No. 1 Hampton Crabbers
COACH: Walter Brower
LAST YEAR: 27-5, 15-3 (T-1st). Won Group AAA state championship.
TOP RETURNEES: 6-3 Sr. G Anthony Barber (21.3 ppg), 6-3 Sr. G Jordan Baker (9.1 ppg), 6-2 Sr. F Sammie Royal (9.5 ppg), 6-2 F Tre Perry (6.3 ppg), 6-4 F Daquin Moore (2.4 ppg).
OUTLOOK: The Crabbers are coming off a magical season that would have ended in the first round of the Eastern Region playoffs if not for Royal’s offensive rebound and free throw. The majority of that experience is back. Barber, who has committed to N.C. State, is the best player in the commonwealth and one of the best in the nation. With 1,530 points in his career, “Cat” needs 447 more to break Tony Rutland’s Peninsula District record. Baker (Old Dominion) began the year as Robin to Barber’s Batman but emerged as a clutch player. He had 10 of his 13 points in the state final in the last 8 1/2 minutes. Royal would be on everybody’s recruiting list if only he were a few inches taller. Perry is a solid shooter and Moore, who has committed to Old Dominion in football, an outstanding athlete. Just like last year, the Crabbers have no size last year. Running the show again will be Brower, who is going into his 32nd season. He was hampered by back problems last year but says he’s feeling better this fall.
THE COACH SAYS: “I keep telling everybody over and over it’s very hard to repeat. I’ve been there. In 1990, we went back to the state final and lost (to Bayside). The big thing is, everybody is going to be playing us hard. We just have to be ready to play. There’s no such thing as taking a night off because the target is on our back.”
No. 2 Kecoughtan Warriors
COACH: Ivan Thomas
LAST YEAR: 22-10, 15-3 (T-1st), lost in Group AAA semifinals.
TOP RETURNEES: 6-8 Sr. F Rodney Bullock (14.3 ppg), 6-5 Sr. G-F Greg Alexander (6.5 ppg), 6-0 So. G Marcell Haskett (2.8 ppg), 6-8 Sr. C Kaelin Poe (3.0 ppg).
OUTLOOK: Bullock (Providence commitment) has been a starter since his freshman season and though he can score in the paint, he’s more natural on the perimeter. Having guys like Poe and 6-7 Justin Lipscomb in the lineup should allow that. Alexander (East Carolina commitment) will be the primary 3-point now that Josh Fortune is gone. The question is, who will handle the point? Haskett saw a lot of time last season and showed promise. Thomas also likes sophomore William Askew. With its size, Kecoughtan could make a nice run. How far depends on its guard play.
THE COACH SAYS: “We could shock a few people. Some people are expecting us to be in the middle of the pack, but I don’t think so. This could be one of the better teams I’ve had. There’s been a lot less screaming (in practice) because I haven’t had to teach as much. We’re ahead of where we were last year, and hopefully that’ll show in the (opening) Denbigh game. I’ve had fun coaching this team.”
No. 3 Bethel Bruins
COACH: Craig Brehon
LAST YEAR: 15-8, 12-6 (T-3rd).
TOP RETURNEES: 5-10 Sr. G Rakeen Brown (15.3 ppg), 6-2 Sr. G DeShawn Barton (6.9 ppg), 6-5 Sr. F Karlus Grant (5.3 ppg), 6-0 Sr. G Corey Sweetenburg (3.3 ppg).
OUTLOOK: The Bruins took the biggest graduation hit in G Aaron Bacote, who led the PD in scoring last season at 22.1 ppg. But Brown took a giant leap last year and so far has offers from Rider, UNC Greensboro, and Hampton. He’s a shooter, but he’s also a creative scorer. Barton and Grant were steady last season but are two guys Brehon is counting on to step up their scoring with the departure of Bacote. Bethel will rely on its usually solid defense, and senior Jamal Dunn is its stopper.
THE COACH SAYS: “We have a very inexperienced basketball team. This is the youngest we have been over my 16 years at Bethel. We have talent, but the players will have to develop quicker and play smarter early for us to have success.”
No. 4 Phoebus Phantoms
LAST YEAR: 15-10, 12-6 (T-3rd), lost in Eastern Region first round.
TOP RETURNEES: 5-11 Sr. G James Daniel III (12.2 ppg), 6-1 Sr. G Khaaliq Fletcher (7.4 ppg), 6-1 So. G Dwayne Marshall (1.0 ppg), 6-4 Jr. F Tyri Daniel (0.9 ppg).
OUTLOOK: This team’s fortunes took a hit when Troy Williams decided to play his senior year at Oak Hill, but there’s still some talent on Ireland Street. Daniel III is among the PD’s best pure shooters and his overall game, particularly creating his own shot, has gotten steadily better. Fletcher is a good spot-up shooter and should be capable of adding at least five more points to his average. But after that, the Phantoms will need more scorers to step up. Marshall could be an emerging star. A big addition is 6-5 Josh Davis, who averaged 13.2 ppg last season at Heritage. Three Phoebus football players are also on the roster.
THE COACH SAYS: “Our strength is defense. Our weakness is maturity. We have to gain confidence and remain positive.”
No. 5 Heritage Hurricanes
COACH: Michael Gardner
LAST YEAR: 5-17, 4-14 (8th).
TOP RETURNEES: 6-3 So. F Romello Anderson (12.3 ppg), 6-0 Sr. G Marquis Johnson (7.3 ppg), 6-4 Jr. F/C Troy Gibson (5.0 ppg), 5-9 Sr. G Shomari Wright (3.3 ppg), 5-10 Sr. G Daniel Gamble (4.4 ppg).
