No. 1 Hampton Crabbers
COACH: Walter Brower
LAST YEAR: 27-5, 15-3 (T-1st). Won Group AAA state championship.
TOP RETURNEES: 6-3 Sr. G Anthony Barber (21.3 ppg), 6-3 Sr. G Jordan Baker (9.1 ppg), 6-2 Sr. F Sammie Royal (9.5 ppg), 6-2 F Tre Perry (6.3 ppg), 6-4 F Daquin Moore (2.4 ppg).
OUTLOOK: The Crabbers are coming off a magical season that would have ended in the first round of the Eastern Region playoffs if not for Royal’s offensive rebound and free throw. The majority of that experience is back. Barber, who has committed to N.C. State, is the best player in the commonwealth and one of the best in the nation. With 1,530 points in his career, “Cat” needs 447 more to break Tony Rutland’s Peninsula District record. Baker (Old Dominion) began the year as Robin to Barber’s Batman but emerged as a clutch player. He had 10 of his 13 points in the state final in the last 8 1/2 minutes. Royal would be on everybody’s recruiting list if only he were a few inches taller. Perry is a solid shooter and Moore, who has committed to Old Dominion in football, an outstanding athlete. Just like last year, the Crabbers have no size last year. Running the show again will be Brower, who is going into his 32nd season. He was hampered by back problems last year but says he’s feeling better this fall.
THE COACH SAYS: “I keep telling everybody over and over it’s very hard to repeat. I’ve been there. In 1990, we went back to the state final and lost (to Bayside). The big thing is, everybody is going to be playing us hard. We just have to be ready to play. There’s no such thing as taking a night off because the target is on our back.”
No. 2 Kecoughtan Warriors
COACH: Ivan Thomas
LAST YEAR: 22-10, 15-3 (T-1st), lost in Group AAA semifinals.
TOP RETURNEES: 6-8 Sr. F Rodney Bullock (14.3 ppg), 6-5 Sr. G-F Greg Alexander (6.5 ppg), 6-0 So. G Marcell Haskett (2.8 ppg), 6-8 Sr. C Kaelin Poe (3.0 ppg).
OUTLOOK: Bullock (Providence commitment) has been a starter since his freshman season and though he can score in the paint, he’s more natural on the perimeter. Having guys like Poe and 6-7 Justin Lipscomb in the lineup should allow that. Alexander (East Carolina commitment) will be the primary 3-point now that Josh Fortune is gone. The question is, who will handle the point? Haskett saw a lot of time last season and showed promise. Thomas also likes sophomore William Askew. With its size, Kecoughtan could make a nice run. How far depends on its guard play.
THE COACH SAYS: “We could shock a few people. Some people are expecting us to be in the middle of the pack, but I don’t think so. This could be one of the better teams I’ve had. There’s been a lot less screaming (in practice) because I haven’t had to teach as much. We’re ahead of where we were last year, and hopefully that’ll show in the (opening) Denbigh game. I’ve had fun coaching this team.”
No. 3 Bethel Bruins
COACH: Craig Brehon
LAST YEAR: 15-8, 12-6 (T-3rd).
TOP RETURNEES: 5-10 Sr. G Rakeen Brown (15.3 ppg), 6-2 Sr. G DeShawn Barton (6.9 ppg), 6-5 Sr. F Karlus Grant (5.3 ppg), 6-0 Sr. G Corey Sweetenburg (3.3 ppg).
OUTLOOK: The Bruins took the biggest graduation hit in G Aaron Bacote, who led the PD in scoring last season at 22.1 ppg. But Brown took a giant leap last year and so far has offers from Rider, UNC Greensboro, and Hampton. He’s a shooter, but he’s also a creative scorer. Barton and Grant were steady last season but are two guys Brehon is counting on to step up their scoring with the departure of Bacote. Bethel will rely on its usually solid defense, and senior Jamal Dunn is its stopper.
THE COACH SAYS: “We have a very inexperienced basketball team. This is the youngest we have been over my 16 years at Bethel. We have talent, but the players will have to develop quicker and play smarter early for us to have success.”
No. 4 Phoebus Phantoms
LAST YEAR: 15-10, 12-6 (T-3rd), lost in Eastern Region first round.
TOP RETURNEES: 5-11 Sr. G James Daniel III (12.2 ppg), 6-1 Sr. G Khaaliq Fletcher (7.4 ppg), 6-1 So. G Dwayne Marshall (1.0 ppg), 6-4 Jr. F Tyri Daniel (0.9 ppg).