The 2018-19 season for Virginia private school basketball officially wrapped up this past weekend in Chesterfield, VA, as the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) held its Final Four of the state tournament at Virginia State University. During the last two seasons, I’ve been able to check out this event as a spectator (during spring breaks in college), but found more enjoyment in providing coverage of it all now as a scout/journalist. VISAA and Virginia State presented excellent hospitality, while I had several takeaways from teams/players throughout the two days. After observing bracket play of VISAA’s three divisions, I figured the best way to break things down would be detailing each classification in an individual manner:
The Division II bracket held the most exciting games of the tournament, in my eyes. Blue Ridge School (St. George, VA), Miller School (Charlottesville, VA), Middleburg Academy (Middleburg, VA), and Virginia Episcopal School (Lynchburg, VA) all took part in the action.
Semifinal Game #1 (Friday, 3/1):
Blue Ridge – 63
Middleburg Academy – 47
Semifinal Game #2 (Friday, 3/1):
Miller School – 52
Virginia Episcopal – 47
Championship (Saturday, 3/2):
Blue Ridge – 61
Miller School – 51
Some Team/Game Notes
- The first game of the Final Four bracket, Blue Ridge vs. Middleburg, looked like it would fall into the latter team’s favor, as they jumped on the Barons with a 10-3 lead after the first 2.5 minutes of play. Early on, Middleburg executed well defensively to slow down Blue Ridge’s offensive tempo, which resulted in them playing a bit more stagnant than usual. However, Blue Ridge started to increase the defensive intensity in the second quarter and got hot from the perimeter during that period’s final moments; earning a three-point lead as they headed into halftime. Middleburg continued to do solid throughout the second half, trying to keep things close as possible, but Blue Ridge ended up pulling away due to making Middleburg’s guards uncomfortable with a press strategy, paint protection, and, above all, made free throws.
- Blue Ridge’s win in the semifinals also showed how their bench depth can wear down other opposing teams. Middleburg has a good core, but they clearly couldn’t sub in fresh bodies in a manner likewise to Blue Ridge. Whenever a player got fatigued, in foul trouble, or found himself in any other predicament, the Barons could rotate in another guy at that position. Along with their collection of tools, I always felt that particular depth on the roster made them the most complete team in VISAA Division II. I can trace back to how impressed I left when I first saw them in October during a preseason jamboree; they consistently subbed 5 in, 5 out and achieved the same winning outcome every time.
- As a whole, Miller did some of the best in finishing plays against a tough defense during their game versus the Virginia Episcopal (VES) Bishops; it felt like they continued to score contested shot after contested shot in that first half. They increased up 24-9 not long into the second quarter. Honestly, I felt VES went through one of those days where they played some of the best defense they could, but just found themselves unable to finish off possessions in stopping Miller. The Bishops started to pick up more paint points late in the first half. After the halftime break, it became more of a defensive game before standout VES wingman Bryce Waterman ’19 went on a personal scoring run of seven straight points. This seemed to motivate the team and they went into attack mode to get in the double bonus and only trail by three with 2:56 on the clock. After Miller completed a couple of their own makes at the charity stripe, VES went through a highly questionable no-call on a late three-point attempt and could only watch as Miller advanced to another state title appearance. Hard-fought game by both teams that could’ve went either way.
- That championship battle between Miller and Blue Ridge earns my pick as the best game of the entire tournament, regardless of division. It’s now been three years in a row of the two programs going at each other for the state crown, so I could determine right away that they had good familiarity for how each other played. Blue Ridge struggled putting points on the board in the second quarter and found themselves down double digits after Miller went on a 5-0 run. Miller expanded their lead to as much as 14 points at one stretch in the second half, but the Barons started to fight back and cut Miller’s lead to only three points after Dae Dae Heard ’19 fouled out. With both teams in the bonus, Savion Helm ’19 of Blue Ridge made two clutch free throws to force overtime and his squad finished it out during the extra four minutes with a complete focus at the charity stripe, while also wasting some time off of the clock. The final horn sounded and the Barons rushed towards the middle of the court, celebrating their second state title in the last three seasons.
Final Four Standouts
Michael Gray ’21 – Blue Ridge: I don’t think anyone generated more buzz than the Barons’ sophomore guard on Friday. It all started when he hit three in a row from downtown to give his team a lead heading into halftime of the Middleburg game. Gray stayed the course all season long to emerge as a top scoring option for Blue Ridge; most acknowledge him as the team’s best all-around threat offensively. He played smoothly the entire time while on the floor, using his handle to make plays from all three-levels. I also thought he looked more impressive defensively, as he showed some grit in making sure his man wouldn’t score easily. Gray should only continue to improve… he’s in a good spot within a renowned program. The next step for him involves becoming a guy who can take over at the point guard spot. When talking about the next level, his size at 6’2” would undoubtedly require him to play more as a floor general. He posted 21 points, three assists, and four steals in the semifinals, while finishing with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals en route to winning his first high school state title.
