When I published my ‘Mid-Season Thoughts’ article last month, I had a section focusing on two of the more underrated programs in the 804: Petersburg High School and Lee-Davis High School. Obviously, it’s my own personal feelings of the two teams not getting enough recognition, but I stood firm by that belief for the entire regular season. Petersburg heads into the first round of their regional tournament tonight (2/15), standing at an 18-4 record currently, to take on Lakeland High School (Suffolk, VA). Lee-Davis, on the other hand, ended their season earlier this week (2/12) in a regular-season finale victory over Hermitage High School. The Confederates finished with a record of 14-8, but unfortunately got bumped out of their own regional tournament due to playoff pairings mainly caused by a series of upsets that occurred during the past couple of weeks. I attended Lee-Davis’ final game of the year and can’t help but keep wondering how they would’ve fared in the playoffs. Honestly, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see them knock off a top team if given a chance to compete. Other fans/spectators would most likely agree. This team was a special one who paved the way for more future success to soon come in Mechanicsville.
The 14 wins earned by head coach Chad Bishop’s group ended up as the most wins in a season dating back to the early 1990s; over 25 years ago. Last season, the Confederates finished 6-16 overall. So, one may question what exactly was the difference in flipping the script for this winter. Well, for starters, we can acknowledge this year’s team as pretty senior-heavy, led by: Darius Baker, Dontae Baker, Adam Bartley, Tyler Berry, Devin Christian, Jaeden Coleman, Robert Fraley, Avery Fusco, and Adonis Johnson. The veteran class alone held plenty of next-level talent. Berry, a 5’9” guard, signed on to play his college hoops at California University of Pennsylvania (California, PA) earlier this month. Christian holds an offer from Thiel College (Greenville, PA), Johnson plans to try and walk-on at Catawba College (Salisbury, NC), and Fusco has an upcoming visit to Ferrum College (Ferrum, VA). Two other electrifying players, juniors Elijah Jones ‘20 and James Wallace III ’20 acted as the team’s leading scorers with 13.2 and 11.9 points per game, respectively. I’m sure they’ll start to gain more attention on the recruiting radar soon as well. Even with the inevitable talent, however, the senior group acknowledges other important intangibles that made the season’s success possible.
Avery Fusco: The family aspect was most important. This is the closest team I’ve ever been a part of.
Devin Christian: Definitely. We stuck by each other through it all, going into this season and even before that. We put in a lot of work together in the offseason; some of us played on the same AAU teams and we always made sure to text each other for group workouts whenever possible. All of that work paid off.
Avery Fusco: We even got the new guys gelled in right away (*points to Jaeden Coleman*).
It was about midway in the season, early in the New Year, when the team started to realize their full worth. It’s natural for any team to gain that feeling once they start breaking records.
Tyler Berry: I’d say the win against Clover Hill (1/4) had to be one of the memorable moments of the year. My boy, Avery, had a great game with 24 points and we put up 95 points as a whole on the scoreboard. The game went to a few overtimes but we ended up scoring the most points ever in program history for the first four regulation quarters too. The whole team aspect felt at its best in that game. We enjoyed it a lot by celebrating after.
Avery Fusco: That game was crazy… felt like it went to quadruple overtime.
I didn’t get a chance to see that contest. Based on the guys’ descriptions, now I sure wish I had. It sounded like quite the battle.
Every successful team brings a successful leader with it and I always like watching Coach Bishop motivate his guys each time they take the floor, along with making sure to hold each player accountable. They responded well all year long, acknowledging that his approach to the game and daily motto would play the most importance in achieving wins.
All seniors: You have to have toughness to play for him.
Dontae Baker: He brings a military-type-of-style to the floor.
Avery Fusco: Coach changed the culture, really. He came into this school when nobody expected to us to win. Now, you can see how things are different.
Tyler Berry: We have the gym packed now for our games; student section and everything. It wasn’t like this in the past. Coach definitely changed the culture. Our motto was to ‘win the day.’
