West Potomac Nkrumah
West Potomac's BJ Nkrumah (left) and West Potomac will go for a tournament three-peat this year.

Patriot District Boys Preview: Virginia’s strongest district

2022-2023 Patriot Regular Season Champion: Alexandria City
2022-2023 Patriot District Tournament Champion: West Potomac
2023-2024 Novahoops.com Presumptive Favorite: Er, uh, we don’t know, but choose from five (SoCo, WTW, WP, FFX, AC) regular season. Come tourney time, can’t bet against West Potomac.

What’s New In 2023-2024: New but experienced coaches take over at West Springfield (Terry Henderson) and Robinson (Travis Hess); Colgan power forward Eann Pennix transfers to South County; Possible impact freshman Kaylen Chilton arrives at W.T. Woodson

In what many regard the state of Virginia’s toughest district from top to bottom, the West Potomac Wolverines have a chance to do what no team has done since the power days of T.C. Williams (Alexandria City) a couple decades ago: a Patriot District three-peat. Fifth and fourth-place finishers in the regular season the previous two years, the Wolverines have nevertheless won two straight Patriot Tournaments.

The Wolverines are going to sneak up on absolutely no one this year–they’ve looked fantastic in the offseason and certainly have the talent to make a run through regionals into states. It starts with their returning backcourt of sophomore Chris Morrison and senior BJ Nkrumah.

“It’s been a while since my backcourt has returned, built on a foundation,” says Wolverines Coach David Houston III. “Our point guard [Morrison] and shooting guard [Nkrumah] have gotten taller, better together, and both can really defend.”

This is true. Morrison’s emergence as a freshman last year only seemed to help Nkrumah, as the senior really started to pour in points after the New Year. Both guards are tough and athletic and can provide a nice mixture of shooting and attacking the rim on offense. They can also control pace as Houston requires.

Lots of other varsity players return. Ethan Green is a tall senior forward who appears to have taken his play up a notch since last year. Once football season is over, seniors Mason Hopper and Zach Forti, plus junior Dom Sanchez, will join the squad. Senior John Colligan is also back, he’s an off-guard who provides more athleticism and leadership.

West Potomac’s X-factor is its talented sophomore class, which Houston says is the most skilled at that age that he has ever had. Various players should contribute this season, certainly at least Justin Edwards. Edwards mostly played JV last year but will log major varsity minutes this season. His versatility gives Houston a ton of options, as the sophomore is capable of playing and defending all positions on the floor.

All the ingredients are here for another fantastic season and Houston says the kids’ success in Fall League bodes positively.

“The kids feel like they can compete with anyone,” he says.

While West Po is fueled by a top-notch returning backcourt, so are the Alexandria City Titans, also by a senior (Kye Robinson) and a sophomore (Darius Bivins).

“They bounce off each other pretty well,” says Coach Ty Sally of the pair’s chemistry. “Kye is so offensively focused, always looking to score, and Darius is more of a true point guard.”

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Alexandria City’s Kye Robinson (above) and Darius Bivins comprise one of the area’s best backcourts.

Truth is, the pair can do it all. Kye is a 20-a-game scorer but can also run an offense and frustrate opponents on defense. He’s gotten taller in the offseason and looks ready for the next level. Darius, who already has Division I offers, can turn on a dime and score as necessary.

“I’ve never seen a basketball IQ like that for a kid that age,” says Sally of Bivins. “This year we want him to be more of a vocal leader.”

The pair will have plenty of help this season. Extremely key are Sean Burbage, a second team All-Patriot selection last year that can score/shoot and is underrated defensively, and 6’6″ Teko Bostick. Bostick was Honorable Mention All-Patriot a year ago and can dominate. His continued development and ability to stay out of foul trouble is huge.

Guards Christian Washington and Abreham Worku are also back, as is wing Isaiah Henry-Burgess. A player to watch is 6’5″ forward Macodou Ndao, who Sally says has rapidly improved. If he can log major minutes and produce consistently, the Titans should have sufficient depth in the frontcourt. If not, also in the mix is senior center Mustapha Sanogo, a transfer from Annandale.

Alexandria City should be better this season than last year’s Patriot District regular season champ and 20-game winner.

Still, even with the Titans likely even better than last year, there’s no guarantee they will finish as strong in the standings. That’s because the district as a whole is probably also even better than last year. One huge reason why are the W.T. Woodson Cavaliers, suddenly a very strong contender.

Woodson finished 11-15 last season, but clearly improved as the season progressed and despite not having forward Bryce Donovan available due to injury. Donovan, a Dickinson College commit, is back, as is his brother Sean, a Frankin & Marshall commit. Bryce and Sean have not had a chance to play together as much as Coach Doug Craig and Cavaliers fans would like, but they both seem ready to have dominant senior seasons.

