Western Branch point guard Kendall Byrum (Photo: Lance Hinton/recruit757)
Region 6A supplies some of the best Boys Hoops talent in our “Teams to Watch” preview
by Andy Hilton, recruit757
There are no fewer than six local teams that we expect to see clash for the Region 6A title when tournament time arrives.
Last season, Western Branch fought off a surprising Cox squad led by Virginia Tech football commit Tayvion Robinson in order to advance to the Class 6 State Championship game. The Bruins lost to South County in the final, but that big game experience will serve them well as the 2018-19 season tips off.
Western Branch: The Bruins run to the state championship game was no surprise. They reached the final four in 2017 and made it one step closer last year. Western Branch will try to take the only remaining step forward by winning the Class 6 state title in 2019. Leading the way this season is none other than senior guard Kendall Byrum (15 PPG). His supporting cast of Demarcus Sheperd (7 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 SPG), Patrick McRacken, Young Choi and Norfolk Collegiate transfer Jaeden Jefferson should keep the Bruins competitive in a region that’s thick with good competition.
Norfolk Academy: The Bulldogs have a prime-time attraction in junior forward Mark Williams (16.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4.6 BPG). The 6-11 big man is a presence in the paint, and he’s the younger brother of Duke grad and WNBA star Elizabeth Wiliams. Norfolk Academy experienced a resurgence last year with Williams in the middle. They won their first TCIS title since 1996. New (but familiar) competition is arriving this season as Bishop Sullivan returns to conference play.
Bishop Sullivan: The Crusaders have a presence in the paint as well, in the guise of 6-9 forward Kenan Sarvan. Already signed with St. Joseph’s, Sarvan comes to the Crusaders as a transfer from Wesleyan Christian Academy (NC). Kellam transfer Brandon Cline adds to the Crusaders’ star power so Coach Rich Barbosa has a few weapons at his disposal after a disappointing 14-12 season in 2017-18.
Walsingham Academy: the Trojans went all the way to the VISAA Division II state championship game, but lost to the Miller School and finished the season with a 26-3 record. Because of enrollment figures, Walsingham drops to Division III this season but still has a roster that’s stacked with talent. The Trojans return four starters, including guard Jaylin Stewart (21.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 5.0 APG), forward Sam Jones (14 PPG), guard Braden Exton (8.5 PPG) and point guard Marcus Banks (18 PPG). The addition of 6-5 Lithuanian transfer Henry Kalnius should give them an extra spark.
Cape Henry: two Dolphins have already signed to play college ball. 6-7 forward Dajour Rucker (19.9 PPG, 10 RPG, 3 BPG – Marshall) and 6-6 forward Danny Banister (Hampton) provide big game experience, returning from a team that went 15-12 last season. Newcomers include 6-8 sophomore Bryson Spell and 6-6 freshman Greg Melvin. If sophomore guard Christian Moore can manage the front court, Cape Henry should quickly return to contention.
Landstown: the Eagles will have a talent rich lineup featuring 6-9 senior forward Michael Christmas, 6-4 senior forward Lamont Oliphant and 5-9 junior guard Deante Mobley. Christmas had a flirtation with Huntingdon (WV) prep in the first half of last season, but returned to the Eagles via transfer in time to play five regular season games with Landstown. Now, the Eagles will once again get a full season from Christmas. One surefire source of excitement at Landstown will be the play making skills of freshman guard Donald Hand, the son of former UVA star Donald Hand. The younger Hand already holds scholarship offers from Penn State and the Hampton Pirates.
Maury: the Commodores come into the new season with experience. Legendary Coach Jack Baker is gone and Coach Brandon Plummer had last season to steady himself. Now, Maury can rely on Chase Coleman (8 PPG, 7 APG), Bryan Phillips (17 PPG, 6 RPG) and Matthew Mensia (11 PPG) to lead a team that went 20-4 last season but missed the state tournament.
Phoebus: last year’s Peninsula District champs have a strong likelihood of repeating the feat this season. Antwan Miles is gone, but the Phantoms have the front court set with 6-7 senior Khyree Temple (16 PPG, 10 RPG), 6-8 senior Adrian Payton and 6-4 senior transfer Detionne Leach (11 PPG, 10 RPG). Leach comes in with four year’s experience as a starter at Norfolk Christian. The offense will be paced by transfer point guard Mahir Sharif. The sophomore comes in from Pennsylvania and already has the confidence of head coach James Daniel. Last year, Phoebus went 20-5 and fell in the Class 3 State Quarterfinal to eventual state champion John Marshall. The bar is set even higher this season.
Cox: the success of the Falcons will depend on football star Tavion Robinson. Robinson went on a tear in the postseason, leading the Falcons to their first ever regional title and state tournament appearance in basketball. Sharp shooting Kavon James (14 PPG) and guard Jordan Lewis (13 PPG) return to give Cox the foundation for another winning team.
Deep Creek: if you only go to see the Hornets play in order to see senior forward Caleb Butts, it will be worth the price of admission. The 6-4 Butts led Deep Creek to their first state tournament appearance in almost 30 years last season with his astound 22.3 points per game average. He had 23 double-doubles in 25 games last season. The Hornets should easily improve on last year’s 14-11 record.
Oscar Smith: the Tigers can boast football star Briquan Harrell as one of their key returning starters. Harrell (16.3 PPG) will lead a squad with plenty of depth. The front line is stacked with 6-6 Nate Downs, 6-6 Mitavus Edwards, 6-5 Jalen Stevenson and 6-5 Karl Chavis. Harrell will rely on Hickory transfer Kai Lockhart (13 PPG) and returning starter Andre Bottoms (11 PPG) to help him hold down the front court.
Granby: the Epps brothers, Antwan and Jayden are expected to power Granby to a playoff run this season. Jayden comes in as a freshman, but the chemistry with his brother should be something to watch. Antwan Epps signed with Hampton University earlier this month. Two transfers, Robert Kirby (Indian River) and Edward Mitchell (Lake Taylor) make the bond between the Epps brothers even more crucial. Last year’s 7-15 season should become a distant memory.
– Andy Hilton