They call them "Airport Teams" — teams that look impressive in airports. With no player taller than 6-foot-4, Hampton isn't one of them.

Then again, the Crabbers weren't one of them last year when they won the Group AAA state championship.

So how much does size matter in basketball, particularly on the high school level? Let's ask the coach with the biggest team.

"I'm not 100 percent sure how that plays in," said Kecoughtan's Ivan Thomas, who has four players 6-foot-6 or taller. "Hampton was a very small team last year and they did a substantial amount of damage.

"I think guard play in high school the most important. Guards can dictate the game. They take most of the shots, anyway."

Which is why Hampton, despite its best post player standing only 6-1, is the obvious favorite going into the season. The Crabbers overcame a lack of size to win their first state title since 1997. And they did it with a rebound-by-committee approach.

"There will always be someone larger than us," Hampton coach Walter Brower said. "If I had somebody come out who was 6-6, 6-7, I wouldn't know how to act."

Truth be told, Brower would much rather have a 6-2 guard like Anthony Barber, the Group AAA Player of the Year as a junior. Defensive stopper and clutch shooter Jordan Baker is Robin to Barber's Batman, and 6-1 Sammie Royal is an undersized rebounding machine.

The Crabbers' top threat should be Kecoughtan, which returns 6-7 Rodney Bullock and 6-4 shooter Greg Alexander. Bethel lost the PD's top scorer in Aaron Bacote but returns Rakeen Brown; Phoebus lost megastar Troy Williams but returns guard James Daniel III.

And the consensus among the coaches is that Heritage, with Michael Gardner going into his fourth season, could be this year's surprise team.


LAST SEASON: 27-5, 15-3 (T-1st, beat Petersburg in Group AAA final.)

COACH: Walter Brower Sr.

THE BUZZ: The obvious favorite to repeat, at least in the district, with the return of Anthony Barber (21.3 ppg), G Jordan Baker (9.1 ppg), F Sammie Royal (9.5 ppg), and F Tre Perry (6.3 ppg). The Crabbers lack size, but they have the best player in the state and guys who know how to win.


LAST SEASON: 22-10, 15-3 (T-1st, lost to Petersburg in Group AAA semifinals)

COACH: Ivan Thomas

THE BUZZ: The Warriors made the Group AAA semifinals for the first time since 1985, but they want more. They have the talent to get back with the return of 6-7 F Rodney Bullock (14.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and 6-4 G Greg Alexander (6.5 ppg). C Kaelin Poe and G Marcell Haskett have starting experience.


LAST SEASON: 15-8, 12-6 (T-3rd)