OUTLOOK: After an 0-18 season in 2010-11, the Hurricanes won five games last season and lost another four by seven points or less. It was a nice turnaround, and Heritage could take a bigger step this season. Anderson was one of the top freshmen in the district last season, and Johnson is a steady presence in the backcourt. Gibson (6-4) and White (6-5) provide some good size inside. The only bad news is that two valuable players transferred: 6-5 Josh Davis, the leading scorer at 13.2 ppg, is now at Phoebus; G Devon Mayo (6.8 ppg) has relocated to Denbigh. Still, no less a source than Menchville coach Dennis Koutoufas predicts Heritage to be this year’s surprise team.
THE COACH SAYS: “I expect improvement from last season. Our strength is our athleticism and depth. Our weakness is our lack of size and depth in front court. We must play hard every night, limit turnovers, rebound defensively and improve free throw shooting in order to be successful.”
No. 6 Woodside Wolverines
COACH: Erick Mays.
LAST YEAR: 13-10, 11-7 (6th)
TOP RETURNEES: 6-3 Sr. G Trevor Lyons (15.0 ppg), 5-9 Sr. G Jazz Johnson (2.7 ppg).
OUTLOOK: For Mays, the bad news is that five of his top six scorers from last season are gone. The good news is the lone returner out of that group, Lyons, is back. He’s been one of the district’s top (though underrated) players over the last three seasons. There’s a lot of talk about Woodside’s freshman class, which includes 6-5 Chris Orlina and 5-10 PG Devonte Carter. It’s hard to say how far this team can go, but at the very least the Wolverines should get better as the season progresses and be fun to watch.
THE COACH SAYS: “(We) should be competitive but young. (We’ve) got to rebound and play smart and we must get team contributions.”
No. 7 Menchville Monarchs
COACH: Dennis Koutoufas
LAST YEAR: 19-7, 12-6 (T-3rd), lost in Eastern Region quarterfinals.
TOP RETURNEE: 5-10 Sr. G Josh Knight (4.2 ppg).
OUTLOOK: Koutoufas is not one for hyperbole, so when he calls this the youngest team he’s had in 27 years as a head coach, that says something. There are four players who were on last year’s roster, and they scored a combined 97 points (Knight had 79 of them) the entire season. So Coach K will be relying big-time on newcomers. The most intriguing is 6-7 DaQuan Lake, brother of former Menchville baseball pitcher Deshorn Lake. He’s long, lean (185 pounds) and raw. Koutoufas also likes G Stephon McLean-Burrell, a military kid who transferred from Germany.
THE COACH SAYS: “We’re totally inexperienced. Not one guy on this team has started a varsity game. Our scrimmages went fairly well. We did some good things, but we’re inexperienced, and sometimes our inexperience showed up. … I’m OK with this team. Sometimes you have groups that get no better from day one until the end of preseason, but these kids have gotten demonstratively better.”
No. 8 Warwick Raiders
COACH: Lamont Strothers
LAST YEAR: 1-20, 0-18 (10th)
TOP RETURNEES: 6-4 So. G Lewis Freeman (8.6 ppg), 6-4 G-F Carlton Moody (6.3 ppg), 5-9 Jr. G Malik Lowe (3.1 ppg), 6-0 Jr. G Devante Taylor (3.0 ppg), 6-2 Sr. G Patrick Hunt (8.3 ppg).
OUTLOOK: It was a tough first season for Strothers, whose team was such a revolving door that 21 different players made the box score at least once. You expect that in the NBA with 10-day contracts, but not high school ball. Yet the Raiders look to be much further along than they were a year ago at this time and got off to a promising start with win over Bayside. Freeman is a long athlete, and Hunt is a shooter who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. How far is to be determined, but Warwick certainly should take a step up from last season.
THE COACH SAYS: “Our strength should be our defensive energy. That’s what we’re trying to make our strength, anyway. And our weakness is consistency at the point guard position. … We’ve learned a lot and we’ve grown a lot. We’re definitely more advanced in understanding things like defensive rotation and recognizing what’s a good show and what isn’t.”
No. 9 Denbigh Patriots
COACH: Demetrius “Duke” Phipps
LAST YEAR: 8-14, 7-11(7th)
TOP RETURNEES: 6-1 Sr. G Marcus Taylor (11.7 ppg), 6-3 Sr. F-G Jamal Williams (2.8 ppg), 6-0 Sr. G Cheyenne Eskew (4.2 ppg).
OUTLOOK: A former player at Woodside, Phipps remembers the days when the Patriots were among the district’s elite. He feels the program can return to those days, though he recognizes it won’t come overnight. Only the three above players returning from last year’s varsity team. A key addition is senior G Devon Mayo, who averaged 6.8 ppg last season at Heritage.
THE COACH SAYS: “We are very young team. We are not a big team, but I think our lack of size can be made up with a good presence on the defensive end. We have to learn to play as a team and do the little things in order to be successful.”
No. 10 Gloucester Dukes
COACH: Christopher Morgan
LAST YEAR: 4-18, 2-16 (9th)
TOP RETURNEES: 5-11 Jr. G Derek Poole (5.1 ppg), 6-5 So. C Chris Benditt (2.0 ppg), 6-2 Sr. G-F Dan Osborne (4.8 ppg), 6-1 F-G Jarrell Bennett (2.1 ppg).
OUTLOOK: After a promising season in 2010-11, the Dukes took a step back last year. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that the top two scorers, Chris Morgan (no relation to the coach) and Davonte’ Smith, are gone. This season will require some major rebuilding. Poole and Osborne have the most experience. Benditt and Bennett provide some size.
THE COACH SAYS: “(We) will face a very difficult season. Over 60 percent of our team (are) first-year players. (We) open the season with seven of the first nine games on the road. We are hoping for continued improvement and a chance to compete in the second half of the season as seven of the final nine games are at home.”