Boys Basketball Preview: Grafton, Tabb, Bruton Look to Challenge for Bay Rivers Crown

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Jalen Carr is one of the best returning players in the Bay Rivers District this year. (file photo)
Jalen Carr is one of the best returning players in the Bay Rivers District this year. (File Photo)

Winter weather tampered with postseason play last season, but that did not stop five Historic Triangle teams — Grafton, Bruton, Lafayette, Tabb and York — from earning regional berths.

Expect a similar amount of local teams to make postseason runs this year as the Bay Rivers District projects to be filled with parity once again.

A pair of new coaches enter the fold this year. Geoff McCulloch takes over at Warhill after coaching at Jamestown for one season, while former Williamsburg Christian Academy girls basketball coach Donovan Bridgeforth will lead Jamestown this year.

Grafton, Tabb and Bruton, all of whom were among the best teams in the district last year, lost a fair amount of senior talent over the offseason. Regardless, those three teams return enough talent to be considered among the best Historic Triangle teams.

Lafayette and York will likely be middle-of-the-pack teams, but can be expected to challenge top teams throughout the season and perhaps spring an upset or two.

Jamestown and Warhill are the big unknowns this season. With new coaches, and in Warhill’s case an almost entirely new starting five, it remains to be seen what type of basketball these two schools will put out this year.

Below are previews for each Historic Triangle basketball team playing in the Bay Rivers District ahead of tonight’s season-opening game between Denbigh and Lafayette.

Group 4A
Grafton

Head Coach: Jeremy Jordan
2015 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2014 Record: 23-2
Players to Watch: Kiran Durant (junior, PG), Jacob Murillo (senior, SF), Bryce Alves (senior, C), Brent Parker (senior, G)

Season Outlook: Grafton’s starting five will have an almost entirely new makeup this season as the Clippers look to replace four starters from last season and more than 75 percent of last year’s scoring that led the Clippers to a Bay Rivers District title. Perhaps the biggest loss from last year is Evan Sperling, an All-State power forward who averaged nearly 19 points and 14 rebounds per game while helping the Clippers make an appearance in the Group 4A semifinals where they lost in overtime to Lake Taylor by one point. A senior small forward, Murillo is the lone returning starter from last season and will provide a big lift to Grafton’s offense with his strong mid-to-outside shooting. Players like Durant, Alves and Parker contributed to last year’s success as role players off the bench, but will need to be prepared for expanded minutes this season. Jordan said this year’s roster is the deepest he has coached in years and believes the Clippers have a chance to be very good if healthy.

Lafayette

Head Coach: Bobby Woollum
2015 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2014 Record: 9-12
Players to Watch: Trey Neville (senior, F), Keyshawn Jefferson (sophomore, G), Timmy Woollum (sophomore, PG), Tyrek Graham (senior, F)

Season Outlook: After having their first five games of last season postponed because of a deep football postseason run, Woollum won’t have to wait nearly as long to have his full roster available this year. Crucial players like Neville and Graham might be slightly delayed in seeing the court, but the Rams still return key players from last year in the meantime. After being overmatched at times during his freshman campaign, sophomore point guard Timmy Woollum should be more well equipped to handle the physical aspects of district play. Jefferson, who averaged 11 points per game last year as a freshman, was one of the bright spots last year for Lafayette and will be one of the main sources of offense this season. Once Neville and Graham, both physical freaks, return to the fold, the Rams could be handful for other district teams.

Jamestown

Head Coach: Donovan Bridgeforth
2015 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2014 Record: 8-13
Players to Watch: Connor Swain (senior, F), Evan Wang (junior, PG), Mason Wang (junior, G), Diamonte Brown (junior, G)

Season Outlook: With a new head coach at Jamestown comes a new culture of winning — hopefully. Bridgeforth is looking to build toughness and confidence in a roster coming off a losing record last season. Bridgeforth organized preseason matchups against the likes of Walsingham Academy and WCA in order to get his players used to playing against higher-quality opponents. “If we play the best, we’ll get to that level at some point,” Bridgeforth said. Leading the Eagles this year are Swain and Mason Wang, both of whom were All-Conference players last season. Swain will provide a presence in the paint, while Mason Wang provides a legitimate scoring threat from beyond the 3-point line. A Lafayette transfer, Brown will provide an instant infusion of talent into the starting lineup for Jamestown. Jamestown should not be expected to compete for a district title instantly, but Jamestown should be in a position to improve on last year.

