I guess one could say Saturday was a MOVIE in Richmond, VA. Making my way to the historic Arthur Ashe Jr. Center in the downtown area, I arrived for the 7th annual 'Coaches for the Cure Classic' presented by 'Team Loaded AAU.' With plenty of online promotion and buzz, I had no doubt that members from around the city would stop by to spend some of the afternoon/evening in the gym. Those who did decide to show up definitely got their money's worth. With all but one of the five games resulting as closely-played, I may have to say Saturday brought the most excitement in a showcase I've covered this season. There's not much more I could've asked for. I also enjoyed meeting new faces and seeing familiar ones; 13 total players that I've conducted features on took the floor throughout the day. Great setup from the 'Loaded' organization' I already can't wait for this to happen again next season!
Highland Springs HS ' 57
St. Christopher's ' 53
Life Christian Academy ' 72
Maury HS ' 67
Blue Ridge ' 70
Steward School ' 42
Hopewell HS ' 57
Trinity Episcopal ' 54
L.C. Bird HS ' 57
John Marshall HS ' 55
Some Game/Team Notes
- Game 1 didn't really have a pretty start to it at all, with too many turnovers occurring in the first half. Still, Highland Springs maintained their fight/approach in the back-and-forth affair to escape with a four-point victory. When I saw the Springers last play in the 'Lawson Classic' and 'Times-Dispatch Invitational,' they stood out as a team who could heat up in their perimeter shooting. This exact opposite story happened on Saturday, but Highland Springs still showed they can find other ways to win even when shots do not fall. In my eyes, their effort on the glass appeared to make the biggest difference, led by Zy'Ever Wingfield's '20 seven rebounds. The team has enough athletic tools to continue doing well in making second chance plays, along with getting to the rim on perimeter drives and turning defense into offense. The next big step for them, as they soon start postseason play, involves playing smarter with the ball. Turnovers will need to see a decrease; doing so should make everything else fall in line.
- So, I've mentioned before how a certain component of the game has been bothering me for most of this season: missed free-throw attempts. I've seen way too many missed opportunities at the charity stripe. As I mentioned in my 'Mid-Season Thoughts' article, it feels like consistent free-throw making has become a lost art. With that being said, it felt more than satisfying to see pure focus from Life Christian Academy lead guard, Antonio 'Spider' Bridy '20, when he started living at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter of tightly-played Game 2. He went 10-10 from the line in that final period; 12-14 overall. As a result, the Eagles won by five, as most of Bridy's attempts happened in the closing minute. Players have to make the freebies; major props to Bridy for his clutch play.
- Blue Ridge arrived to the 804 and clearly showed why they're ranked as one of the top two teams in VISAA Division II. The Barons ran away with the only blowout win of the day, as they completely controlled Game 3 in all aspects. They showed the same tools that I saw back in the late preseason: a team full of depth, confidence, enthusiasm, size and flat-out talent. It doesn't matter who they place on the floor' everyone produces in one way or another. On Saturday, they looked best when playing fast; using their length in the paint to disrupt shots and flow quickly into their offense. If Blue Ridge keeps this up, it's more than likely we'll see them walk away with another state crown next month. Months ago, I picked them as my favorite to win it all.
- At first, I felt it would become tough determining the 'game of the day.' As I mentioned earlier, the teams matched up pretty well and played each other tough for all 32 minutes. Nonetheless, my pick undoubtedly goes to Game 5, which I'm confident in saying the majority of everyone else in the gym would've agreed with. L.C. Bird vs. John Marshall was not only the best game of the day, but also the best ending to a game I've seen all season. Up by only 3 with less than 30 seconds left, John Marshall tried to waste some time off of the clock but L.C. Bird scored two quick transition buckets to take the lead. After a missed free throw and put back attempt, John Marshall earned another possession and Jarius Ashlock '19 hit a clutch pull-up jumper with only two seconds on the clock to give the Justices a 55-54 lead. However, L.C. Bird found success in launching a long pass out of the in-bounds to Corbin Slayton '19, who spun around to cash in a three-pointer as time expired. The gym went into complete pandemonium and the Skyhawks won it 57-55. A truly unexpected finish and clutch shooting from both Ashlock and Slayton.
My Seven Standouts
Bryan Phillips '19 ' Maury: Nobody attacked the rim better than Phillips; he became unstoppable in getting paint touches in Game 2. LCA simply didn't have an answer for him as he continued to lead Maury's comeback in the second half. Phillips has a strong frame with excellent body control that allows him to find ways to finish at the rim. He changes speeds well and can recognize an opening instantly whenever a defense doesn't close out properly or lacks in getting set back on defense. The biggest need of improvement for him is free throw making. He's great at drawing fouls but missed way too many at the line; his game-high 23 points could've ended as over 30. Still, he showed some serious heart in one of the top performances of the day. Along with his points, Phillips also added five rebounds and three steals.
