Hope you get your games with the Gunston District in early, because these teams are going to be ones to avoid as the season wears on. A lot of quality talent was lost to graduation, but the raw ingredients are there for a good deal of these teams, if not all, to have successful years.
You could go in a lot of directions when picking the favorite in the district. The safest bet is probably the West Potomac Wolverines. A memorable senior class graduated from last year’s 25-win team but the most explosive scorer returns in Daryl Mackey, Jr. Mackey led the team in scoring a year ago, hitting double figures in every game but the first one of the year and scoring 20 points 14 times. He could lead the region in scoring this year even with defenses focusing more to stop him. He’s a good three-point shooter but is also athletic, able to attack the rim effectively despite being under 6’0″. The scary part is he’s only a junior and could very well grow another few inches.
Junior Jonas Munson and senior Jake Mazzoccoli are back after getting some minutes as fringe rotation players last year. Munson looks like he has grown in the off-season and is now listed as a seven-footer, while the rugged Mazzoccoli is 6’6″, 220. Obviously a frontcourt of that size is hard to come by in high school basketball, and how much those two are able to assert themselves will be a big key to the season. Wolverines coach David Houston III likes to run and the speed of the game seemed a little much for Munson last year. But he’ll play much more this year and the potential is there for great things as he continues to grow into his massive frame. He has looked much more comfortable this Summer and Fall.
Three other players return from last year’s roster. Athletic guard Duran Etheredge will be asked to do more on both offense and defense. The key to this squad’s development is how quickly the newcomers can get their feet under them. Sophomores Ethan Payne and Bradley Harden will split point guard duties when Mackey doesn’t see time there, but they started last year on the freshman team and will need time to develop. Four guys are now in the mix from last year’s JV squad and they will all likely have opportunities to contribute right away. Houston thinks 6’5″ junior Shannon Harrigan might be able to help sooner rather than later.
There are many roles to be filled on a team that may struggle to find itself for the first month. We expect the Wolverines to burst into our Nova Nineteen rankings when that happens. The team is too long and athletic to be kept out of the mix for long.
“The ceiling is high,” Houston says. “It may take a few games to get there as we learn to play together, but this team has a ton of potential. We’ve got a lot of length and we’re actually very close in athleticism to last year’s team. Once we figure out roles and minutes I think we’re going to be very good. We’re going to do what we always do and try and convert turnovers to points.”
The Hayfield Hawks are also in the business of converting turnovers to points. Like the Wolverines, Coach Carlos Poindexter has the raw ingredients to do that quite well. Langston Gaither and Carrington Brox are huge losses off last year’s 20-win team, but three very reliable building blocks remain in senior Brian Cobbs, senior Luke Jones and junior Michael Joiner.
Cobbs is an ultra-athletic forward who will be attending the University of Maryland on a football scholarship. That’s his main game but he can be just as fun to watch on the basketball court. He scored in double figures in 14 of his last 15 games last season and should progress similarly this year as he rounds into a basketball mindset. The 6’3″ Joiner had a great off-season and brings length and experience to the the point and off-guard positions. Poindexter needs Jones to step up and score more than he did last year when he served primarily as the team’s sixth man. The young man has the potential to do exactly that and average in double digits.
Like Houston, Poindexter will depend on a number of players on the JV last year stepping up their games. 6’2″ wings Jacqui Bailey, Javhon Hutchinson and Mark Danner will all get the opportunity to claim ample playing time. Junior guard Rayjoun Pringle arrives from Colonial Forge to provide depth in the backcourt and gives the Hawks further options, as does returning energy defender and spark plug DeMonte Richardson. Meanwhile, 6’5″ sophomore Daniel Peterson and senior banger Jimmori Robinson will man the middle. There’s plenty of length and depth to accomplish the kinds of things Coach Poindexter wants to do to be successful.
“We want to run and trap,” he says. “We’re a deeper team than last year and I think we can go ten deep. We have a lot of potential although it might take the football guys a while to get going. We’ll see how quickly Cobbs especially comes into his rhythm.”
