The Wakefield Warriors remain the class of the National after once again going unbeaten in the district last year. Very few programs could lose guards the caliber of an Alan Treakle and Halil Parks and expect to contend for a region/state title, but that’s exactly what Bentley expects his squad to do.
“We end every practice with ‘757’ because that is our goal, where we want to get to,” Bentley told us. “Until I hear differently our state tournament is down there in the Hampton Roads area, so that’s where we want to end up at the end of the year.”
The Warriors certainly have the talent to make it there. Let’s start with A’mari Cooper, a 6’4″ forward as athletic as anyone in the region. Cooper was the team’s third-leading scorer last year and can run the floor and finish with flourish almost at will. He can protect the rim on defense and has improved his all-around game to the point where he’s getting some Division I looks.
Let’s continue with junior Christopher Warner, a 6’4″ guard who also should see Division I looks. Bentley’s program is so full of talent he rarely lets young players play consistently, but Warner is one of the very few ever that has since he was a freshman. Very astute both on the court and the classroom, Warner has the ability to both attack the rim and punish opponents from outside. Expect him to average well into double digit points this year.
The Warriors remain strong in the middle with rugged 6’5″ senior center Mahmoud El Taher and 6’5″ junior Robert Starkey. Their rebounding will be key to launching the Warriors into transition, and El Taher is a crafty scorer inside to boot. Senior guard Benjamin Horsford also returns. He’ll play basketball at the next level and provides a lot of the little things Bentley’s team has to have, including leadership.
Five other players return from last year. They’re capable, but need minutes. “We have a lot of Robins, but we’ll have to see how many step up to become Batmans,” Bentley said.
When thinking about who could possibly derail Wakefield in the district, most people usually think of Coach Dan Hale’s Marshall Statesmen. Hale has done a fantastic job instilling a stable program at Marshall and the program’s depth has improved substantially since his arrival.
That’s good, because 6’11” Jack Foley and 6’7″ Jordan James are obvious big losses. Hale tells us rebounding is a concern. That will illicit exactly zero sympathy around the region from teams that have never had college height along the frontlines, but it is an issue. Thus the importance of 6’6″ junior Daniel Deaver this year. He’s dealt with some injuries but will be counted on to step up and anchor the middle as the Statesmen go to more four-guard lineups. He’s talented enough to be a double-double guy in short order.
Marshall should be solid on offense with returnees Ryan Robinson (8.7 ppg) and Joseph Lampman (8.9 ppg), both talented players who continue to improve. Five other players are back from last year’s team and some of them must also step up to compliment Robinson, Lampman and Deaver. As far as the other particulars, Marshall’s keys to success remain the same as they have been in the past under Hale. They’ll continue to play an effective 2-3 and attempt to control the pace.
“We will play more guards this year but we have to be really careful getting into transition,” Hale says. “Tempo is so important, especially against teams like Wakefield and Edison who are really talented and can run you out of the gym.”
The Edison Eagles would definitely like to run you out of the gym. That’s because they have a sizable stable of guards. Six-foot senior Marquis Washington leads the way. He’s an athletic guard that averaged 18 a game last year and the most remarkable thing about him is he often has to guard players several inches taller than him, even guys like Foley and James last year from Marshall. Usually does a good job, too. Washington uses his athleticism and body smartly and gives coach Terry Henderson’s smallish team much-needed rebounds by the bushel.
The Eagles lost a talented trio of guards last year in Trey Green, Myles Moore and Brandon Hughes. Green’s loss especially will be felt, as he was the team’s second-leading scorer and best three-point shooter last year. There are ample candidates to step up in their absence, however.
Junior guard Nate Hester is good from outside and the line and is a solid bet to average in double figures this year. Sophomore point guard Jared Clawson gained valuable experience as a freshman and made an impact from day one, scoring 15 points in a season-opening loss to T.C. Williams. Senior guards Kendrick Clawson and Shurland Williams are also returning rotation players.
But all those guys are under six-feet tall, and the Eagles will have to again match up with teams that are much bigger. That was the case last year as well and the Eagles still managed to win 14 games. If they can play the fast-paced game they want and do an okay job on the boards, that win total can improve this year.
The Thomas Jefferson Colonials were a dangerous team last year and will likely be again. 6’2″ senior forward Noah Barnes is one of the most underrated players in the area and returns after scoring 15 a game last year. The Colonials will want the ball in his hands as much as possible.
Guard Chase Brown was a big loss, as was experienced scoring threat and rebounder Matt Jennings. Fortunately TJ returns senior guard Matt Maribojoc at the point. Coach Mark Gray-Mendes will need Maribojoc to score a little more and continue to do what he’s already very capable of–running the offense and controlling the pace of the game. That will be crucial because as you would expect with TJ depth is a concern. The Colonials do return six other players off last year’s roster, but they’ll need not one, not two but a bunch of them to step up this year.
Those players worked hard in the offseason and will be key, as will a couple of newcomers. No mystery here–to even a greater extent than Marshall, TJ will try to grind out wins in the thirties, fourties and occasionally fifties.
The Lee Lancers and Falls Church Jaguars both have new coaches. Neither of them are rookies, though, they both have decades of experience. Robert Barnes is the guy at Lee after spending a few years helping out Carlos Poindexter at Hayfield. The Lancers haven’t had much success in recent years, but Barnes has a lot of patience and knows Rome wasn’t built in a day.
There is talent on hand right now. Adrien Spiers-Young led the team in scoring last year and returns. A football player, it will take a little time for him to get back in the basketball groove, but he’s a tall forward who can shoot. Junior guard Jordan Hunt also returns after scoring double digits in a bunch of games last year. He’s the most experienced of a raw but deep junior class that Barnes hopes will mature earlier rather than later.
Still, Barnes realizes building a program is a multi-year process, so he will happy if that junior class comes into its own sometime next year as well. He wants to get his team running and out in transition, though, and the raw ingredients are there to do that this season.
At Falls Church the boys also haven’t had much success recently. New coach Jim Ryan hopes to turn things around. He takes over after last year’s coach, Derek Gaunt, moved to Texas in the off-season.
“We have to get over the mental hurdle of learning to be competitive,” Ryan says. “Learning to close out games will be our challenge we have to overcome.”
The top two scorers from last year are gone. Even so, there’s some experienced talent Ryan has on-hand to work with immediately–there are seven seniors on the roster. Twin senior guards Jaden and Jalen Faust are back after playing key roles last year. Luke Saia is the school’s 6’3″ quarterback, and he’ll join the team for the first time this year. Like the Fausts, he is a very good athlete and should help immediately. Senior point guard Patrick Gurual also returns.
While that’s a good start, younger players have to step up if the Jaguars are to improve on last year’s meager win total. Ryan is high on the three sophomores on his roster, especially 6’2″ Caleb Botts, as well as junior guard Noah Strother. If they step up, the Jags have the makings of a versatile rotation that may be deep enough to get up and down the floor as Ryan would prefer.
The Stuart Raiders should also be better this year because they return almost all of their roster from last season’s team that finished above Falls Church and Lee in the National. Unfortunately the one guy they lost was talented guard Samer Khalil, who poured in around 18 a game.
There are six seniors on the roster and guards Abdullahi Hussein and Abel Damtew figure to be the best bets to step up and provide clutch baskets when needed. There’s a nice blend of experience, shooting and height, so if the Raiders can find enough players to step up at the end of games, they’ll surprise a few teams.