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November 27, 2012

Preseason AAA Hoops Top 25 - 5-1

The 2012-13 High School Basketball season commences this week and there are a bevvy of juicy storylines to monitor all the way into March when someone will cut down the nets as Group AAA State Champions.

Returning in the #1 spot is the defending State Champions from Hampton, the Crabbers. With four starters back in the lineup, including the Player of the Year and one of the top rated prospects nationally in the Class of 2013, they were a logical choice. But can they repeat, following the likes of recent Eastern Region squads like Norcom (2010 and 2011) and Woodside (2004 and 2005) to do so?

There will be plenty of challengers along the way for Hampton, including teams in their own district, such as Kecoughtan, which has a couple of D-1 signees themselves. State Tournament participants like Henrico, Gar-Field and Thomas Edison return multiple starters as well. Perennial contenders Highland Springs and Potomac took minor dips last year, but are expected to be strong candidates to go deep in the playoffs both this season and next year with talented underclassmen on those rosters.

And as always, there are sure to be some surprises that emerge along the way. We'll be here the entire time to break it all down and provide analysis and in-depth coverage to satisfy your roundball appetite, updating our AAA Hoops Top 25 weekly and scores daily. So buckle up, sit back and enjoy what promises to be another exhilarating ride of High School Hoops in Virginia!


1. Hampton - -
What's not to like about this Crabbers squad? Longtime Coach Walter Brower won his third state title last winter and he's got a couple of Division I playmakers in the backcourt in Anthony 'Cat' Barber (NC State), the reigning AAA State Player of the Year, and Jordan Baker (Old Dominion), a hard-nosed defender with a penchant for making big shots. In the front-court, undersized post Sammie Royal is a bull that plays with an unbelievable motor that allows him to put up double-double type numbers nightly, and forward Tre Perry has improved his shooting range over the off-season. What makes this team unique is that despite not having a starter taller than 6-foot-3, all five positions on the floor rebound the ball exceedingly well and contest every shot, whether it's near or away from the basket.

2. Henrico - - Coach Vance Harmon's Warriors averaged 83 points per game a season ago, tops in the state at the AAA level, in reaching the State Tournament semifinals with a school-record 28 victories. In fact, during one stretch, Henrico won 20 in a row last season. While they did lose Capital District Player of the Year Evan Thorpe, who's now at Christopher Newport University, three starters are back in Tim Jones, Jordon Talley and Marvin Smith that should allow them to continue to play their pedal to the metal style. This will be a turbo-charged unit that has big-game experience on its side, having gone deep in the postseason this past March with several of those faces comprising their roster for 2012-13.

3. Potomac - - The Panthers have been to the State Tournament nine times since 1995, claiming a Northwest Region title as recent as two seasons ago. Coach Keith Honore feels the strength of this team will be its size and depth with seven experienced players returning, plus the addition of Brooke Point transfer T.T. Felder, son of Potomac great Mookie Felder. Replacing guard Shawn Andrews is a question mark, but sophomore Keijon Honore seems to be up for the task with an offer from Holy Cross already under his belt. All-Region performer Randy Haynes and 6-foot-8 center Trey Porter create matchup problems, while Joe Velez provides a zone buster capable of getting hot from three-point territory.

4. Herndon - - It's a blast from the past for the Hornets. Returning as Head Coach is Gary Hall, the man who guided them to an appearance in the state title game in 2006 when Scottie Reynolds, an All-American guard at Villanova, was their star on the court. Since that loss to Booker T. Washington in the State Championship, Herndon hasn't tasted much success, even finishing with a losing record a year ago. But better days are ahead with arguably the Northern Region's best 1-2 punch in senior Will Ferguson, a lightning-quick point guard, and junior Dorian Johnson, a natural scorer from the wing.

5. Kecoughtan - - Providence signee Rajay Bullock is one of the most skilled forwards in the nation from the Class of 2013, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better shooter in the Commonwealth this year than Greg Alexander, who's headed to East Carolina. Having those two back is comforting for Coach Ivan Thomas after seeing eight seniors graduate from a State Final Four team. The Warriors are beginning to grasp Thomas' system and understand what it takes to sustain success year after a year in establishing Kecoughtan as one of the better programs around. To be in the Championship hunt again, sophomore point guard Marcell Haskett and senior center Kaelin Poe will have to take pressure off of Bullock and Alexander offensively as well as defensively when the lights shine brightest.