“They’re very good players,” says Craig. “Bryce is actually a little taller and more of a rim protector, while Sean is probably more physical.”

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Woodson’s Sean Donovan will team with brother Bryce this season to give the Cavs a strong frontcourt.

Together the talented two 6’7″ brothers are a combo few public schools can match in the paint. But there’s a lot more for Craig to be excited about, including a ton of young backcourt talent. Freshman guard Kaylen Chilton has already demonstrated in offseason team activities he can score prolifically against much older players. He has the potential to take the district by storm. He and sophomore guard Ryan Corallo, who averaged about 20 points a game last year on the JV, could form a notable backcourt for years to come in Fairfax.

But those two are just icing on the cake this year. Point Guard Theo Burke is back after garnering Honorable Mention all-district recognition last year, and he’s already proven he can match up with the tough guards of the Patriot. He’s a rugged player who passes well and hits the boards. Senior Ethan Conklin and junior Sainnyam Gantumur are long-range snipers who Craig can call on at any time if opponents pack the paint too much on defense.

Craig tells us junior returning wing Noah Limbago could be ready for a breakout. He can play the 2,3, and 4 and gives his coach even more lineup flexibility. With junior forward William Taylor and senior forward Owen Spurlock also back, Craig’s biggest problem may be keeping everyone happy with minutes.

“This is the deepest team I’ve had in over 10 years,” he tells us. “We want to play a little faster this year and we have the depth to it, guys that can play different styles as well.”

The South County Stallions¬†can generally also play a few different styles as well, usually equally comfortable in an up-tempo open court game as they are in a halfcourt defensive battle. That serves them well in the Patriot, as Mike Robinson’s team is annually a contender.

This year is no different although there are questions with nine seniors gone, including the sensational Paul Anderson. Coach Robinson might need some time to get this group to where he wants them, but he is extremely positive and optimistic about this group’s potential.

“We had a good offseason, won the St. James Summer League,” he says. “They [the players] like each other, they have good chemistry and togetherness.”

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With injuries, Jaren Jackson got a chance to shine as a sophomore last season and delivered.

The returnees are healthier, too. Jamal Miles is an athletic wing who seems like he has been on the varsity forever. Robinson says he wasn’t quite healthy all last season, but is now. Robinson’s son Michael is also healthy after sustaining a broken wrist last season. The sophomore is already 6’5″, still growing, and is a good perimeter shooter. He’s obviously a potential star in the making.

Junior point guard Yusef Washington has already proven he can run the show as well as score, and Robinson thinks junior forward Elija Eccleston is ready to “show out.” There’s also forward Jared Jackson, who earned Patriot Honorable Mention honors last season as a sophomore. With the five we’ve mentioned so far the Stallions already have considerable athleticism, defensive ability, and scoring. A major addition who provides muscle is junior Eann Pennix, who arrives from Colgan. He’s an underrated power forward who can consistently man the block and score inside.

Depth will likely come from physical sophomore wing Deuce Trotter, a good defender Robinson says had a good AAU season with Team Takeover. Paul Anderson’s little brother on hand as well, and he could be a factor in short order.

With only a handful of seniors on this year’s roster, the Stallions might not reach their peak until 2024-2025. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they made a run to states this season.

Could the Fairfax Lions be even better than last year when they finished tied for second in the district, even with the great Margad Choijilsuren graduated? Scarily, yes they can. Choijilsuren may be on to the next level, but Coach Mike Barbee has his other four starters back.

“We’re a very experienced team with good depth,” Barbee says. “There’s some new roles for people, but this may be the deepest scoring team I’ve had.”

The core of the squad is with seniors Ronnie Peters, Josh Smith, and Cam Love. Peters was a first team all-district selection a year ago, a dynamic, rebounding guard who “makes us go,” in Barbee’s words. Smith is a small but relentless guard, while Love is a physical, bigger guard. All were productive a year ago, and all should have no problem increasing their offensive output this season.

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Fairfax’s Ronnie Peters is one of the Lions’ talented returning guards.

One senior really ready to step up this season appears to be Elijah Thomas. Last year the 6’4″ forward grew into his role as the team’s sixth man, and Barbee says he has worked hard in the weight room to add muscle. Already a solid shooter, Thomas would help tremendously if he can also contribute on offense down low.

Margad’s little brother, junior Belgude Choijilsuren, is back. Belgude has grown in the offseason, which will only help replace some more of Margad’s lost production, especially on the boards. As if the Lions needed another talented guard, junior Cam Yingling returns as well. He’s an athletic guard who can attack the rim, and to add to the theme, looks like he has gotten stronger in the offseason as well.

