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April 18, 2014

Q&A with John Marshall's Ty White

The John Marshall Justices had been close many times before to winning a State Championship, including an appearance in the title game in 2013 when they were beaten by Henrico. Despite graduating their top two scorers from that team, the Justices had their sights set on becoming the first Group 3A State Champs in the new realignment that went into effect for 2013-14.

Avenging a loss to George Wythe in the 3A-East Region Championship, the Justices breezed by the Bulldogs 74-56 to capture their first state title since 1954. Sophomore guard Jeremy Sheppard scored 27 points with 15 coming from behind the three-point arc. Senior point guard Quaman Burton tallied a double-double with 14 points and 14 assists, and junior wing Taqqi Muhammad chipped in 12.

A former Petersburg assistant coach, Tytrail White just completed his fourth season at the helm of John Marshall, which finished 22-5 overall this past year and is 94-19 with a pair of State Tournament appearances since the Team Loaded boss took over in 2010. In this Exclusive Q & A with VirginiaPreps.com, Coach White discusses his team's Championship journey, key players in-depth and outlook for next season. See the full transcript from our conversation below . . .

Q & A with John Marshall's Ty White (Group 3A State Coach of the Year)

Q: You've had a month now to digest winning the State Championship. Take me through what it has been like since winning it and how do you reflect on the accomplishment?

White: "It's been incredible the past couple weeks. The guys have received a lot of attention and it has been a great thing for the city of Richmond. To know the amount of hard work these guys put in and never bucked the system, it was a real different approach. You didn't see any attitudes. You didn't see any pouting.

"I've never coached a group as hard as this group, nor did I see this group back down from it. They literally adapted to anything we threw at them and we threw a lot of different things at them. It was a great feeling. I'm already looking forward to getting back in the gym and working out."

Q: What was the neatest part for you about winning a State Championship?

White: "Well, it was actually that night or the day of the State Championship when I had my son there and my daughter there. My son is six and my daughter is two. I was able to hold up the trophy with those guys with them there. The day of the State Championship, my son said to me, 'Dad, I hope you win because I just want to hold up the Championship trophy.' It was a beautiful feeling to actually do that and have that come to pass for my son. I think he'll remember this several years from now."

Q: What will this team be remembered for by others and how will you remember them?

White: "As a team. Exactly the word team comes to mind with them. They epitomize what it means to play team basketball. So many times, you see more talented teams not win. I've been apart of more talented teams that did not win. I'm just grateful to have a special group of men who care more about the team than themselves. This has truly be one of the more fun group of guys to be around, and also one of the more enjoyable years to coach, push and mentor that I've ever experienced in my life."

Q: Last year's John Marshall team got to the State Final and didn't win it all and I know you were an assistant on some might fine Petersburg squads that came close to capturing a state title. Did you use any of that, those experiences, as teaching moments for these guys?

White: "Absolutely. I thought last year we got a taste of it, but we didn't fully reach our goal. We didn't shy away from it either. Starting on the first day of practice, we talked about it and knew clearly what the goal and standard was. Anything less pretty much would've been a disappointment."

Q: In your team's case, what was the turning point or was there any defining moment you look back to that enabled you to reach your ultimate goal?

White: "One of the turning points in the season I would say was the loss to George Wythe at home in the 3A-East Regional Championship. It was a humbling experience that brought about a tighter group of guys who collectively didn't want to let each other down. From that point, I knew ultimately that we were going to truly win it all."

Q: I felt one of the eye-opening games for you was in our Sixth Annual VirginiaPreps.com Classic Presented by Cox Sports at Green Run High School in the nightcap when you lead a nationally-ranked Cape Henry team, one of the top private schools in the state, for most of the way before falling in overtime to them. Even though you lost that game, did you feel it sent a message?

White: "Well, we were a little disappointed that we didn't win that game. We didn't get it done, and any time we step on the court, we believe we're going to win the game, regardless of who we play. I thought Cape Henry was a great test for us to really see where we were. We always look for those types of high level competition games where we have to max out because if you don't max out you'll get embarrassed in the gym. That makes you play your best.

"The thought of not playing the best and not only getting beat, but getting embarrassed is something to keep the guys focused. We thought we gained a lot from that experience that night. They're very well-coached, a very talented group of guys and were undefeated at that point; I don't think they lost until the State Final in fact."

Q: You played a challenging schedule, both with some of the heavy hitters in your conference and the likes of Cape Henry, Benedictine, Christchurch, Trinity Episcopal and others outside your conference. Were you impressed with how some of your young guys shined in that spotlight?

White: "We were fortunate enough to have a different group of guys. They were young in names, but in their minds and abilities, they were pretty much advanced to be honest with you. With the likes of a freshman in Greg Jones, an extremely talented sophomore in Jeremy Carter-Sheppard, and quality juniors such as Taqqi Muhammad and Nate Williams, our underclassmen stepped up to the plate, especially in the postseason. They took it to the next level. But we were ultimately led by a fearless warrior in Quaman Burton.

Q: Break down Quaman Burton more in-depth. What separates him from others and made him such a valuable asset to your team?