Devin Christian: We would have different sayings at times throughout the months, but the main one was definitely ‘win the day.’
Avery Fusco: ‘Win the game, win the day.’ Coach told us that right before we ran out here (for our last game).
I heard that phrase, ‘win the day,’ quite a few times throughout my own athletic experience. It’s a good notion; holding a focus on controlling what one can control during the 24 hours he/she is blessed to see each day. Especially in sports, it’s not uncommon to see some teams get too caught up on reaching a championship or something in that matter rather than just turning their focus to win each daily goal. More times than not, it’s best to just take it all one step at a time. The Confederates definitely had their share of ‘good days.’ However, they don’t hesitate to admit that challenging moments developed during the lengthy winter as well. Again, something that’s not uncommon.
Avery Fusco: The loss to Atlee (12/14) was definitely one of the biggest blows we went through.
Tyler Berry: Yeah, that one and the Hanover loss (1/11).
Adonis Johnson: Lost both of those games by only one or two points.
Avery Fusco: That happened around when we had that good 9-3 start and people were taking notice. But we started crushing ourselves and had to regroup to pick it back up. Just got back to work and the rest took care of itself.
Sometimes staying together to get through a period of adversity proves all that it takes for a team. Lee-Davis had enough talent to get past opponents, but I personally feel their togetherness and unselfishness played as the biggest difference-maker. I saw that trait of the group during my first time watching them in a preseason jamboree. The seniors will agree on how friendship had a big effect on their success. It goes beyond just basketball as well; those in the school can quickly take note of the players being inseparable.
Avery Fusco: Oh yeah, we’re around each other every single day. Most of us live close to each other too.
Jaeden Coleman: In school, after school, in practice, after practice; it doesn’t matter. Every day we’re hanging out.
Tyler Berry: Everybody in the school always knows who’s on the team, just because of that.
Speaking of other students and faculty on school grounds, the basketball spirit and support definitely took a greater jump this season due to the exciting style of the team’s play. Fans always knew they would be in for a show whenever the Confederates took the court.
Avery Fusco: The student section really came with it this year.
Devin Christian: People got more hyped up for games this year, no question. In the hallways, we would have student run up to us showing how pumped up they were for game days. A lot of games were promoted on social media and stuff like that.
Tyler Berry: They know who we are now, for sure. The support was big. I remember we sold over 560 tickets for the Hanover game.
Avery Fusco: There were several times when the gym became absolutely packed. Like, nowhere to sit. That Atlee game was probably the best environment. People were standing on the sidelines, baselines, everywhere.
It sure does sound like things have taken a turn for the better. Changing the direction of a program never will just happen overnight, but the Lee-Davis guys have done all the essential requirements to silently put in work and burst out onto the scene. They didn’t choose to transfer to other programs or start butting heads when things didn’t go as according to plan over the last couple of seasons. The guys simply stayed in the gym. You can’t cheat the grind.
I will certainly have my eye on the Confederates once again when the 2019-20 season gets here. While Jones and Wallace III should serve as two anchors, I’m sure Coach Bishop and other players will truly miss this special senior group and all that they’ve meant to the program. It’s never easy to say farewell, but these guys look more than confident to take on the next stage of the post-high school path.
Oh, and of course I had to ask my trademark question to the bunch: where do you guys see yourself in ten years? Not everyone could provide a response off the top of their head, but there’s a couple of ideas already in mind.
Dontae Baker: I see myself in the NBA.
Adonis Johnson: I might be back here (at the school), honestly. Maybe coaching.
Tyler Berry: I plan on being a teacher, if anything.
Avery Fusco: Man… that’s a tough question. Not sure yet but I might look into being a cop or FBI agent; because I want to do something fun.
Devin Christian: I’ll probably be an accountant.
Jaeden Coleman: Sports trainer.
Plenty of different possible occupations to pursue. Best of luck to all of my 2019 guys at Lee-Davis!