Quadir Pettaway ’21 – Miller School: So, I remember reading news about the standout 757 product going through a scary injury that sidelined him for the majority of this season. That being said, it felt more than refreshing to see him out there playing with confidence during this past weekend; it’s almost like he never left. I’ve heard much praise about the 6’0” guard and saw all sorts of intangibles that makes him a step ahead of most underclassmen at that position. He has great control of the ball and consistently keeps defenders on their heels by attacking the basket while also being able to stop quickly and pull up for jumpers. He showed this same type of pull-up from outside of the arc as well, a shot that I consider pretty difficult to make. Pettaway’s winning mentality goes along nicely with his toughness, body control, and feel for play in transition. With him leading the pack of Miller’s talented bunch, I expect the program to keep finding success in Charlottesville. I truly hope Pettaway can stay healthy, no player should have to endure what he went through this school year. Much respect to his way of bouncing back.
Savion Helm ’19 – Blue Ridge: If there was an award for ‘Biggest Spark Plug’ of the tournament, I wouldn’t hesitate handing it over to Helm. The 6’5” wing checked in for Blue Ridge and had plenty of key moments in the championship; a main one involving his free-throw shooting. I think he took and made more at the charity stripe than anyone else in the Division II bracket, as he went 13-14 on Saturday alone. Helm has some of the best versatility on the Barons’ roster. He draws fouls (obviously) with his body control, snags offensive rebounds, seeks out open teammates, and gets above the rim for strong finishes. His composure left me the most impressed, as he didn’t show any doubt with a state title on the line. Honestly, it perplexes me why he hasn’t drawn more next-level attention. With his size, athleticism, and contributions in several areas, coaches could land an impact player and great teammate in the Unsigned Senior. A SERIOUS steal for whoever picks him up. Helm put up 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists in the semifinals; 18 points and six rebounds in the championship.
Tariq Balogun ’19 – Miller School: Balogun held it down solidly in the paint for Miller, as he played with a high motor to act as a reliable presence. He did the best for his team in earning second-chance points and/or attempts; indicative of his ever-lasting energy. He has a solid build on him with strong hands to forcefully go after rebounds and can use patience to wait before exploding for dunks/drawn fouls. I also noticed him stepping out to three-point territory a couple of times. Showing off even more of that skill could transform him into more of an inside-out threat down the line. He currently holds offers from quite a few mid-majors (Old Dominion, Norfolk State, North Texas, and Hampton, amongst others), so I’ll keep an eye out to see what decision he ends up making. Personally, I feel he could contribute right away for any of those programs.
Ben Li ’20 – Middleburg: A guy who’s had several standout moments this season, Middleburg’s 6’6” forward continued to show his worth as a skilled forward who can play as a bruiser. However, he doesn’t just rely on his physical frame to give opponents a handful, as his perimeter skills made him a threat from all around the court. I really like the skill of Li; he’s got a bag of tools with confidence in shooting, putting the ball on the floor, posting up, and using smooth footwork. He plays really unselfish but can take over when the time calls for it; spectators saw this last month when he exploded for 42 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Massanutten Military Academy. If Li can increase that killer mindset to a point of consistency, other guys will have long nights trying to stop him. He scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Blue Ridge on Friday.
Michael Caprise ’19 – VES: The senior captain displayed some of the most toughness for his Bishops squad by relentlessly attacking the offensive glass for rebounds/stickbacks. Miller simply could not find a way to stop him from getting his nose into the paint; something that played one of the biggest roles in VES keeping the game close. At 6’7,” Caprise has a nice blend of touch, reaction time, and strength that all makes him an interior threat. I wouldn’t classify him as a guy who’s going to use a lot of different moves in the post, but he shields the ball well to power through defenders either for points or drawn fouls. One thing you can always count on is that he’ll give effort on the rebounding end; that’s for sure. I didn’t see any other player work as hard for rebounds. Caprise ended with 14 points and 14 rebounds in his last outing against Miller.
Jaden Frazier ’19 – Blue Ridge: I’ll reiterate what I tweeted during one of Blue Ridge’s games: Chattanooga’s basketball program has a good one arriving on campus in the fall with Frazier entering the fold. He didn’t have to score much, but the 6’9” forward played an important role as an enforcer in the paint for the Barons during their quest for another state ring. His strength makes it fairly difficult for other bigs to work offensively against him and he knows how to finish off defensive possessions with strong box-outs for rebounds. His paint protection has fueled Blue Ridge all season long and it seems he’s embraced that role well without any problems. When he does get the ball in the paint, Frazier has a couple of good moves to draw fouls. I see his offensive game expanding more as he goes on to the next level. The pick-and-roll could serve as his easiest way to put points on the board; he won’t hesitate to throw it down with two hands if the opening is there.
Don’t forget to also check out my recaps of both the VISAA Division I and Division III Final Four! Great games played in those two brackets.