There’s other young talent, especially in that junior class that is ready for an expanded role. Strangely, Barbee says the thing he’s most worried about is getting his usually strong team defense up to speed. That’s a must in the Patriot District, but there’s no reason not to believe that will happen sooner rather than later.

Another coach who is focused on his team’s defense is the experienced Travis Hess, back for his second stint with the Robinson Rams. He’s got a lot of young talent on hand and the future is bright, though it will be difficult for the Rams to make a ton of hay this season in the loaded Patriot.

“The Patriot District is a battle every night,” Hess says. “There are coaches that have been around a long time here, there’s little room for error.”

Still, expect Robinson to pull a few upsets this season in-district. Senior forward Scott Van Antwerp was a team captain last year, and he is already committed to play college basketball at Mary Washington next season. He’ll be a consistent scorer and rebounder despite considerable defensive attention.

How quickly the young talent around Van Antwerp emerges will determine if the Rams can really arrive in 2023-2024. Back in the backcourt are sophomore point guard Braxton Sebastian, junior Tyler Giedeman, and sophomore Noah Barnhart. Barnhart often was the third scorer behind Van Antwerp and the departed Abdullahi Yassin last year. He’s dealt with a shoulder injury of late, but hopefully should be cleared to go soon.

Meanwhile in the frontcourt Van Antwerp might get help from 6’5″ junior forward Matteen Rahim. His length will enable Hess to employ a variety of defenses, presumably with Rahim in a variety of locations. As mentioned, Hess is very focused on his defense.

“Our offense has improved [this offseason], but we have to focus defensively and take a more serious approach,” Hess states.

The Rams only graduated three seniors from a team that finished sixth in the Patriot and won a game at regionals a year ago. They’ll be better, but so is the district as a whole. It may take some time for Hess to figure out rotations, but the future does appear bright at Robinson.

As powerful as the Patriot District is, the Lake Braddock Bruins aren’t used to finishing seventh like they did a year ago. Coach Brian Metress and the Bruins did advance to the Occoquan Regional Quarterfinals with a thrilling one-point win over a solid Annandale team, but this year regionals will carry less teams. So, Metress has to find a way for the Bruins to garner more wins versus their district foes.

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Shaun Dost is one of the Bruins’ returning players who will expand their roles this season.

Of late the long-time coach has wanted to play fast, but a lack of depth has made that difficult.

“Last year we really weren’t able to play quite the way I wanted,” he says.

His leading scorer does return in talented junior Xavier Main, giving him a great building block.

“He’s a big, strong kid, a guard that can get downhill with the ball. He’s a great passer, too, which is probably the most underrated part of his game,” Metress says of Main.

Main’s physicality is crucial in-district, but he won’t join the basketball team until football season is done, very possibly not until December. That will at least give Metress the chance to give some of his other young talent minutes.

There will definitely be youth. Metress expects around six underclassmen to potentially make his roster, and they will get an opportunity to play pretty quickly. There is varsity experience back with Shaun Dost, Khaleed Cash, Shane Reago, and Noah Beard. Dost has proven he can score consistently, and Beard will likely move into a starters role after being one of the first off the bench last year. All four of those players will be counted on to expand their roles.

Can the Bruins find the depth necessary to make a move up the standings? We will see.

Ex-Edison coach Terry Henderson takes over for the West Springfield Spartans with Durmia Marshall departed for Osbourn. West Springfield finished last in the district a year ago, but some significant young talent returns to give Henderson optimism.

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Robin Casapao returns for his third varsity season with the Spartans.

A solid junior class is still led by guard Robin Casapao, who has been a fixture at point guard for the Spartans the previous two seasons. He’s always a threat on offense and plays with a lot of energy, and his experience will be crucial. Brandon Lesser and Alex Bat-Erdene are also junior guards who played varsity last year. Lesser’s ability to play the point could free up Casapao to play some off guard.

Senior starters Inan Sharif and Jeremiah Hightower return to man the frontcourt. Sharif has range and can stretch a defense, while Hightower is an athletic presence down low. Senior forward Jack Lowry is also on hand–if he can stay healthy it would give the Spartans some important depth.

Depth is important, because Henderson is known from his time at Edison to prefer to play fast.

“I like our core, we have young but experienced, smart pieces–I like their poise and IQ,” Henderson says. “We’re super-young, and we’ll be counting on players that were on our JV, ninth grade team last year to provide some depth.”

With Casapao a dynamic weapon and Hightower and Sharif capable of controlling the boards, the Spartans should be competitive. How fast Henderson can develop the other talent will determine how competitive.

–Chris Jollay