Jeremy Jordan remembers noticing something missing from the gymnasium wall during one of his first practices as Grafton High's new boys basketball coach two years ago.
"I told our players, 'There are no championship banners in here for boys basketball,' " he said. "I said it would be our goal the next couple of years to hang a banner."
The Clippers reached that objective by upsetting district champion Tabb 46-34 in the district tournament final.
"To break through takes the monkey off of our backs," Jordan said. "Now we know what we're capable of and want to take the next step."
The next step would be a district championship. That will be a huge challenge, because Tabb — which has won five of the past seven district titles — is good again, while Bruton is deep and talented.
But the Clippers (17-10, 11-7 district last season) are a rare district team with two potential college players, supplemented by a strong supporting cast. Elijah Moore, a 6-foot-6 junior who averaged nearly 12 points and seven rebounds last year, is coveted by regional Division I mid-majors. Barnes, a 6-2 senior, is being sought after by some Division III schools.
Jesse Santiago, an athletic 6-3 junior, can play in transition, rebound and defend very well. Blake Ream (8.0 ppg), a capable shooter, should fare better than he did playing on a knee sore all of last season.
Joey Miller and Tyler McMillan give the Clippers two solid options at point guard. Jordan is curious to see what kind of help Jacob Mazgajewski, a 6-6, 255-pound football lineman, can provide in the paint.
It's a good group, but good enough to make the Clippers only a slight favorite to hang another banner.
"The district is wide open," Jordan said. "It's anybody's race.
"Staying healthy will be important."
LAST SEASON: 14-9, 11-7 (T-2nd)
COACH: Scott Joyner
THE BUZZ: Joyner thinks this team is his deepest in about a decade. All-district guard Brent Spencer (12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), quick point guard Maine Baker, shooter Leo Legaspi (6.8 ppg) and do-it-all scorer Marcus Carter (7.1 ppg) lead a 10-man rotation full of athletes, shooters and hard workers.
LAST SEASON: 21-8, 15-3 (1st)
COACH: Doug Baggett
THE BUZZ: Tabb's title defense is bolstered by the return of district Player of the Year Shaq Rodney (10.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg). Joe Nelson and 6-4 Dan Schiele add size inside, and, like Rodney, can play outside. Caleb Mitchell and Will Baggett give the Tigers two options at the point.
LAST SEASON: 11-12, 11-7 (T-2nd)
COACH: Tony Traver
THE BUZZ: Minus Thomas Smith, who will focus on academics, the Rams still lack some rebounding and defensive muscle. But they have two very good shooters in all-district guard John Fitchett (14.1 pph) and Colton St. Cyr (11 ppg) and an inside presence in Dewayne Johnson (12.3 ppg).
LAST SEASON: 15-11, 11-7 (T-2nd)
COACH: Bobby Pearce
THE BUZZ: Pearce, the Falcons' new coach, inherits a backcourt that will be one of the district's best in point guard Quinton Martinez (10.6 ppg in the postseason) and sharpshooter Brandon Harvell (14.6 ppg). If the Falcons improve defensively and on the boards, they'll be a force.
LAST SEASON: 12-11, 10-8 (6th)
COACH: Todd Bowden
THE BUZZ: The Islanders return their top two scorers in outside shooting ace Royce Bowden (14.7 ppg) and inside-outside threat Dylan Hill (9.8 ppg). If the Islanders can find a third scorer and control the tempo, they'll be a difficult out for anyone in the district.
LAST SEASON: 9-12, 8-10 (8th)
COACH: Lee Underwood
THE BUZZ: The Eagles are a bit of a mystery. Two of their better players transferred to Williamsburg private schools. Kenneth Fields, a 6-4 junior who averaged 9.5 points and 6.0 rebounds, will play a key role. Seniors Rodney Smith, James Laycock and Tommy Peterkin add experience.
8. NEW KENT
LAST SEASON: 13-13, 9-9 (7th)
COACH: Eddie Allen
THE BUZZ: With all-district pick Kaleb Lamb (17.3 ppg) now at Shenandoah, the Trojans leading returning scorers are forward Dre Washington (9 ppg) and Tanner Luck (6 ppg). A huge need for the Trojans will be to defend better than the '10-11 group that gave up 70 points per game.
LAST SEASON: 4-15, 4-14 (9th)
COACH: Richard Pullen
THE BUZZ: The Packers return several players who earned lot of playing time during a difficult '10-11 season. The leading scorers in that group are guards Darren Major (8.7 ppg) and Jamel Sterling (6.3 ppg).
LAST SEASON: 0-21, 0-18 (10th)
COACH: Justin Hayes
THE BUZZ: Another winless season is unlikely, particularly with athletic sophomore guard Devonte Dedmon (9.4 ppg) among a host of returness. Transfer Da'Quan Goodman and Antwain Key lend depth to the backcourt. A below-55 percent free-throw percentage has to improve.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun