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:
Up first: the Division III bracket. Life Christian Academy (Chester, VA), Eastern Mennonite School (Harrisonburg, VA), Christ Chapel Academy (Woodbridge, VA), and Walsingham Academy (Williamsburg, VA) all participated.
Semifinal Game 1 (Friday, 3/1):
Life Christian Academy – 89
Chirst Chapel Academy – 56
Semifinal Game 2 (Friday, 3/1):
Eastern Mennonite – 52
Walsingham Academy – 47
Championship (Saturday, 3/2):
Life Christian Academy – 63
Eastern Mennonite – 59
Some Game/Team Notes
- Life Christian Academy (LCA) put all of Chesterfield, VA on notice right away when they blew out the Christ Chapel Lions, who won the VISAA Div. III title last season, in Friday’s opener. The semifinal game started off pretty close, with back-and-forth scoring, but Christ Chapel started to decline in containing LCA’s tempo. On the scoring end, the Lions also couldn’t really make anything other than free throws during their second half, as they watched LCA run away with a statement victory.
- Eastern Mennonite had the best first-half shooting performance of any team in the division when they took the floor in their semifinal battle against Walsingham. The Flames played like their name; scorching hot from the perimeter. Back-court mates Zach Hatter ’19 and Chance Church ’20 mainly led this hot shooting start, combining for six made from beyond the arc in the first half. The shooting cooled off a bit for the next two quarters but head coach Chad Seibert’s players showed a consistent disciplined focus to run away with a five-point win. Free throws and defensive stops helped a lot; I remember the Flames rarely wasting any freebies at the line.
- Overall, LCA’s collective talent distinguishes them from any other VISAA Div. III team I’ve seen this season. The Eagles prove too difficult to stop for an entire 32 minutes when you consider their athletic gifts, feel for the game, size, and hunger for dominance. Remember, this is the same team that went toe-to-toe with SPIRE Institute (led by phenom LaMelo Ball) during their last visit at Virginia State back in December. Since the preseason, I honestly had this team projected to win it all. Their defense looked best this time around; they can lock in as a whole when everyone stays focused on individual roles. There’s still some work to be done with LCA; boxing out, decreasing turnovers, not losing composure, etc. Nonetheless, as far as talent goes, they remain up there with any other program in the 804.
- I walked away impressed with Eastern Mennonite’s program. After a first state championship appearance in program history, they’re losing some seniors (five) but should again find themselves in a similar position next year around this time. The Flames have a good blend of skill and IQ that makes them a bunch one cannot start treating lightly. For instance, it seemed like LCA became too comfortable at one point in the state title game before Eastern Mennonite went on a run to only trail by six with under two minutes in the fourth quarter. I liked that never-quit mentality displayed from the group and it appeared that LCA head coach Richard Mason gave his respect to Eastern Mennonite as well, immediately following the game. Definitely a stellar season accomplished by the Flames; I see a bright future over the horizon. Oh, and their fan base should also receive some recognition, as a notable crowd made the lengthy trip from Harrisonburg to cheer on their guys. Most of those fans beat me to the entrance doors.
Final Four Standouts
Antonio Bridy ’19 – LCA: Without question, the 6’1” lead guard played as the biggest difference-maker for LCA due to his never-ending paint touches, which kept defenders on their heels in transition. Bridy looked like one of the top floor generals in Richmond, VA during the Eagles’ championship run; he performed THAT good. Nobody could stop him from succeeding as a one-man fast-break, whether he would take it all the way to the rim by himself or finding teammates open under the rim for finishes. While he obviously seems to enjoy playing fast mostly, the senior also looked comfortable doing the same type of production in half-court settings; he threw some of the best passes out of any other guard I saw during those two days. His rebounding also stood out for his position, evident by a stat line of 22 points and ten boards in the win over Eastern Mennonite. Excellent performances by Bridy, who can now add a state title to his resume.
Aviwe Mahlong ’20 – Eastern Mennonite: The lengthy forward played as a reliable inside-and-out presence for the Flames, who really saved his best for Saturday’s championship. Mahlong started off on fire during that battle against LCA, pouring in 12 of the team’s first 14 points. He looked well scoring around the rim in both games, while showing more of his outside shooting throughout Saturday. I noticed his ability to move well without the ball, something that most talented players may not view as too important. His nose for the ball and touch makes him one of Eastern Mennonite’s biggest threats at getting second-chance points off of stick-backs. He put the Flames on his back for most of the championship, finishing with the team’s sole double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Per Coach Seibert, Mahlong also just wrapped up his first official high school season in the states. Pretty scary to consider how he has a chance to blow up after this offseason.