We like the Mount Vernon Majors as a major potential sleeper this year. Granted, they’re coming off a 9-14 season and lost clutch guard Alpha Kamara. But they retain an impressive amount of talent, dealt with a number of significant injuries last year, and add a few important transfers. Coach Lou Golden likes where his team is headed.
“We feel we have as much talent as anyone in the region,” he told us after a recent practice. “We just have to make sure we’re playing as a team and doing what is best for all of us, not individually.”
Senior guard-forward Jason Lewis returns after scoring in double figures last year. He should be the Majors’ guy in the clutch this season. What might surprise some is Golden’s ability to start a good deal of length in the frontcourt. Sophomore Torrence (TJ) Horton and junior Kyree Jones will start at the three and the four after getting valuable experience on the varsity last year. They’re long and athletic. Senior forward Elisha Amoako also returns. He was the third-leading scorer last year when healthy but had a significant ankle injury that derailed his progress. He’s healthy now and ready to assert himself. We have known about 6’5″ sophomore Anthony Daniels since middle school and we think he’ll be a eventual very solid player as well.
Unfortunately not healthy right now is senior Josiah Jimboy. He’s served as the team’s “point forward” the past few years but after overcoming a nagging wrist injury is now dealing with shin splints. We love his game and he’ll likely make an impact eventually but it will likely take a while as he gets healthy and in basketball shape. Fortunately Golden has a couple of significant transfers to man the point in his absence. Junior guard Elante Cook came from Pennsylvania and is already an impressive on-the-ball defender. Sophomore guard Myron Davis transferred from Riverdale Baptist and has lots of long-term potential. As those two learn to play with their new teammates, look out.
The defense should be good as the Majors seek to do what just about everybody else in the Gunston seeks to do with its length–force turnovers. The ingredients for success are there. It’s still going to take time but most casual observers who have watched the Majors this off-season like what they see.
A sleeping giant resides in Alexandria in the form of the T.C. Williams Titans. The problems of last year are well-documented, when veteran coach Bryan Hill was controversially fired during tryouts and Walt Coleman was put in a very difficult situation to say the least. Politics aside, the Titans hired Bishop Ireton assistant Brett Sullivan after the year, and he is looking to stay at the school long-term to provide stability and help T.C. recognize its potential.
“We should be a contender year in and year out,” Sullivan told us over the phone. “I took the job because I’m a part of the broader community here in Alexandria City and I love it. This program has so much potential and we get so many kids out at tryouts excited to play. I’m can’t tell you how excited to be here at a school with the tradition and potential of a T.C. Williams.”
Sullivan knows the game and the area and if he can build a stable program, watch out. It’s going to take time to crystallize expectations and stabilize things, but there’s talent on hand right now and a strong junior class leads the way. Guard Jaquan Johnson-Terry averaged 15 a game last year. He’s a traditional combo guard who can score as a point or as a smallish wing. Cam Campbell also returns. He’s a shooting guard who can play D and played a lot last year.
Sullivan thinks junior Jaden Thrash has the look of a kid who might enjoy a breakout season. He got minutes last year and looked to distribute first from the point guard spot, but he’s now improved his shooting. 6’2″ senior Matt LaGanza also returns. He provides depth and considerable athleticism at forward.
The Titans’ long-term prognosis is encouraging and they have significant enough talent at guard to beat almost anyone on a given night right now. The key will be in their frontcourt and whether they will be able to counter the considerable size and skill of others in the Gunston.
The Annandale Atoms, like everybody else in the Gunston, will look to run under first-year coach Deidrich Gilreath. A former Wakefield assistant, his goal is to bring Warrior-type success long-term to Annandale. The good news is he’s got a couple of nice guards to base his system on in Matthew McKiver and Junior Lutongo. Those two return as the team’s third and fourth-leading scorers from a year ago, and they can both play well in transition and fill it up.
But there is little returning experience from last year so progress might be slow. Abdi Abdalla will provide badly-needed depth and experience on the wing, and big man Ty-ree Anderson flashes some solid potential. The key for Gilreath will simply be building buzz and play an exciting style to garner interest in the program. Once that happens, and we think it eventually will, look for the Atoms to become a factor.