White: "He's the best leader I've ever coached, period. We're talking AAU, High School, anything. His ability to lead guys and get them to rally behind them was impeccable. I say it often that he could lead a Fortune 500 company. He'll do that at the next level. He'll be a leader. In the next couple of weeks, he'll make some visits and decide what the best fit is for him. It all starts with the leadership qualities. But beyond that, his ability to defend and want to defend proved to be real crucial. His willingness to sacrifice his scoring meant a great deal, too.

"Quaman's one of those kids who can have 20-25 points a night because of how easily he can get in the lane and score often causes pressure on defenses. However, that wouldn't have ultimately made us as successful of a team. We would've lost a few more games if he had that mindset. He bought into the concept of making sure everybody got to their spots, put them in place to be successful and getting them to buy into situations where they can be successful. And then he had that mindset of when my team needs a bucket, I'll go get it for them.

"It was his first year playing point guard full-time as a varsity starter, but he played a bunch his junior year off the ball a little bit. He was on varsity as a freshman and saw some great leaders in Tahir Little, Willie Mangum, Jestin Lewis and Gerard Dean-McBride. To lose what we lost the year prior, it's really a testament to how hard he and others worked. You have to think, Dominique Terry had a good year at Chowan, Gerard Dean-McBride played well at Virginia Union, and Brian White played extremely well at The Citadel by earning Freshman of the Year in that conference. He soaked up a lot."

Q: Speak on the play of your talented Class of 2016 guard Jeremy Sheppard. He was our choice for 3A State Player of the Year and it's fair to say he became an even bigger name on the recruiting radar when the postseason concluded than when his sophomore year started is it not?

White: "It truly, truly did not shock me what he did. Jeremy was a kid as a freshman that we trusted a lot to play. His ability is something different. You can just look at some kids and say they've got it. He's one of those kids that truly has 'it.' He works really hard and his motion and body in work is almost effortless. When you look at him you might not think he's playing hard, but then you look in the stat sheet and that joker will have six steals, and I think in the Championship game he had close to seven. He does a lot and it doesn't always look like it, which can be a good thing.

"Jeremy's very efficient. There's not a lot of wasted motion with his game and the outside shooting is certainly excellent. I think the sky truly is the limit for that young man. To be honest, he has high-major ability. His ability to handle the ball, score, shoot, it all is going to be really limitless the next couple years. I know we're going to work to evolve his game more as a point guard, not so much that he won't score as much, but he will also handle the ball. He was the secondary ball-handler this year with Quaman. Next season, he'll be tasked with the responsibility of a leader, and secondly more of a ball-handler.

"Right now, he has offers from like Mount St. Mary's, Miami of Ohio, Hampton University. Indiana has been in to see him, UCONN, and he's been to VCU a couple times on unofficial visits. He just had a talk not too long ago with his parents and Shaka [Smart] and his staff. VCU is on him really hard, and it'll really pick up this summer as he plays 17-and-Under and plays point guard."

Q: Every team has those role players who mean ample to their success and Jay Broaddus was one of those under-the-radar performers in your title run. What makes him tick?

White: "Jay Broaddus is just a junior and he's a real fearless kid. He can probably play any sport in the building, football, basketball, baseball, and anything else. Talent-wise and athletic-wise, he can get a lot done. He's a guy that came off the bench for us and literally would've started for most every other team in the state. But he accepted that role to come off the bench, be an energy guy and brought a lot of toughness with him. You knew what you were going to get with him consistency wise each and every night. He's give us a hard 18-20 minutes a game, even as a sophomore when he came off the bench. He's a tough kid who's going to defend and sacrifice his body."

Q: Your junior Taqqi Muhammad was a really exceptional perimeter defender that earned a spot on our Second Team All-Underclass Team in Group 3A for his efforts. Was there a better perimeter defender in the state than him?

White: "Oh man, he guarded everybody's best guy and did a tremendous job. From the likes of a Devin Robinson, Robert Johnson, Chris Clarke from Cape Henry, the [Justin] Goode kid at Lord Botetourt and Kadeem Wright, he guarded everybody's best guy. He embraced that challenge night in and night out.

"Taqqi's a 6-4, 6-5 guard that can play and defend multiple positions. He currently holds an offer from Howard University. He's a very scholastic student-athlete. I'd say he'll probably get a lot of interest from a bunch of mid-major programs.

"This is another guy that's very efficient who has ability with his athleticism to dunk, rebound well with his size and is stronger than he appears. Actually, he's the strongest kid on the team. His game should only continue to get better."

Q: Another junior, forward Nate Williams, made some key plays in the State Championship and is a prospect garnering attention for the next level. Would you say he's showing flashes of being a player to be reckoned with down the road?

White: "No question. Nate is really coming into his own as a basketball player and is very skilled. This is a kid that has made a lot of strides, daily, weekly, yearly. He's got that ability to step back and hit the 3. Around the basket, he can finish with both hands. He's one of the few kids you see with an effective jump-hook in High School Basketball. He's wiry, long. You're going to see a different Nate next season. He's already staying after school working out. You'll see his body develop, and as you see his body develop, you'll see his game develop as well.

"On the recruiting front, he's a guy who holds offers from Campbell University and Hampton University as well. He'll pique a lot of people's interest because there aren't a ton of guys that are 6-8, long, athletic and can shoot. Early in the year, he suffered a concussion and missed that big Benedictine game for us. He's a kid who can break out next year and blow a lot of people's minds."

Q: One of the players you've spoken highly of is freshman forward Greg Jones. How good can he be in your eyes?

White: "When it's all said and done, Greg Jones literally may be one of the better kids to come out of that school at John Marshall along with Jeremy Carter-Sheppard. Greg has that ability to dominate the paint. Even though he's just 15 years old, he looks like a grown man. He'll average a double-double next year, easily.

"Greg started his whole freshman year. Doing that as a freshman is rare. We don't win a State Championship without that kid. He's a tough kid as well and already holds an offer from Longwood. He's such a very talented kid, and trust me, he's going to be even better next year. You'll see him knock down more jump shots next year and show more versatility. Having him being able to score both inside and outside next year will be very good, and hard to defend.

"Having Nate and Greg back in the front-court to go with Jeremy, Taqqi and Jay in the backcourt is a real plus. There's another kid we brought up from our junior varsity team that broke his foot and played football. His name is Xavier Trent. He's about 6-foot-4 and is going to be a good one to watch. He's a sophomore who'll be a junior next year and should be fun to watch."

Q: As you look at this group, what was the key or keys to your success?

White: "Teamwork clearly was at the top of the list. Also, our ability to defend was another strength of ours. We relied a lot on our defense, enormous ball pressure, and that benefitted us. And ultimately, not getting rattled was huge. That was great for us, especially experiencing what we experienced the year prior.

"Even though we had a lot of underclassmen on the team with four out of five starters who'll be back next year, we had a good deal of experience on the team. They were mentally tough, and that's something we prided ourselves on, not just being mentally tough, but also physically tough."

Q: Was there ever a time where you felt your team's youth might get the better of you or did you feel all along this was a special unit that would take it all the way?

White: "From the first practice, I knew it was a special group. To survive what they survived that first week, which we call 'tap out' week. I knew we were going to be special all year long. The resiliency of these guys was unbelievable. I really wish people could know how tough these guys were. They weren't fake tough with that jaw-jacking stuff. They were physically and mentally tough with a refuse to lose attitude in their minds.

"I knew I said this often and in the postgame press conference after the State Championship, but the conference that we play in is unreal. Literally, five out of the seven teams could've won the state title out of our conference in Conference 26. That's no knock on any of those other schools either. It was just a tough conference.

"I go back to that game with Armstrong and they could've very well held up the trophy. Coach Watts does a phenomenal job of getting those guys to rally and they always seem to play hard. The likes of a George Wythe could've done it and we split with them before the title game, winning the rubber match. They could've take it, or even the likes of a Hopewell, and shucks, even though Petersburg got knocked off by Hopewell, they had a team that could've beaten anyone in a one-game situation this year in 3A. The likes of TJ with a gifted scorer like Kadeem [Wright]. All of these teams were capable of winning a state title I believe. If you play one game, they could've beaten any team."

Q: What if anything surprised you about your team this season?

White: "What surprised me was how quick they came together. I didn't know they would bond as quick as they did. They really did bond early. That ultimately led me to believe that we were going to be State Champions because those guys bonded. They were friends and teammates beyond the court. That matters. It really does. When guys legitimately walk out of the locker room and say 'I love you,' and tell it to their teammates like they're dapping each other up, you could genuinely see the love and not just hear the words. I knew it was a special group."

Q: Any untold stories about this Championship run that you'd like to share with the fans?

White: "Well, one of our managers was probably the sixth best player on the team (laughing). One was a kid by the name of Charles Harris. We had a couple of managers who played two-on-two a lot and they actually won a lot of two-on-two battles in practice and after practice. Our two managers, Charles Harris and Wayne Mathis, those two guys probably should've been on the team if they actually decided to come out for the team. But they were really good to be managers. They're two students at the school. One is a junior, so hopefully I can get him to come out next year. The other is a senior who's a baseball and volleyball player. Both of those guys could've literally been on the team."

Q: With the guys you have coming back, you certainly have to replace Burton, but it seems rather promising with a great chance to repeat. What's the outlook for next season from your perspective?

White: "Having that attention to detail. Not overlooking any team or any game because in the playoffs it only takes one game for you to slip up and you're sitting at home. The best team doesn't always win and that's the beauty of High School Basketball. You just have to be the best team for those 32 minutes.

"When I was at Petersburg as an assistant, I felt we had the best team that year we had Cadarian Raines, Chris Evans and that King's Fork team actually got us. I thought we clearly had the best team. We had the best talent I would say, but the better team was truly that King's Fork team I can honestly admit.

"We always have that chip on our shoulder as if we are #1. We had it in our mindset from the beginning. One of our chants every day is, '1-2-3, We are Marshall. 4-5-6, State Champs.' You've got own it, and you've got to believe it before you see it in order to see it. That's one of the quotes I use all the time. You can't run from it. You can't hide from it. You've got to envision yourselves being State Champions."

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 protected], and don't forget to listen to him every Saturday at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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