The best time of the season has finally arrived: playoff basketball! While we can make predictions and try to use logic to argue why certain teams should win in various rounds, the postseason always comes with the unexpected. There’s no telling which upsets/surprise victories may occur once this time of the year hits. In the Richmond, VA area, I’ve seen such a great deal of talented teams that quite frankly leaves me unsure of who will take home bragging rights in conference, regional, and state tournaments. Still, as I spent my evening at Hermitage High School (Henrico, VA) last night for the semifinals round in the 5B Regional Tournament, I started to see more and more why Varina High School (Henrico, VA) remains a favorite to win the state title, in most eyes. A rematch between the Blue Devils and Prince George took place once again this year in the regional playoffs, as Varina escaped with an 86-80 victory last February. The outcome resulted as another win, but by a much wider margin, this year, as the Blue Devils took care of business and looked everything that of the top-ranked team in the region.
Varina – 82
Prince George – 58
Some Game/Team Notes
- Those in the stands can watch Varina play and immediately notice the amount of talent within the team’s starting lineup, as all five guys can put the ball in the basket at an above-average rate. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils’ team defense impressed me just as much as their scoring prowess. They went in a press look early on and again in the second half, which clearly slowed Prince George down a bit and forced some turnovers. Varina also looked very solid in their half-court defensive execution also; they communicated well, played low in a stance, and closed out to shooters solidly. That team effort on both sides of the ball will play some of the most importance in their playoff run. Nice job last night in playing smartly.
- Prince George had to work hard against Varina’s stifling defense, especially early on when they found themselves down 10-0 after the first few minutes. The Royals earned solid looks, mainly all from long distance, but just couldn’t knock them down. I personally felt that Prince George settled too quickly for long shots at times. Their front court did a solid job, especially in the second half, but they most likely could’ve benefitted more from getting touches early. One area that the team looked the best in was when they pushed the ball in transition.
- After a solid first half, Varina especially exploded in the third quarter; turning a ten-point lead into a thirty-point one. They looked incredibly difficult to stop in transition, shot the ball well, and started to draw even more fouls. The team made their way into the bonus during both halves; this mainly stemmed from their aggressiveness around the paint in both attacking the rim and crashing hard for second-chance points. Once Varina gets into a flow like that… it’s hard to cool them off. They play with some serious confidence, some of the most I’ve seen this year, collectively.
- While I’m sure Prince George obviously feels disappointment in their season ending once again in the regional tournament, the team still has plenty of things to stay positive about, moving forward. Last year, the Royals graduated a starting lineup of five seniors. That might’ve gave the impression to one that this would serve as a ‘rebuilding year,’ but they showed anything but that. Prince George has a toughness about them that I always enjoy watching every time they take the floor; they stick together and push each other to play their best each night. While a few key seniors took the floor for a final time last night, the program returns several notable guys again next year, such as Johnny Soto ’20, Tavian Morris ’20, and Chris Allen ’21. I always have the upmost confidence in the Royals, when it comes to preparation; one of my favorite teams I’ve been around.
Tuesday Night Standouts
Tyrese Jenkins ’19 – Varina: The recently-selected 5B Region Player of the Year had the most influence in both setting the tone for his team and putting the game away later on. Immediately after tip-off, Jenkins scored the first seven points for Varina with a three-pointer and four free throws. After not having to do too much for the rest of the half, the 6’6” wing erupted in the third period to increase the Blue Devils’ lead to 16. He hit three straight three-pointers in front of me, followed by a couple of stick-backs. In the final period, Jenkins continued to draw fouls and complete opportunities at the line, which pretty much closed things out by that point. His combined skill, size, and feel for the game makes him a silent assassin who can really get going when he turns up his motor. The Unsigned Senior finished with a double-double of 23 points (4-6 from three-point range) and 15 rebounds.
Jeff Jackson ’19 – Prince George: As expected, Jackson played some of the hardest for the Royals and gave them several second-chance looks at the rim, especially in the second half. He had a nice defensive presence by not letting anything in too easy for Varina’s guards whenever they tried to get paint touches in the half-court. He played solidly for the entire contest but his best moments happened later on, around the final period, when he started to go even harder in the paint and ended up living at the free-throw line for most of that quarter. Jackson always brought great energy and enthusiasm whenever he stepped on the hardwood for his team. A valuable piece that I’m sure will be missed. He went out strongly in his last high school game, with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks.
AJ Williams ’21 – Varina: Simply put, the standout sophomore can shoot much greater than your typical high school player. He has one of, if not, the best-looking form I’ve seen this season and can elevate to cash it in from range. Once Williams gets his feet set, which he does quickly and effectively, you’re in trouble. Along with his shooting, I also liked how he play with such great control and finished with his off-hand easily. In transition, he knows how to smartly slow down and use his body to finish while drawing a foul. Defensively, he’s also no slouch and can make guys uncomfortable if they play loose with the ball. His playmaking ability for others is still getting there, but he seems to have the right idea most of the time. Williams chipped in 16 points and four rebounds.
Johnny Soto ’20 – Prince George: The Royals’ lead guard once again showed a capability of playing as a guy who can take over when needed. Soto had a strong third quarter especially, as he started off by knocking down jumpers for Prince George’s first seven points of the second half. As I’ve said before, he’s always going to play as a ‘pass-first’ guy initially; that’s just his type of game, by heart. However, he will most likely soon realize that Prince George will need more scoring moments from him, likewise to the aforementioned one, in the future due to losing some of their top scorers. Soto’s a smart player and mature well-beyond his years, so he knows good shots to take versus bad ones; I don’t see that becoming an issue next year if he must take on a larger scoring role. He’ll act as one of the key difference-makers next season as a returning starter and senior presence. I’m not completely sure of his final stats, but I know he finished with at least 10-11 points, along with several assists and a couple of steals.
Jordan Hernandez ’19 – Varina: The Virginia State signee looked as one of the evening’s top guys in terms of finishing strongly around the basket. The 6’7” forward’s strong frame makes him a big threat in exploding through contact, whether he goes up with dunks or smacks the glass with both hands. Similar to Jackson, Hernandez looked extremely active around the rim and went up to get his own points off of misses from teammates. His defensive reputation also gave the Blue Devils an advantage in not having to worry too much if an opposing guard(s) got into the lane for attempts at the rim. Whenever Hernandez checks in, the defense sees a boost. His footwork looks solid currently, the next step in his offensive game involves developing a quicker go-to move and more comfort with his off-hand. Virginia State fans are going to love his motor, that’s for sure. He nearly finished with a double-double: 10 points, nine rebounds, and also two steals.
Be sure to also checkout my recap on the other 5B Regional Semifinal game from Tuesday night! ‘Douglas Freeman HS vs. L.C. Bird HS.’