Group 3A
Warhill

Head Coach: Geoff McCulloch
2015 Classification: 3A Conference 25
2014 Record: 7-15
Players to Watch: Marquez Belle (senior, F), Jimmel Davis (junior, F), Joseph Anzola (senior, F)

Season Outlook: Warhill’s basketball team will look completely different from last season. Not only do the Lions have a new head coach, they are also having to deal with losing junior guards Da’shawn Cook and Ra’shawn Cook, both of whom transferred to Williamsburg Christian Academy. Additionally, the Lions also graduated four seniors from last year’s team. Because of the heavy roster turnover, McCulloch said this year’s group will “have to learn what it takes to play varsity basketball.” Warhill has seven players on its roster that played junior varsity basketball last season, which puts pressure on Belle, Anzola and Davis to lead a young squad. One positive for the Lions is their height, having six players at least 6-feet tall. With so much inexperience, McCulloch simply hopes the Lions will be more competitive in February than November.

Tabb

Head Coach: Doug Baggett
2015 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2014 Record: 17-8
Players to Watch: Jalin Pearson (senior, G), Jalin Jordan (senior, F), Nick Hunter (senior, F), K.B. Brown (senior, G)

Season Outlook: Tabb will have a tough time replacing its top three scorers from last season, Terrell Sheffey, Antwuan Hicks and Rob Sebastian. Luckily for Baggett, Tabb has had plenty of depth over the past couple years and some of the key players this year were able to see valuable playing time last season. Jordan, a second-team All-Conference selection, is the top returner for the Tigers this year after averaging more than seven points per game and seven rebounds per game last season. Pearson scored nearly seven points per game last season coming off the bench, while Hunter will provide some physicality in the middle. With Brown also returning this year, the Tigers will have plenty of experience and leadership in its starting lineup. With Baggett and his 500-plus career wins at the helm, Tabb should once again be a top team in the district.

York

Head Coach: Bobby Pearce
2015 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2014 Record: 10-13
Players to Watch: Jesse Kimrey (sophomore, G), Josh McFadden (senior, PG), Jack Nanartowich (senior, G), Tyler Christian (senior, C)

Season Outlook: York’s basketball team might be stretched thin from a depth standpoint, but the Falcons should be expected to stretch the court with a plethora of shooters are the guard positions. The Falcons will have to stretch the floor out of necessity after losing 6-foot-8 center Eric Harp’s ability to control the glass. Additionally, the Falcons graduated seven seniors and lost another player to military relocation. With so much roster turnover, Pearce said the Falcons likely won’t be more than eight or nine players deep. Leading this year’s squad is McFadden, the only true point guard on York’s roster. Pearce said keeping McFadden healthy is an “absolute must” for the Falcons to succeed this season. If McFadden can guide the offense, other sharpshooters like Kimrey, junior Rayvon Patrick and Nanartowich should be able to take advantage of open looks from the 3-point arc.

Group 2A
Bruton

Head Coach: Brenner Carter
2015 Classification: 2A Conference 33
2014 Record: 18-4
Players to Watch: Jalen Carr (senior, G), Daniel Jones (senior, F), Donovan Adkins (junior, G), Zack Calloway (senior, G)

Season Outlook: A year removed from a last-second loss to Strasburg in the Group 2A East quarterfinals, Bruton looks poised to once again be one of the better teams in the Bay Rivers District. The Panthers will have to replace captains Shaquan Edwards, Nate Florence and Deandre Kissoon, but return Carr, one of three Historic Triangle All-State selections last year. Also returning this year is senior forward Daniel Jones, who was one of Bruton’s best players last year with an average of nine points per game and six rebounds per game. Carr and Jones should combine to provide solid leadership to the Panthers. Bruton will also be able to lean on the slashing ability of Adkins, the 3-point shooting of Zack Calloway and the physicality of David Danek. Carter said his team’s quickness and ability to play man-to-man defense will keep them competitive in what he predicts to be a wide-open Bay Rivers District.