Watch out for the Peninsula'a Big Five

Our team is stacked. We've got a lock-down defender at point guard, length and range on the wings, size and strength inside.

These five won't play together. In fact, their homes stretch from the Show Me State to Shoe Lane.

But they are most certainly ours, five young men from the Peninsula District who figure to wield considerable influence on this college basketball season.


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Let's start in the low post with Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe from Kecoughtan High. A two-time junior college All-American at the College of Central Florida, he's already getting rave reviews at Mizzou, ranked 15th nationally in the Associated Press preseason poll.

"He's a guy that's a magnet to the ball," coach Mike Anderson told the Columbia Tribune. "You can see. He goes and gets the ball off the glass. That's what good players do. If they're not getting the touches or guys aren't getting it to them, they will actually go get it off the boards."

A protégé of former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, Anderson insists on a rapid-fire pace that suits Ratliffe's skills. In the Tigers' public intrasquad scrimmage, Ratliffe scored 32 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Ratliffe isn't likely to approach those numbers in the Big 12, but if he emerges as the consistent force virtually all project — league coaches voted him preseason newcomer of the year — Missouri could challenge Kansas State and Kansas atop the conference.

Our other post player is accustomed to conference championships. Xavier has won four consecutive Atlantic 10 regular-season titles, the last two with the help of Bethel High graduate Jamel McLean.

A 6-8 senior and transfer from Tulsa, McLean averaged 7.5 boards and 8.5 points last season, as the Musketeers reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. He grabbed a career-high 14 in a first-round victory over Minnesota and scored a career-best 21 in a double-overtime loss at Wake Forest.

"We're going to count on him to be more consistent, but also as a guy we can count on inside when we need a basket," Xavier coach Chris Mack told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He doesn't need to have an array of low post moves, but we'd like him to have two or three that he's confident in when he gets the ball. Not that he has to ... average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, but he certainly has the ability."

McLean will play without contact lenses after offseason Lasik surgery.

"I used to (fall asleep) in them and things like that," McLean told the Enquirer. "So I bribed my mom to get it done for me. My vision is crystal clear now."

McLean's former Bethel teammate Jontel Evans is our point guard. He started 11 games for Virginia last season as a freshman, had an outstanding 60-27 assist-turnover ratio and led the ACC is steals-o-turnovers margin at plus-seven.

But can he shoot well enough to be a quality lead guard? The question has haunted Evans since his high school days, and his 36.9-percent accuracy last season didn't help.

With teammate Sammy Zeglinski sidelined until mid-December with a knee injury, Evans figures to get ample opportunity to show how much his range has improved. Coach Tony Bennett said he'll use a "point guard by committee" in Zeglinski's absence, but given Bennett's insistence on stingy defense, bank on Evans emerging as the first option with freshman Billy Baron off the bench.

Our small forward also needs to improve his perimeter shooting. Hampton University junior Darrion Pellum, a former Hampton High student, shot 39 percent last season, 28 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Pellum averaged 11.5 points in 2009-10, is the Pirates' top returning scorer and was selected first-team preseason All- MEAC. Plus, he was voted MVP of the Hampton Roads 7 Cities Summer League.

Perhaps most encouraging, Pellum shined when it mattered most last season, scoring a team-high 19 points in a MEAC tournament victory over Norfolk State and sharing defensive duties on Spartans star Michael Deloach.

None of our players was as good in postseason as Christopher Newport shooting guard Conley Taylor, a junior from Menchville High. He averaged a team-high 13.2 points last year after sitting out the previous season to upgrade his academic credentials.

Taylor led the Captains in scoring in each of their last four games, including 21 in a USA South tournament quarterfinal victory over Greensboro, which marked C.J. Woollum's 500th career coaching win. In the USA South title game, Taylor scored 17 as CNU upset North Carolina Wesleyan to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Watch these gents this season. Watch their teams.

Bet you won't be disappointed.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP. Sign up for text alerts by texting "BIGSPORTS" to 71593.

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