For the past two seasons, I’ve had the chance to watch the Blue Ridge men’s basketball team compete in the state tournament; they took home the VISAA Division II crown in 2017 when I saw the program in live play for the first time. This past Saturday, I finally made the trip up toward St. George, VA for a visit to the private boarding school. The Barons acted as hosts for the day, as their ‘Fall Shootout’ jumped into action, featuring a total of seven teams. Blue Ridge did a great job in giving other programs the opportunity to get some early action in before the season officially starts next month; each team was guaranteed three 40-minute games during the day. I had to make sure I came prepared to make key points from my own observations throughout the day. As I predicted, it resulted as a great day of hoops.
Final Scores (Court 1)
Game 1: John Marshall HS – 85
Middleburg Academy – 80
Game 2: Trinity Episcopal School -73
Holy Cross Regional Catholic – 48
Game 3: Blue Ridge – 65
St. Anne’s Belfied – 47
Game 4: Blue Ridge – 69
John Marshall HS – 58
Game 5: Western Albemarle – 54
Trinity Episcopal School – 51
Game 6: Western Albemarle – 54
St. Anne’s Belfied – 50
Game 7: Blue Ridge – 61
Holy Cross Regional Catholic – 31
*other remaining games were played on Court 2 around mid-day.
- Key advantages Blue Ridge will have this season involve their size and depth. Five guys stand 6’6” or taller within the roster; only two of which are seniors. The Barons’ coaching staff mainly conducted a strategy of rotating 5 in and 5 out during the jamboree, which showed to work without any complications. The vibrant team’s chemistry perhaps plays the biggest role in their success. They recognize each other’s tendencies and show full support of one another at all times, whether on the floor or not. When they get momentum, they become REALLY dangerous in going on offensive spurts to quickly put teams away.
- John Marshall returns several key seniors and has a group full of athleticism and pride. They don’t have exceptional size or anything but their production on the offensive glass proved just as good as any other program in the gym on Saturday. The Justices’ hustle, ability to get to the rim, and free throw efficiency should all provide in them having yet another successful run this upcoming season. I feel that they should keep working to settle down and not make decisions too quickly; a habit that often can lead to an average offensive look.
- The Titans of Trinity Episcopal arrived missing a few key pieces but displayed their usual grit throughout the day. The team’s defense has not reached a consistent level yet… but they definitely show flashes of a dangerous unit on that end, especially in the backcourt. Three-point shooting seemed improved upon compared to the last time I saw Trinity in game action. The Titans will need to focus more on boxing out consistently to grab defensive rebounds and not allow opponents second-chance points. At times, the players get caught watching the ball in the air instead of going to find their man. They definitely have enough size to excel as a solid rebounding team but cannot afford to view box-outs lightly.
- Similar to John Marshall, Middleburg Academy had a great presence on the offensive glass. Their size in the frontcourt largely helped with this. I can see the Dragons developing a reputation as an intimidating rim-protecting team soon due to how well they can time and swat away shots. However, they showed a tendency to sometimes go after too many block attempts, which led into more fouls called. Offensively, Middleburg played the best in transition but definitely move the ball well in half-court situations too in looking for the best available shot. Some of the players become charge-prone when trying to attack the basket a bit recklessly; John Marshall gained several charges against them in Game 1. Overall, the Dragons make up a smart, determined team with a lot of promise moving into next month.
- Aside from Blue Ridge, Western Albemarle finished as the only team to go undefeated in their three game play on Saturday. At a first glance, one may notice how Western Albemarle doesn’t have massive size or special physical gifts or anything. What makes them so successful pertains to how SOUND they play as a whole. Their disciplined and focused mindset impressed me more than anybody else I watched through the day. The Warriors play with their heart; not just skill. They have scrappiness, intelligence, and make good decisions in transition. Definitely a team to keep an eye on in Crozet, VA.
- Holy Cross brought some of the best size to the gym in their arrival… probably second to Blue Ridge. Their physicality worked best for them near the rim; using superior strength to score and defend. The Gaels also have guys who can run the floor well and hustle. However, they don’t always appear on the same page for execution of offense. Not too big of an issue though; teams go through early trials like this all more than often. I feel that Holy Cross will further their offensive attack when they learn how to move the ball a bit better and not settle for mediocre shots. The three seniors will have important duties of helping the Gaels reach their fullest potential.
- Some of the day’s most impressive ball reversals on the perimeter came from St. Anne’s Belfied’s (STAB) offense. They do a stellar job at finding the open man; the next step is for them to improve their offensive efficiency. I saw them also go about the tactic of subbing 5 in and 5 out at certain times, not in a consistent manner like Blue Ridge, however. STAB has a handful of talent but must continue to work in not settling for three-pointers too much. I think they have enough tools to become a team effective at getting paint touches and scoring at the rim.
