Thursday, March 10, 2016

IN REVIEW: Random Thoughts From Courtside at State Basketball Championships.....

We have been in a basketball marathon over an eight-day period.

Between the Atlantic 10 Women's Basketball Championship and this week's Virginia High School League (VHSL) State Basketball Championships, we have witnessed 23 basketball games and portions of ten others in an eight-day period. That's a lot of whistles, horns, stat sheets and timeouts.

After allowing the experiences of Monacan, L.C. Bird, and Cosby to simmer in our minds for the past 24 hours, here now are a few takeaways from our time at the Siegel Center.

MONACAN GIRLS: It would be gravely wrong to say a star was "born" in Jaiden Morris thanks to her two incredible performances on the sport's biggest stage this week. We all already know how good she is, the question now is just how good can she become? George Mason, and their head coach Nyla Milleson (whom we've known now for the past three seasons) has to be salivating at just how much better Morris can be before arriving in Fairfax in the fall of 2017.

Megan Walker, who incredibly won Gatorade State Basketball Player of The Year Thursday as a junior (something tells me Princess Anne fans aren't happy about this), did what Megan does this week: score, defend, impact, and win.

Just to think that Walker, Morris, future Richmond Spider Alex Parson, Abby Oguich, Haley Eiser, Jasmine Norman, etc, etc, ALL return next season has to be deflating to other 4A teams across the Commonwealth. Hopefully the injury bug will stay away from Smoketree. We have a feeling we know who the preseason #1 team in our Top 10 girls basketball poll will be come late November....

MONACAN BOYS: You're a #4 seed, facing a team you lost to in the 4A East Region tournament, and you've trailed most of the morning. So what do you do? Hold your opponents (no matter what jerseys they may be wearing) in single digits in the decisive fourth quarter, play tough defense, and get a few clutch shots near the end. It wasn't the first time these Chiefs found a way to win later (see: 4A State Quarterfinal), but this, indeed, was their finest hour.

Talk about a group of young men who believed in themselves, when few others did. The Chiefs made just a few appearances in our Top 10 poll this year. Conference 20 wasn't considered on the level as Conference 11 or Conference 26. But Conference 20 has a state champion. Conference 11 does not. It's amazing what can happen when you believe, no matter what anyone else does.

And, on a related note, the power of the "Monacan Maniacs" cannot be overstated here. Their attendance and their energy and spirit this week at Siegel Center was nothing short of amazing. And, in an era where some outsiders would frown on students missing a few classes in order to go to Siegel Center, I say this. It's not every day your school plays for a State Championship, and if the governing body overseeing the championship events schedules games during school hours, you have a conundrum. The smart students can get a permission slip from home, go cheer their heads off, be a part of school history, then hopefully get home and hit the books. Those who do are double winners.

So kudos to Monacan's administration for allowing the Chiefs to join their team and cheer them on. Now it's up to the Maniacs to prove administration's decision to be prudent by getting that homework done.

COSBY GIRLS: It was a different road. It was a road that provided some adversity. The Titans were beaten by Monacan twice. Soundly. That doesn't happen to Cosby.

Cosby had to travel in the State Quarterfinal rather than host. No problem. The earlier adversity created a team that had been baptized in some ways by fire. And, having Jocelyn Jones and Tyra Whitehead didn't hurt, either.

Cosby's state semifinal dismantling (64 points, 62 rebounds) gave many in the media pause to believe that the Langley Saxons would offer little resistance to the Titans in Wednesday's title game. With no player taller than 5' 10", who in the world goes after Whitehead? Well, in the end, the answer was, the whole team did.

The Saxons provided a unique challenge to Cosby, with the Titans calling Langley the "most physical" team they had faced all year. Not Monacan, not L.C. Bird, not Woodside. Langley. Looks can be deceiving.

With all due credit given to the Saxons, let's focus on the now three-time champions. When the game was over, and Jones had added another chapter of lore to Cosby history with "The Steal" and "The Steal II", both in the final seconds, to go with 2015's "The Shot" by Whitehead in the win over Bethel, we watched two reactions from our broadcast position from across the floor.

1) Jocelyn, after the team finished their celebration jump, looked at her teammates and said, "I'm tired!". She had every right to be.

2) The embrace between head coach Rachel Mead and Whitehead was unbelievably emotional. We were almost brought to tears on the air. You could feel the emotion from forty feet away. It gave us chills, and mad respect for the journey of this team. We were there two years ago when Dorothy Adomako was the leader in Cosby's first championship. She passed the torch to Jocelyn and Tyra. We've watched them grow up into amazing young women. And now we get to watch them blossom further in the ACC, Jocelyn at North Carolina, Tyra at Wake Forest. The sky is the limit.

L.C. BIRD BOYS: Any Division I coach in America, especially a coach in a building program, in any conference, should seriously look at Charles Falden. The senior showed signs of his development last season, came into his own this season, and, at the biggest moment possible, put his team, and his school on his shoulders and played out of his mind as the Skyhawks' frantic fourth-quarter comeback against Potomac fell just short.

The Panthers won the championship, but most people left Siegel Center talking about Falden, who poured in 19 points in the fourth quarter, including 12 huge points down the stretch. You could see the panic and fear in the eyes of Panther players, some I believe convinced were watching their win slip away. The Skyhawks simply ran out of time, as Potomac woke up just in time with a few key free throws to finally seal the win.

I think about how Falden could develop under a Mike Rhoades at Rice, a Jeff Jones at Old Dominion, or how a player like him could aid a burgeoning program like Longwood's finally break into the upper echelon of their conference the Big South, remembering Longwood's Division I history is relatively short.

Someone should give him a chance. We'll enjoy him taking advantage of it, on the court, but also preparing for life, a far more important task.

As for the Skyhawks? Yes, it's disappointing to come so close, but not scale the top of the mountain. But this season was monumental for this squad. They lost Kenny Williams to North Carolina. Jalen Elliott did not play. They lose Tyrek Williams two games into the season for the year with a broken leg. They dealt with a six-man rotation. Some in the area didn't believe. And, when they scored just 35 points in the Conference 12 finals, losing to Varina, many saw the Skyhawks leaving the scene with a loss to Henrico yet again in the region tournament.

But #TheShot from Mario Haskett changed everything, as L.C. Bird seized overtime, slayed the Henrico dragon and vaulted into 5A state title conversation. They came up short by just six points.

There is so much to build upon for L.C. Bird, as Mario Haskett and Pinky Wiley return outside, and Jyles Webster, much improved, will get Tyrek Williams back healthy inside. Four great ingredients for a recipe for another championship run.


In 2017?

--The Monacan girls will be the top dog in the area to start the season. How can they not be? They lose one reserve to graduation, that's all.
--The Monacan boys will rebuild with Parham, Washington and McFail, a good nucleus. But they'll also build with experience and confidence that only comes by winning a state championship you "weren't supposed to win".
--The Cosby girls will be different. Coach Mead admitted that in the press conference following their semifinal win. They'll be smaller. Mead said they would be "scrappier". But don't sleep on the Titans. Bailey Hodges can be a leader, Charme Lilly was a HUGE factor in the championship game, and Nia Covington is only a freshman. They'll be different, but they'll still be good.
--We talked above about the Skyhawks. They'll be back, so Conference 12 needs to be ready.

Other teams to watch come November include the Meadowbrook boys and the Thomas Dale girls. We look forward to their development during the offseason.

Thanks everyone, for being along with us for quite a ride in 2015-16! Next up, spring sports!!

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