6. John Marshall - - For most teams that graduate 70 points per game and a pair of dynamic guards like the Justices had in Jestin Lewis (Alabama State CC) and Willie Mangum (Western Nebraska CC), there would be enormous concern. Not John Marshall, though, as Ty White's team won the competitive Hampton Roads Fall League with a rotation that might be better than last year's bunch that finished 24-4 overall and made it to the regional semifinals. Forward Brian White has signed to play D-1 College Hoops at The Citadel, and guards Dominique Terry and Gee Dean-McBride are more than capable replacements to Lewis and Mangum in the backcourt. Keep an eye on 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Nate Williams as well; he's a potential breakout name in the Central Region.

7. W.T. Woodson - - Doug Craig's Cavaliers have a great amount of experience returning from a team that finished 20-5 in 2011-12 and won the Patriot District regular season title. Although this team lost its top two defensive players from last season, which will likely mean it's a work in progress in that early on, they have six of their top eight scorers back, led by 6-foot-6 senior forward Tommy Stepka (14.1PPG). Sophomore Eric Bowles should be one of the better point guards to come out of the Northern Region by the time he graduates. This is a group that will share the basketball, run its sets effectively and not do a lot to beat itself.

8. Highland Springs - - Few programs in Virginia stack up with the Highland Springs Springers, who have had remarkable success under longtime Head Coach George Lancaster, a man with over 600 victories and two State Championships. There might not be a better junior point guard in the Central Region than C.J. Wiggins (14PPG), a speed demon who'll allow them to play up-tempo basketball for a full 32 minutes against practically any opponent. Six-foot-6 senior and Patrick Henry-Ashland transfer Romeo Jones will help significantly on the backboards along with 6-foot-2 senior forward Ralph Stovall, and 6-foot-2 freshman Curtis Jones has special written all over him. Coach Lancaster likes his team's depth, chemistry and ability to score the basketball, though believes how well they defend will determine whether or not this squad is in Championship contention.

9. L.C. Bird - - Two seasons removed from reaching the State Championship game, where they led eventual Champion Norcom at half-time before losing, the L.C. Bird Skyhawks could surprise some people in the Central Region this year, despite seeing guard Robert Johnson transfer to Benedictine and two key starters from that team graduate in power forward Christian Smith and point guard Harvey Freeman. Back is senior guard Javonte Reddick, a scoring threat from beyond the arc. Second-year Head Coach Troy Manns also has three dynamite sophomores in Kenny Williams, Thomas Taylor and Marsellis Purvis, a newcomer that should average double-figures in points and rebounds. Getting that spark off the bench will be essential for them to make a third straight trip to the regional semis.

10. King's Fork - - Josh Worrell's King's Fork Bulldogs nearly made it to the Eastern Region Championship game and Group AAA State Tournament for the third time in five seasons, losing narrowly to Hampton in overtime of the regional semifinals after upsetting Eastern District Tournament Champ Norcom and Beach District Champion Landstown. Standout forward Zach Johnson is now at Army and that leaves a void in the front-court, but they have four integral components returning in seniors Jacorey Smith, Akanni White, Rod Parrett and Byron Taylor all at either the guard or wing positions. This team has committed itself to playing scrappy, tough defense, and they know their roles real well. After watching Great Bridge and Nansemond River win the last two league titles, they want to get back on top in the Southeastern District as well.

11. Petersburg - - The Crimson Wave basketball team has put together a better record than anyone else in the state at the Group AAA level over the past six years 160-18, which included a 29-2 mark in their first seasons under Head Coach Rick Hite. But as great as Petersburg has been of late, they've seen their Championship quest come up short with five losses in the State Tournament over the last six years, four of those times being eliminated by the Eastern Region Champion. While the state's leading scorer is gone in Frank Mason, Petersburg will have a pretty deep rotation with seniors Earl Adams, Quadree Walker, Marius Watson and Malik Blackwell; juniors Gevon Arrington, James Byers and Adonis Jameas; and sophomore Gemonta Jackson.

12. GW-Danville - - New Coach Thomas Carr comes in with a different mindset and a plan to push the basketball up the floor at a rapid pace for the GW-Danville Eagles, who are trying to get back to the State Tournament for the first time since 2009 when they lost to King's Fork in overtime in the quarterfinals. This team will feature some seasoned talented with seven seniors, led by two highly sought after recruits in guard Jarod Williams and wing Ahmad Thomas. Last season, Thomas put up nearly 16 points per game for the Eagles as they made it to the regional quarterfinals, whereas Williams returns to GW after spending last year at Blue Ridge. They have two bona-fide scorers in Williams and Thomas to be in the hunt, but to contend for hardware it may take getting a lift from the support cast.

