The consensus among Bay Rivers District boys basketball observers was that there was less individual talent on hand and fewer quality teams going into the 2013-14 season than usual. What followed served to underscore a general lack of depth, but one could argue that the district made up in quality what it lacked in quantity.
Bruton, for instance, lived up to the hype it generated by besting former AAA teams in the Hampton Roads Fall League with a runner-up finish in the 2A state tournament. Grafton, which had reached the AA Division 4 state championship game the previous two seasons, saw a surprisingly successful rebuilding season finish a game short of a 4A state semifinal berth when it pushed eventual state champ Norcom to the final possession for a state semifinal berth.
Our look back, and ahead, follows.
5 Memorable players
1. Marcus Carter, Bruton. Solid statistics — including about 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3 steals and two high-flying dunks per game — tell only part of the story. His intensity, competitiveness and work ethic set the standard for his teammates en route to district, conference and regional championships.
2. DeVonte Dedmon, Warhill. With almost no other experience on the roster, Dedmon was given the green light to score and boy did he ever. He averaged more than 28 points, making him the third player in district history — and the first in 19 years — to reach that mark.
3. Joey Miller, Grafton. Who knew he was so good at point guard? Moved in from the wing, the senior averaged 20.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and ran the show with such confidence you'd have thought he'd played the position all of his life.
4. Lonnie Swinton, Bruton. From the two NBA-length 3-pointers and pair of alley-oop passes to Carter for dunks early in the season opener, the 5-8 guard was electric for the Panthers. The Roanoke College-bound senior averaged 17.6 points and hit 44-percent of his 3s in the regular season, while his 3.8 steals per game highlighted his defensive value.
5. Evan Sperling, Grafton. After breaking through late in the season for the Clippers' state finalists in 2013, he blossomed as a junior: averaging 14.4 points, and 12.2 rebounds, while posting 12 double-doubles in 19 regular season games.
5 Memorable moments
1. March 1 | Bruton 79, Prince Edward 69. With a state tournament berth on the line, Lonnie Swinton dribbled the ball off of his leg and out of bounds late in regulation of a tie game. The Panthers survived a last-second shot attempt by the Eagles and rolled in an overtime, highlighted by Swinton's behind-the-back-pass for a basket.
2. Feb. 27 | Norcom 48, Grafton 45. The Clippers could not get off the 3-point shot on their final possession to send the game into overtime. But, before their noisy home fans in a packed gym, Grafton proved itself as a 4A state power under realignment by nearly upsetting the eventual state champs.
3. Jan. 8 | Bruton 84, New Kent 45. Talk about a sense of timing. After his team played seven games on the road to start the season, Marcus Carter surpassed the 1,000-point career mark with a 14-foot jumper early in the game. He received a hug from his father Brenner Carter — the first Bruton player (in 1978) to reach that milestone.
4. Dec. 19 | New Kent 99, Poquoson 67. Blake Kelley's nine 3-pointers in the game would've been impressive enough. But the Trojans made 23 treys (in just 43 attempts), ranking them No. 3 in state history and No. 17 all-time nationally.
5. March 5 | Bruton 83, Brunswick 65. Carter scored 19, Swinton 16 and nine of their teammates added points, as the Panthers avenged their only defeat to that point with a near-perfect game against a team that had beaten them seven in a row.
5 Storylines for 2014-15
1. Bruton rebuilds. In Carter, Swinton and super-competitive forward Kapri Doucet (10 ppg, 7 rpg) the Panthers lose the heart and soul of their 2A state runner-up. Guards Shaquan Edwards and Jalen Carr, and forward Daniel Jones give them a talented enough nucleus around which to rebuild, but a district championship repeat might be a stretch.
2. Grafton moves back on top. Even without the dynamic Miller, the Clippers return enough in support of Sperling to be tabbed next season's favorite. Freshman sensation Cle'Von Greene (8.0 ppg) should transition nicely into Miller's point guard spot, Preston Kiedinger (9.1 ppg) is the district's best returning outside shooter, forward Isaiah Moore (8.0 ppg, 7.0 ppg) continues to improve and there should be depth to spare.
3. One final round-robin? Stability reigns in the district, where the 18-game district schedule remains intact through the 2014-15 season. What then? With conferences now the first level of entry into postseason, there is discussion about a hybrid schedule with fewer district and more conference games
4. Baggett trucks on. Lee Underwood resigned at Jamestown recently, becoming the fourth district head coach with 16 or more seasons to leave within the past two years. When Tabb's Doug Baggett retires in a season or two, the BRD will have lost more than a combined 120 years of coaching experience.
5. Smithfield looks to contend. Picked eighth in the preseason, the Packers were the Bay Rivers' biggest surprise with a 14-4 district record. Smithfield returns its entire team, led by freshmen Chris Pierce (13.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and Ryan Jones (12.9 ppg). Finding the confidence to compete with experienced title contenders like Grafton will be the Pack's big challenge.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun