The Carmel School (Ruther Glen, VA)

Colleges in Attendance: Hampden-Sydney College

Classification: Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division III

2018-19 overall record: 12-16

 

It took me no more than 15 minutes for my Tuesday afternoon drive to the Carmel Wildcats’ school gymnasium, where they held a sharp focus on detail-oriented drills and competition for all two hours on the court. Even early on in September, this collective mentality by the team is likely for a sole reason: they have the chance to compete as one of the top teams in the VISAA Division III classification this 2019-20 season. Carmel saw their previous postseason run end early with a first-round loss to Carlisle School (Martinsville, VA) in the state tournament. With everyone acknowledging that, the hunger for a statement year persists, based on talks I’ve had with their players and coaching staff. They and others know it won’t happen overnight but when regarding the circumstances of their returnees, new arrivals, maturity, and competitive drive to take on the best, there’s nothing short of confidence that they’ll enter the winter prepared to try and take some names.

 

 

What We Know

  • Carmel will miss four 2019 members that contributed quite well last year: Iziah Alexander ’19, Tanner Hatchett ’19, Devin Johnson ’19, and TJ Sonnett ’19. With that being said, they still have two main focal points returning as a strong senior duo in Josh Campbell ’20 and Elijah Roye ’20. Having those two on the floor would help any coach breathe a bit easier. They do everything asked of them, communicate well, set the tone both on the court and in the classroom, and know the team’s ways of execution at a high level of thinking. Two true LEADERS in aspects that go beyond individual performance.
  • The senior class might have very little in numbers but the junior group is exceptional. Eight 2021 prospects make up this year’s roster…that should likely result as one of the biggest classes of other VISAA Division III teams. Five of the eight juniors also join as newbies, however. Getting a feel for each other’s games will not come easily but it’s nonetheless imperative that those particular guys keep working hard to become more familiar and comfortable on the court by the day. If they can do that, they should especially see the results as seniors when next year arrives around this time. Veterans Victor Johnson ’21 and Maurice Vincent ’21, two solid three-point shooters, can play roles as the leaders of that 2021 class.
  • Head coach Toby Campbell highlights another new face on his coaching staff, Kerry Williams, as a big-time addition. I couldn’t agree more, as I know Coach Williams very well and first saw his passionate teaching of the game in 2018 when he held the role of a head associate coach for Meadowbrook High School (Chesterfield, VA). He knows plenty of drills that are conducive to player development, holds guys accountable of being vocal, and knows how to explain why things do or do not work in the midst of everything. Coach Campbell and Coach Williams have held a friendship for over ten years now. Tavarus Robinson has also jumped on board as an assistant but could not make Tuesday’s session.
  • Some satisfying moments of Tuesday’s workout involved Carmel’s heavy emphasis on finishing around the basket and making free throws. Pretty much every returner from the 2018-19 squad, both player and coach, will say those two areas hurt them the most last year. It’s good to sharpen things up now to make sure similar issues won’t arise again later on. Taking advantages of close paint points and attempts at the charity stripe will give Carmel a much greater chance of winning any tightly-played game they find themselves in.

 

Who to Watch

Josh Campbell ’20 – Returning back as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder (17.1 ppg and 10.2 rpg), it all starts with Campbell, who has the tools to emerge as an all-state caliber player. He can flat-out score it and looked at his absolute best during the ‘Virginia Live Period Shootout’ in late-June this past summer. It was also the most recent opportunity I had to scout the 6’3” guard in game action. Mainly getting his buckets off of jumpers and quick straight-line drives, Campbell had to average no less than 25 points per game in that talent-filled event. He’s gotten stronger, increased his court vision, defends better, and has big team goals ahead. There’s no telling what he may soon have up his sleeve.

 

Elijah Roye ’20 – The humble forward keeps making some of the best progress of any other Wildcat ever since the conclusion of his junior season. After dealing with some ankle issues, Roye played a fairly healthy summer and steadily rose above the radar by showing more assertive play. He looked like a beast on both ends during that aforementioned ‘Live Period Shootout’; throwing shots across the gym, facing up for midrange jumpers, rebounding hard, and running the floor. The fact that he appears taller now (around 6’7”/6’8”), holds a 3.6 GPA, and has put on a stronger frame all leads to greater college interest from school programs within the prestigious Ivy League. He’s one of those guys who just continues to get better by taking all of the teachings in.

 

Jedidiah Danaher ’21 – Standing close to 6’5,” Danaher has me projecting him as one who can possibly play a couple of different positions…especially the wing or power forward spots. He’s pretty comfortable in looking for perimeter scoring opportunities but also contains the toughness to battle inside the paint often. He does several things well and brings good energy to the floor at all times. I’d classify him as a sneaky athlete who’s best around 15-18 feet from the basket when shooting the ball. Comfort in his handle still looks to be coming along but Danaher should act as a good off-ball threat due to how he moves well around the half-court. One of several solid newcomers that should jump in to make an impact.

 

Malakai Whittaker ’21 – The 5’11” Whittaker may find himself taking on an important role as one of Carmel’s primary ball-handlers. He definitely protects the ball well and has a solid feel for getting to his spots. Learning how to effectively control that position as a point guard looks like it’s still in the works for him currently. I feel he’ll give opponents trouble due to his bruising physical build alone. I remember thinking, “this guy would be an absolute stud of a college tailback,” while watching him in person for the first time on Tuesday. Using strength, body control, and slick moves makes Whittaker a good slasher and he can pull-up for jump shots also. He’s one of the team’s more fascinating players, in my eyes. Definitely one I’m planning to keep an eye on.

 

Kenny Blaylock ’21 – The tallest player in the gym at 6’9,” Blaylock has only started to truly touch his potential. He’s still learning the game, more specifically in determining appropriate shots to take and decisions to make. At his size, he can space out a bit to shoot jumpers and usually succeeds when he spots up for a good look. I remember noticing this when I first saw him playing for Squires Richmond 17u at the ‘Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest’ (5/17 – 5/19/19). However, he should become more of a problem once he learns to work around the block. Blaylock’s rebounding ability stands out best right now; continuing to add on weight will help further his development. High ceiling for the good-natured junior.

 

Devawn White ’21 – I like White’s approach…he plays with power, finesse, and explosiveness all at once. The lefty completed nice drives to the rim, mainly in transition, during the scrimmage portion of the workout. He enjoys hang time above the rim, keeps the ball high, and initiates contact on the scoring end. Defensively, his instincts look good enough to make him cause trouble as a pass interceptor; he’ll just have to realize this won’t end in his favor all of the time. Athletically-speaking, White looks like Carmel’s best. He shoots it ok right now but clearly is more lethal the closer he gets near the rim. Similar to Danaher, the 6’3” guard/wing may become another one who can slide in at different spots on the floor.

 

Phil Bou Khalil ’21 – The 6’7” forward has some grown-man strength on him…I can’t describe it simpler than that. That same notion makes Khalil another post threat for Carmel, as his physicality could frustrate the competition. He’s still quite raw and just needs to keep refining his skills at different levels. Becoming more fluid in his shot mechanics and developing some inside go-to moves should serve as the first two steps. Advancing into the perimeter will come with time but I think Khalil’s nose for the ball around the rim should continue as a main focus. Doing what he does best in hustle points, defending, and rebounding ties into to Carmel’s winning strategy. A frontcourt scenario of him and Roye on the floor at the same time could wreak havoc, defensively.

 

Where You Can Find Them:

  • Carmel School Tip-Off Tournament (Ruther Glen, VA); November 22-23, 2019
  • 64th Annual Sleepy Thompson Basketball Tournament, hosted by St. Stephen’s St. Agnes School (Alexandria, VA); December 5-7, 2019
  • Benedictine Capital City Classic Tournament, hosted by Benedictine College Preparatory School (Richmond, VA); December 27-29, 2019
  • Atlantic Shores Christmas Invitational, hosted by Atlantic Shores Christian School (Chesapeake, VA); December 13-14, 2019

 

A Word from the Head Honcho

“Basically for us, we’re working to solidify our guard position. The team chemistry is looking good early on and we want to keep building off of that. Adding new pieces to our coaching staff is huge; these guys are doing a great job and we’re all working together as a team. I think the kids get better structure, teaching, and focal points when there’s three different coaches they can seek out. That’s an advantage for the kids and I think it’s going to help us build better as a team by the time we reach our first game. Make no doubt about it, our goal is to win the state championship. If we can send guys off to play in college, that’s a by-product of hard work and good grades. So, I have a good feeling about things. However, our boys can’t afford to underestimate the schedule. It’s loaded.”

– Head coach Toby Campbell (3rd year)

 

Outlook

Taking on a handful of tough opponents outside of VISAA Division III (there’s some VISAA Division II matchups listed), Carmel again will not find themselves in a cakewalk at any point. Still, they always desire a challenge and this could be the year in which Coach Campbell’s-led program really makes its mark as a name to know in all of Virginia private school competition. The two returning seniors share an importance in leading the pack and everyone else should just fall right in line. If the Wildcats can improve upon consistency through execution and come together as a whole, we’re looking at a potential state-contender. I highly recommend others to attend their hosted tip-off invitational in late-November for a good look.

 

 

 

 

Stay hungry, Wildcats. It’ll be time to feast soon.