13. Maury - - In 36 seasons at the helm, Jack Baker has won 649 games, the most among all active VHSL coaches in the state. His Commodores are sure to be competitive, even with the departure of ultra-athletic scoring wing Jamal Ferguson to Marquette. Jamal's younger brother, Jaleel Ferguson (14PPG, 9.8RPG), is going to carry them on the baseline alongside fellow 6-foot-5 junior Shyheim Draughan, a potential breakout player in the Eastern Region this year. Size and outside shooting is there. What they aren't real sure about going into the campaign is ball-handling duties, where things could be split up amongst the likes of Mike Basnight, Jalon Williams and Blake Gibson until someone takes control at the point.

14. Green Run - - Fifth-year Head Coach Kenny Harris has the Stallions looking to build on a regional playoff appearance and 17-win campaign, but they will have to do it with double-double man Mark Hall, the Beach District Player of the Year who's now playing football at UVA. Fortunately for the Stallions, they have basically everyone else back and couple talented newcomers to make a push towards the school's first Beach District title since 1988-89. They will lean on the perimeter trio of senior point guard Lequan Thomas, junior wing Keon Buchanan and junior shooting guard Tyler Blount. Each brings a different dimension to the equation with Thomas providing quickness and relentlessness, Buchanan possessing athleticism and toughness, and Blount bringing three-point shooting and poise.

15. T.C. Williams - - Four times in the past six years, the Titans have won the Northern Region, highlighted by their run to a state title 2008. Gone are three-year starters Daquan Kerman and Anthony 'T.J.' Huggins, leading to questions about where some of their leadership and scoring will come from this season. One guy they will lean on heavily is 6-foot-5 senior forward Landon Moss, who put up over 11 points and seven rebounds a game this season and is capable of raising those numbers to around 18PPG and 10RPG. Typically, T.C. Williams plays extremely hard defensively and is battle-tested come playoff time because of the tough non-district schedule they play, so count on them being a factor when the postseason rolls around even if they get off to a slow start.

16. Stonewall Jackson - - Last season, the Raiders made their first trip to the Northwest Region Tournament since 2003. Now, Stonewall Jackson has its sights set on winning the Cedar Run District and making a deep playoff run with ten players back from their 2011-12 bunch, headlined by 6-foot-3 senior guard J.R. Washington (20.9PPG, 7.8RPG, 4.1SPG). Alongside Washington, the Raiders expect to get quality play from senior point guard Mustafa Ali and junior forward Diandre Stubbs. Defensively, they gave up 63.2 points a contest and will have to reduce that total to go further in the postseason this time.

17. Norcom - - It's not quite the Greyhounds team that won back-to-back state titles with Dorian Finney-Smith, DeCarlos Anderson and Jeremy Canty leading the way, but there's firepower for Coach Leon Goolsby to pursue a sixth Eastern District Tournament crown in seven years. At his disposal are two of the best perimeter scoring threats in Malique Trent and James Whitaker, a pair of seniors getting courted by D-1 schools. Each can erupt for a huge scoring outburst at any time. How far they go will depend on a few factors, such as the defensive intensity for 32 minutes, production from role players like Antonio Parker and Troy Locke, and what kind of consistency they get out of the point guard and post positions.

18. Westfield - - This spot might be a little low for the defending Northern Region Champions, who did say good-bye to front-court standouts in the 6-foot-11 Zach Elcano, now at American University, and 6-foot-4 forward Quentin Basil. What they do have back is an All-District athlete in 6-foot-3 wing C.J. Hill, who is explosive going to the rim and reliable defensively for a Bulldogs team known for stymying offensive-minded squads that want to get out and run. Six-foot-4 senior swingman Trevon Walton, a transfer from Riverbend, gives the Bulldogs a major boost with what they lost in terms of scoring as well as rebounding.

19. Thomas Jefferson - - Under Coach Kendrick Warren, the Vikings enjoyed a major turnaround last season in winning 20 games, including a comeback victory over L.C. Bird in the Times-Dispatch Tournament and beating John Marshall to capture the Colonial District Tournament Championship. None of their five starters from last season graduated, but word has it that injuries to a couple of key starters, Josh Boone and Vidrell Lee, will have them sidelined for the first month of the season, if not longer. They'll lean on Garrick Ellis, Kadeem Wright and Rashawn Alexander, all double-figure scorers. How healthy this team is down the stretch, and what kind of lift they are able to get from their bench, should determine their success in the postseason.

