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June 25, 2012
Navigating a stacked field that included reigning Group AAA State Champion Hampton, Eastern District Tournament Champion Norcom and Southeastern District regular season Champ Great Bridge, the Kellam Knights went a perfect 8-0 in this past weekend's Blaine Taylor Basketball Team Camp at Old Dominion University.
En route to claiming the Championship of the Monarch Division, Kellam eliminated Grassfield in the quarterfinals and then notched one-point victories over both Great Bridge and Norcom in the next two rounds to come out on top as the last team standing.
"I'm a little surprised. We've been playing well, but it's hard when you come into competition like this and the games are repetitive, some kids are a little nervous because coaches are watching. Our chemistry is unbelievable for his time of year though," declared Kellam Head Basketball Coach Norman Hassell.
Rising senior 6-foot-5 wing Ramone Snowden was named the Most Outstanding Performer at the Camp, proving to be the total playmaker for the Knights in every facet of the game. It might not be long before the Class of 2013 prospect and soon to be four-year starter picks up his first offer with interest from the likes of ODU, UNC-Wilmington and Rider among others.
A two-time All-Beach District First Team performer, Snowden contributed as a scorer, rebounder, distributor and defender throughout the entire weekend. Not to mention, he consistently found his way to the free-throw line.
"Ramone's playing extremely well and having a solid off-season. He's playing strong, aggressive, rebounding, handling the ball and doing a lot of good things. If we can just keep him healthy and keep it going, he's on his way to a great place at some point," said Hassell.
"Having Ramone is a big catalyst. He draws attention, and we had our top six or seven here, so when he draws that attention, they know how to handle themselves."
In the crucial stages of games, Snowden got some help from the supporting cast, which features 6-foot-3 forward Chris Smith, 6-foot-2 guard Tyler Vinsand and 6-foot-4 junior forward Kobe Copeland. All three have raised their level of play significantly since the end of last season.
It's clear that the Knights will rely heavily on the experience and leadership of those four in the upcoming season.
"Those four had to lead us and it's their turn," Hassell admitted. "They've been great stepping up into their roles. We're back to having roles, not worrying about who scores and it's a big plus."
In addition to those four, a couple of underclassmen provided a spark at different junctures of the Team Camp. Sophomore Alex Ratajczak gave the Knights some outside shooting, including four three-pointers in a win over Great Bridge on Saturday, and tiny point guard Janai Raynor-Powell supplied quickness and feistiness at both ends of the floor.
After rolling through the Beach District two years ago and winning their first 27 games before losing in heart-breaking fashion in the regional semifinals to the eventual State Champs, Kellam didn't enjoy nearly as much success last season. The Knights ended up looking up at Landstown, Tallwood, Salem and Green Run in the district standings in 2011-12, missing out on the regional playoffs.
They want to make sure that doesn't happen again, and in order to do that, their winning recipe is staying committed to the style that has made them successful in the past. Most of the field goals for the Knights were assisted on, and that unselfish play was the key to them being victorious during the camp. Coach Hassell stresses the team concept of 'we over me' and sharing the basketball.
"It's kind of back to the old school where we're just going to run our system, our structure and we don't care who gets the open shot. Our motto is to give up the good shot to get a great shot. That's what we always try to do," noted Hassell.
"We know Ramone is our primary guy, but he's a pass-first type of player. We've got some freshmen and sophomores on the bench and they've handled themselves well."
So what does Hassell tell his team moving forward after the unbeaten weekend? The message is pretty simple.
"Congratulations and rest up because summer league starts back up on Tuesday. In this sport it doesn't stop," he said. "It's nice, but it's summer, meaningless, no one cares and in fact somebody might hold it against you. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't mean anything and come Tuesday it'll be time to go back to work."
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 updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail email@example.com, and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Tuesday at 6PM on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.
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