Elvin Edmonds '21 ' Hopewell: The MVP of Game 4 solidified his place as one of the top two shooters in the 804. Edmonds caught fire from three-point territory in the first half, going 5-7 in the first nine minutes. He only took one attempt from distance in the second half, but did well in getting downhill and finishing with some craftiness through Trinity Episcopal's length in the paint. This being my third time seeing him play, I can see a bit of Steph Curry in Edmonds' game. Bold statement, I know, but he does show some hints of comparison as a guard similar in size who can shoot it off the bounce as a primary ball-handler. Also likewise to Curry, Edmonds isn't the quickest guy, yet uses his pace well to change speeds to get past defenders for unique finishes in the lane. He already thinks the game well and should only continue to get better by the day. Poured in a game-high 27 points on 10-18 shooting from the field.
Savion Helm '19 ' Blue Ridge: Helm checked in onto the floor to give Blue Ridge the biggest spark plug they could've asked for in the team's dominant performance. The ardent 6'6' wing had his full three-level ability on display and couldn't miss' literally. He went 7-7 from the field overall; 3-3 from beyond the arc. On a team full of talent, Helm brings great energy with a confidence that he can produce in several different areas. He has solid size, runs the floor and moves without the ball well, hunts down rebounds, and brings a vocal presence. There's a smoothness to his game that makes him another unsigned senior who should bring promise to any college program out there. Complete confidence in his handle is still coming along, but he pretty much checks off the box in every other category. He received the MVP for Game 3 after leading Blue Ridge with 19 points and six rebounds in only 15 minutes.
Gill Williamson '20 ' St. Christopher's: The lengthy forward had the first standout performance of the day in Game 1, keeping his St. Christopher's Saints in it by playing hard on both ends. At 6'7,' Williamson plays a lot stronger than he appears, as he used patience well to finish through contact under the rim. He also showed some comfort in stepping out to shoot from close range and also knocked down one of his two three-point attempts. Rebounding-wise, Williamson looked one the best on the day, as he finished with the sole double-double of the day with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Defensively, he did well in changing Highland Springs' shots in the lane, which happened frequently since perimeter shots weren't falling. He added two blocks and two steals on that end. If Williamson continues to keep putting work into the weight room and perfecting his craft, his stock should rise as a two-way forward.
De'Marr McRae '19 ' John Marshall: Few play tougher than the versatile guard. He's only 6'2,' but plays much bigger than his height implies; one would think he stood at around 6'5' when looking at how he can control the paint. McRae's value looks as some of the most important for the Justices. He can take on any role asked upon him and make plays in various areas. His strength allowed him to bully his way through L.C. Bird's defenders and he did a nice job of anticipating steals. Once he collected a turnover, no one could really stop him from converting the two points. McRae has a unique game to him that's pretty much based on will and competitiveness. He has skill too, no question, but I personally feel it's his ferocity that makes him one of the top players in the area. Another unsigned senior who posted the only double-double of Game 5: 16 points and ten rebounds (led all rebounders).
Chris Rogers '19 ' Blue Ridge: As the main floor general, Rogers sure knows how to dictate an offense. He's an unselfish guy who knows how to set teammates up for easy looks, but also has the ability to go on his own personal scoring runs. This showed in the second quarter of Game 2, when he started pulling up for jumpers around the middle of perimeter. I like how he's always balanced and uses IQ whenever looking for scoring opportunities; he'll never take a look if it's unnecessary. I remember him telling me how much he worked on his shot during the offseason' it's definitely looking in full function now. Overall, I think Rogers fills up the stat sheet best for Blue Ridge; they'll continue to count on his production and leadership finishing out this regular season and heading into the state tournament. He had 14 points (6-9 from the field), four rebounds, and three assists in 24 minutes. Chowan University extended an offer at the conclusion of the game.
Mack Burgett '19 ' L.C. Bird: At 6'7,' Burgett has had to play in the post mainly for the Skyhawks all of this season to give them some sort of interior presence. Their group of perimeter scorers explains the reasoning for this. Still, those who have seen him play acknowledge Burgett as more of a stretch 4-man and he did exceptionally well on the perimeter during the night cap contest. After starting the opening quarter on fire for his team's first seven points, Burgett led all scorers at the half with 13 points, finishing with 18 on the night. He relocated to the corner to shoot very well in knocking down three triples and played with his usual toughness in the paint for quick finishes. Defending John Marshall's standout 6'11' forward, Roosevelt Wheeler '21, for several possession, Burgett did well in neutralizing him. On the glass, he grabbed six boards total, half of them offensively. January was a great month for the senior'looking forward to see what he does here in February.
A great way to start off February! Only a few more weeks remain of the regular season.