20. Great Bridge - - Even though All-District point guard Taj Owens is gone to Radford, the Wildcats have perhaps the best junior guard in Tidewater in Marcus Evans, who'll follow in the footsteps of Owens and VCU's Briante Weber as the next D-1 product from a Great Bridge program that's coming off its first Southeastern District title in 12 years. Steve Bienlien is more than serviceable on the interior for the Wildcats, and both Andre Banks and Mark Madison must be accounted for by defenses with their ability to strike from three-point land. This is a team that wants to control tempo, dictate the pace and let their defense set the tone to frustrate the opposition. It'll take a team forcing the action in transition, yet being disciplined and patient in the half-court when needed to beat them.

21. Thomas Edison - - The amount of progress the Eagles have made from going 1-19 three years ago to reaching the Group AAA State Tournament last season, their first trip since 1970, is rather remarkable. Coach Terry Henderson relied heavily on the twin tower combination of Matt Murphy and Ty Mackall down low, but those two graduated, meaning the backcourt will be in the spotlight. Markus Brumsey Jr. and Chief Amoah give them two quality guards that can create off the bounce and pressure the basketball defensively. Edison will have to make up for that front-court scoring and rebounding they lose in Mackall and Murphy, though, and improve their outside shooting, which cost them in the 68-61 State Playoff loss to Petersburg when they shot 0-for-10 from beyond the arc.

22. Gar-Field - - Winning their first 23 games a season ago, the Gar-Field Indians went on to grab the Northwest Region Tournament crown before falling to Kecoughtan in the State Tournament quarterfinals to cap one of the finest years in school history on the hardwood. Gone is All-State guard Marcus 'Smoke' Knight, but they'll be just fine in the backcourt with a couple of All-Cardinal District selections in Navy commit Zach Fong (66 3's) and Curtis Lovitt (13.3PPG). Most importantly, Gar-Field has developed a winning mentality and confidence that will give them an edge most nights when they take the court. Beyond Fong and Lovitt, the Indians have to identify who else they can count on for consistent minutes and productivity because there's not a ton of size or depth for Coach Andy Gray.

23. Battlefield - - Three starters return for the Bobcats after notching a 12-11 mark in year one under Coach Kurt Pauly. Six-foot-1 senior Roman Hall (12PPG) is a four-year starter and speedy off the bounce; 6-foot-4 senior wing Terrell Walker (10PPG) is a three-year starter that affects the game in a variety of ways; and 6-foot-3 junior guard Trevor Blondin has stellar touch from long distance. In addition, Battlefield returns junior guard Jamison Glover and Kameron Hedgepeth, a dynamic 6-foot-2 sophomore that contributed quite a bit as a freshman. Look for this program to be on the rise for years to come with four members from a J.V. team that went 33-2 over the past two seasons moving up the ladder.

24. Cosby - - Led by Second Team All-State performer Troy Caupain, a fearless attacker who averaged 25 points per game as a junior, the Cosby Titans are looking to follow up their Dominion District Tournament crown with another solid campaign. To go with him, the Titans have one of the better freshmen around in Justin Henry. Outside of the Cincinnati signee Caupain and Jarek Frankovich, there isn't a great amount of experience, plus Coach Ronald Carr has concerns about their size and depth against some of the upper echelon teams in the Central Region. However, when Caupain is on and if Henry develops on schedule, this team will threaten again in the Dominion District.

25. Landstown - - In 11 seasons under Coach Dwight Robinson, the Landstown Eagles have gone 187-86 with a record of 103-39 in Beach District play. All four perimeter starters from last year's team in Tim Marshall, D.J. Roberson, Sedric Nady and Tyri Morring moved on to the next level. Diminutive 5-foot-6 point guard Jordan Roberson is the pulse of the team and plays with terrific energy and hustle every possession. Robinson's teams are always aggressive defensively with various presses and traps, but they now finally have a true inside presence to fall back on in 6-foot-8 sophomore center Darius Bolstad.


Honorable Mention: Bethel, Patrick Henry-Roanoke, Fairfax, Nansemond River and Meadowbrook


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The 2012-13 Group AAA Basketball Schedules with Results & Standings
The 2011-12 Group AAA Basketball Schedules with Results & Standings

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 hatfieldsports2k4@yahoo.com, 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.

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