Marchellus Avery ’20 – LCA: “Chi Chi,” as the players/coaches/fans call him, simply balled out during his team’s final two games. Many in the area had taken notice of the 6’7” forward’s high-level style of play and he definitely looks like one who shows up when his name’s being called. Avery scored in all types of ways for the Eagles: shooting, taking it to the rim, hitting fadeaways, going after putbacks, a plethora of tricks. He’s a mismatch nightmare at his size and continues to show comfort in taking defenders out to the perimeter for isolation scores. Defensively, he’s still working on consistency but had several good moments guarding the perimeter and rejected a few attempts off of the glass. His inevitable next-level talent and enthusiastic nature makes him arguably LCA’s most important player; he’ll continue to shine as long as he doesn’t let other happenings in the gym distract him from playing his best. In my opinion, when he’s fully locked in, he’s a top-3 talent in Richmond.
Zach Hatter ’19 – Eastern Mennonite: The senior guard opened eyes to those watching him for the first time when he went 4-6 from three-point territory in the first half of Eastern Mennonite’s semifinal contest. In one of the best shooting outbursts of the day, I tweeted that Hatter had turned on his ‘Steph Curry flow.’ He made the Flames’ statement loud and clear: WE ARE HERE. Aside from the impressive shooting, I saw good things in Hatter’s skills and way of thinking the game. Even as a top scoring threat, he knows how to draw defenders and keep the ball moving in his team’s offense; this led to him creating several shots for others. His handle isn’t super tight, but good enough for ball protection and he uses his solid frame well to brush past defenders. Defensively, he played hard at all times; going after hustle plays. Hatter finished with 13 points, five assists, and three steals against Walsingham, while posting 10 points in the LCA game. A smart Unsigned Senior who plays balanced and makes winning plays.
Aaron Cavezza ’21 – Christ Chapel: Even in the Lions’ disappointing semifinal loss, their young 6’5” forward showed some of the most potential moving forward. In the third quarter, Cavezza took over for most of Christ Chapel’s production by actively going after rebounds/stickbacks, while also looking pretty comfortable on the perimeter. He’s still building into his skill, but I could soon see the sophomore developing into a steady player who can harm opponents from different areas of the court. His potential growth in size makes him even more dangerous; who knows how tall he could end up being. Losing two key pieces in 6’6” forward Trey Barber ‘19 and 6’2” guard Charles Faulconer ’19, the Lions will definitely rely on more players to step up next season, which I could see becoming a breakout winter for Cavezza. He’s on my list of names to remember for 2021.
Marcus Banks, Jr. ‘21 – Walsingham: Acknowledged as one of the best shooters entering the gym on Friday, Banks, Jr. looked good in that area but also stood out by doing other things well during Walsingham’s appearance on Friday. The 6’2” sophomore guard has now put on more muscle and can post up smaller defenders to score in the paint whenever he spots the opportunity, something he did a few times. Off-ball, he can lure opponents to sleep and quickly relocate for open looks, getting his feet set quickly with a focus on the target. Defensively, he looked solid and showed a way of getting his hand on the rock whenever opponents dribbled too loosely. As noted above, Banks, Jr.’s shooting still remains as his best and most deadly weapon. Whenever Walsingham needs one to fall from the outside, they turn to him without hesitation. That’s no surprise, considering he’s made several big shots throughout this winter. With standout guard Jaylin Stewart ’19 graduating, I’m curious if the team will lean on Banks, Jr. to take over more of a combo guard role next year. He finished with 17 points, two assists, and two steals in the semifinal loss.
Logan Washington ’20 – LCA: Man, does Washington give his team a spark in different areas outside of purely scoring. The 6’7” forward had a block party throughout the two days, as he swatted away shot after shot around the rim. It doesn’t matter the size or how good one might be at finishing; Washington will most likely find a way to contest or deny close attempts nine times out of ten. His way of also giving trouble to players trying to score on the perimeter makes me feel he played the best defense out of the LCA squad. Offensively, the junior has great energy that leads to him successfully pulling down offensive rebounds and scoring, while also drawing fouls with pivots/patience in the paint. Washington still looks a tad bit raw… but his skill has taken a big leap. I referred to him as the ‘Unsung Hero’ of LCA; he does a bunch of little things that helps the team win and has played some of the most versatile defense I’ve seen all season. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in the title victory, along with plenty of blocks. Watch out for him this spring!
Don’t forget to also check out my recaps of both the VISAA Division I and Division II Final Four! Great games played in those two brackets.