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December 1, 2011Sign up for premium access to VirginiaPreps.com with a 7-day free trial! The VIP Board provides the latest in recruiting updates plus in-depth top prospects lists for football, basketball and baseball!
Season openers are always tricky and unpredictable. For Jack Baker, it was opener #36 as Head Basketball Coach at Maury. Like many of the ones in the past, Wednesday night's game in Virginia Beach at First Colonial was a mixture of good and bad, but in the end, Maury prevailed 62-60.
The win gave Baker career win #634, the most among all active VHSL AAA coaches. Trailing not too far behind with 622 is Highland Springs' George Lancaster.
Six-foot-4 swingman and Marquette signee Jamal Ferguson, rated a three-star prospect and #137 in the nation for the Class of 2012 by Rivals.com, led the way for Maury with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Jamal's younger brother, 6-foot-5 sophomore Jaleel Ferguson, finished one rebound shy of a double-double with 12 points and nine boards.
This non-district matchup marked the first time in five years that Maury played a game without Sim Frazier at point guard. Frazier, who helped guide the Commodores into the State Tournament two seasons ago, is now playing his College Basketball at Howard.
"It's a little different. I know I have to step up a lot with Sim gone. I knew I had to score early, but at the same time, I wanted to get my team involved in order to win the game because I can't win it by myself," stated Ferguson.
"We're still learning to play together and trying to get in a groove. Once we get everything right, I think we'll play a better second half and pick it up more. We just have to keep our head up, play hard and play every game like it's our last."
Ferguson closed quarters well, ending the first half with a three-pointer at the horn to put Maury up 35-25. At the end of the third quarter, he had a gorgeous dump off to Smith to beat the buzzer to extend the lead to 43-33. And with FC trailing by three with 8.4 seconds left in the game, Ferguson grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed fouled shot and proceeded to knock down a pair at the charity stripe to put the game on ice.
The combination of three players bothered by cramps in the fourth quarter and First Colonial catching fire from the outside with four of their five makes from behind the arc coming in the game's final six minutes resulted in a 14-point lead nearly evaporating completely for the Commodores. First Colonial was able to pull within two with 22.5 seconds to play on junior point guard DeAndre Barber's first field goal.
For Maury, they have plenty of talent to be a contender in the Eastern Region, despite the graduation loss of Frazier and sophomore Keon Buchanan transferring to Green Run. Nonetheless, there will be an adjustment period of getting used to life without Frazier.
"The biggest thing is Sim and I kind of thought the same after four years. Ever since Sim was a freshman, he took control of this basketball team. Whatever we wanted to do or I wanted to do, he knew it and he knew what we wanted in certain situations. Right now we don't have anybody to really do that to no fault of their own, they just haven't had the experience," noted Baker.
"I think Jamal is certainly going to be that person that's our go-to guy. I thought he made some great passes, gave some guys some lay-ups and he's got to do a little bit of everything for us. There's going to be nights where I probably need 30 from him. We've got some other guys who can score, but it's the first time out and we'll get better."
Maury plans to use a number of different players in the backcourt, such as seniors Charles Staton and John Young as well as sophomore Mike Basnight, Cape Henry transfer Jalon Williams and Aaron Doman among others. Even Ferguson will handle the basketball at many different critical junctures of the game.
From the start, Jamal was aggressive attacking the basket and looking to set his teammates up. Maury jumped out to an 18-6 lead and had seven assists on their field eight field goals, sharing the ball quite well.
Anthony Smith played the part of x-factor for the Commodores, chipping in 14 points in his first career varsity start. The 6-foot-1 junior who was one of Maury's top football players in the fall has made an immediate impact on the hardwood.
"Anthony's very solid, doesn't make a lot of mistakes and he battles," remarked Baker. "He's not the greatest basketball player, but he knows his role and really does it to perfection."
Keyed by the efforts of 6-foot-3 senior small forward Avion Jones, one of the most improved players in the area, First Colonial was able to hang tough every time Maury looked as if they were pulling away. The Patriots cut the deficit to four late in the second quarter and closed the gap to four again late in the third quarter when the Commodores had built their third double-digit lead of the game.
Jones finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, doing much of his damage in the first half with 15 points, eight boards and a rim-rattling jam that got the home crowd on its feet. Outside of Jones, the rest of the Patriots shot just 15-for-45 from the field, which wasn't enough against a Maury team with weapons that can strike from beyond the arc or attacking off the dribble.
Expectations are reasonably high for the Commodores, ranked #12 in the VirginiaPreps.com AAA State Top 25, fourth in the Eastern Region and as the preseason top pick on the Southside by the Virginian-Pilot. Baker sees potential, yet doesn't anticipate this team hitting its stride until around January, heading into the playoffs in February.
"It's a learning experience. We're picked to be pretty good, but we're awfully young," Baker reminded. "I'm playing three or four sophomores and my backup point guard is a freshman, so it's going to be a learning process throughout the early part of the year. I think we have an opportunity to be good down the road."
Matthew Hatfield serves as State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related info and updates. To contact Matthew, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Saturday at 11AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 and watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.