Chris Rogers ’19 – Blue Ridge: The Barons’ 6’0” floor general had a swagger and flare to his game all day long while he ran the show for his impressive squad. Rogers really blew up in Game 4 when he completely went off in his perimeter shooting in the first half, which ultimately carried into the second half. A natural point guard with advanced vision, instincts, leadership, and a crafty handle. His scoring will prove essential to keep opponents honest by not only focus on Blue Ridge’s bigger players. I expect a big senior year from Rogers, who currently holds offers from Chestnut Hill College and Salem University.
Levar Allen ’19 – John Marshall HS: From the jump, the Justices’ stocky point guard had a great showing in providing a bit of everything on the offensive end. Standing around 6’0,” Allen has a tight handle on the ball and remarkable strength that allows him to get wherever he wants on the floor. He showed a three-level scoring game and was one of the best at getting to the FT line. I would have to say he had some of the best finishes around the rim on the day. He plays solid defense but will need to maintain a focus on that end for the length of an entire game and not go after too many gambling opportunities. Coming off of a noteworthy summer playing for Team Loaded VA, he has high confidence and seems primed for a great final high school season.
Henry Coleman ‘20 – Trinity Episcopal: I always love watching Coleman play because you know he’s going to give an energy in the gym that few can match. The 6’8” ESPN four-star prospect looks more than prepared to take over as one of the main offensive threats for the Titans, after averaging 17 ppg last season. Coleman’s blend of strength, athleticism, IQ, and patience makes him a man amongst boys whenever he takes the floor… there’s no easier way to describe it. He’s still working on developing his all-around ball skills, but I don’t think he’ll have to worry too much about that due to how well he operates off the ball. Rebounding, knocking down close open looks, and taking it strongly to the rim should all serve as his bread and butter.
Justin Taylor ’22 – STAB: One of the best shooters during Saturday’s fest, Taylor showed an approach to the game well beyond his age. Now in the 2022 class, the 6’4” guard has great size and should soon emerge as one of the top players in his area. He does well at setting his feet and can shoot the lights out of the ball. His seeking of his shot can sometimes lead to an over-reliance, however, which can throw him off of his rhythm. With his size, I see him developing into a mismatch nightmare on the perimeter if he continues to sharpen up his handle. Liberty University has already offered.
Ben Li ’20 – Middleburg Academy: The Dragons’ burly forward played a heavy role in the team’s defensive presence around the rim. Li stands out mainly from his two-way style of play; one should never have to worry about him taking plays off on either end of the court. He has good strength and hands, knows how to make the right play with his vision, rebounds with a vengeance, and can shoot fairly from the mid-range area. At 6’5,” he has well-rounded perimeter skills but should look to increase his production from three-point territory if he strives to become a true three-level threat. He recently picked up an offer from LIU Brooklyn.
Jaden Frazier ’19 – Blue Ridge: The recent Chattanooga commit played strongly and made the Barons’ interior presence felt right from tip-off of their first game. A lefty 6’9” forward, Frazier has the perfect frame of a next-level player already and knows how to play at his own space. Nothing ever gets him flustered or speeds him up; he knows what he wants and how he can get it. Around the rim, he finishes efficiently and can quickly get put-backs if his man loses sight of him for a split second. Complete comfort in using his right hand can use some improvement; this would make him pretty much unstoppable once he gets near the cylinder. On the defensive end, he always gave an effort to contest shots and usually ended up knocking them out of bounds. Even with all of the talent on Blue Ridge’s roster, I think Frazier will be their main engine as a senior leader and special talent.
Tommy Mangrum ’20 – Western Albemarle: A major reason in the Warriors going undefeated for the day came in the form of their junior forward. Mangrum was a DOG all of Saturday; nobody else played as relentless around the paint. He gave his team a number of hustle points and second-chance opportunities with his aggressive rebounding on the offensive end. His size and strength makes him tough to guard down low, not to mention his constant activity and nose for the ball. The Warriors play team ball extremely well and Mangrum will have a big role as the ‘heart and soul’ of the unit. At his height, he’s pretty undersized; this may not surface as a problem now in his high school years but he will need to expand more into a guard moving forward to reach the next level.
De’Marr McRae ‘19 – John Marshall HS: I didn’t see anyone better at getting to the rim with speed and power than McRae. The 6’2 scoring guard’s motor is unmatched… he treats every possession like it could end up as his last. McRae’s body control, explosiveness, and comfort in using either hand makes him dangerous once he gets a clear view of the rim. I’m pretty confident in saying he most likely took the most FT attempts of anybody on Saturday (his teammate, Allen, didn’t trail too far behind). A true scorer who can cause harm from anywhere on the floor, I think the next step for McRae involves him showing the ability to produce as a floor general. At his height, he will find himself as a primary ball-handler in most scenarios if he fills a spot on a high-level college roster. This year, he’s garnered offers from Morgan State and Radford.
Again, a big thanks to Blue Ridge for the hospitality during my visit! Looking forward to see these teams in more game action starting next month.