside the weight room and show better ball skills, there’s a very high ceiling for the forward.
Cliff Robinson ’20 – The tallest return for Monacan, around 6’7,” Robinson had a solid summer with Team Richmond Garner Road 16u in breaking out of his shell more. At times in his junior year, he seemed more reluctant to give a chance at attempts on the scoring end. Nonetheless, I’ve always viewed him more than capable of stretching out the floor with his outside shooting. If defenders close out to take it away, Robinson’s length and ability to cover ground allows him to reach towards the basket in no more than two dribbles from outside of the arc. The team will obviously need his size to help with some things inside the paint but the plan still seems to center on letting the stretch-forward play his game the way he’s most confident and comfortable. I’m hoping for big things out of the senior. He has the complete look of a player when going off of the ‘eye test.’
Noel Stock ’20 – Another senior back for a final outing, I felt Stock deserved a shout-out for his endless leadership alone throughout Wednesday evening. He did the best at encouraging everybody else through drills and bringing an energy that became easy to feed off of. Coach Spelsberg and I both agreed that the 6’0” guard has an unteachable way of leading by example in any and all ways possible. Stock also displayed eye-catching moments in the Steward Summer League with his three-point shooting. The lefty has a quick trigger and appeared as a corner specialist. In one of Monacan’s final games, he scored over 20 points. That type of shooting makes him a prime example of what I mean by how there’s a couple of player options from deep.
Sam Wittenbraker ’21 – During the Steward Summer League and at times in 2018-19, Wittenbraker looked like Monacan’s best offensive rebounder at only 6’4.” He sticks to his role well and crashes the boards on every chance he gets. With the ball on offense, the forward has sneaky strength to try and power his way through traffic for drawn fouls. He shoots free throws decently and doesn’t shy away from contact in the least bit. Every team needs a workhorse like him; he can give a spark in much needed times when shots aren’t falling.
Jaxon Callaham ’20 – I’m still trying to figure out the 6’0″ guard’s game but he clearly seems to have a good scoring feel and solid athleticism that gives Monacan another strong returning contributor in the back-court. Similar to Posey and Stock, Callaham falls right into that group of reliable three-point shooters from deep. He averaged 7.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per outing last season.
Where You Can Find Them:
- Richmond ‘Times-Dispatch Invitational’ Tournament; December 2019
- ‘Monacan High School Winter Showcase’; January 2020
A Word from the Head Honcho
“We’re hoping the guys will become team-oriented and make plays for one another well. Our main team goal is to just get better and win each game. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to qualify for the state playoffs and make a run but we know it’ll start with having the guys know they can work well together. We’ll definitely need to rebound better. I think we have some good pieces whom played a lot of minutes last year. They’ll have some good experience and I think other guys have the chance to step up as well in different things we may ask of them.”
– Head coach RJ Spelsberg (6th year)
Making their way back into the VHSL Class 4 state tournament seems to rest firmly on the minds of everyone suiting back up for the Chiefs; an aim I’m sure they’ve already mentioned at least once to anyone else who’s working for a roster spot also. Monacan absolutely has the chance to climb back into the ranks as a state title contender if they can discern their unit’s true strengths and weaknesses. Observing them work on some transition and half-court execution gives one optimism that they already see capabilities and strive to utilize those attributes to the fullest. There’s shooters and solid size around for putting points on the board…team defense will serve as one of the other main priorities. Those preseason ‘Shell drills’ should pay off once November hits.
Keep building up the chemistry, Chiefs!