Williamsburg Christian Basketball 19-20 Varsity Season Preview: New Coach Johnson Stresses Defense

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In the 2018-2019 WCA Eagle basketball season, after successive appearances in the VISAA Division III Championship game, and a state title in 2016, there was a multitude of question marks about the team that moved forward from what could arguably be billed as the strongest two years in team history. With the departure of seniors Cle’von Greene to Radford, and twin guards Ra’Shawn and Da’Shawn Cook to Mary Washington University (where all three are still on the basketball roster), as well as the departure of senior big man Jahvon Noray, the future of the team was in flux. The primary backup and heir apparent for the point guard position departed via transfer, leaving starter Dexter Radcliffe and oft-used Kivinie Johnson as the only varsity players with substantial playing time. The results were what one would expect: younger players were thrust into starting roles, and it took an extensive period of time for those players to not only rise to the challenge of playing varsity minutes but also gel as teammates. The Eagles lost 9 of their first 11 games, and stumbled through early Metro Conference matchups. As the season progressed, however, the Eagles began to find themselves with a nice winning streak, including a win on the home court of eventual Metro champion Portsmouth Christian School. The streak slotted them into the Metro tourney as the 4 seed, and they scratched past Atlantic Shores lining up a championship game rematch with Portsmouth Christian they would ultimately lose, ending any hopes of VISAA tournament play. Dexter Radcliffe was named Metro Player of the Year, however, as well as VISAA All-State 2nd team with performances in which he truly matured as a man and a leader. But with Radcliffe departing to UVA, and Kivinie Johnson to Morehouse, questions surfaced again….could the core of swing guards Ethan Conrad and Connor Simmons, big man Jalen Vaughan, and a collection of experienced role players be capable of competing at the level of past WCA squads?

Fast forward to the summer. The resignation of Head Coach Kenya Williams left a void and in stepped new coach Kashif Johnson. Johnson was tasked with the goal of restocking a slowly depleting player pool, and return the program to the prominence it had enjoyed just a few years ago. And he has done exactly that, adding four new players to the varsity roster. “Yes, we have new talent in Jakari Wilkins, Brandon Herman, Geoffrey Wellons, and Trenton Calhoun,” said Coach Johnson when asked about the newest Eagle basketball players. “These players bring a wealth of leadership, energy and athleticism. I firmly believe they are going to help propel us forward this year and it should be an exciting season.” He’s also made defense a top priority this season. Let’s take a look down the roster- who is back, our newest Eagles, and some of the matchups during the season that should be starred on your calendar.

Returning Starters:

simmons - johnsonConnor Simmons- 6’4 Senior Guard

2018-2019 Stats: 10.3 points per game (ppg), 4.1 rebounds per game (rpg),  67% Free Throw shooting percentage (FT)

Summary: Connor was a starter last season and was the team’s 3-point specialist. Connor made 62 three-pointers last season which led the Metro Conference, including the game-winner in the upset over Portsmouth Christian on the road. Coach Johnson and his staff are looking for a big season from Connor this year, not only from the 3-point arc but also as a mid-range scorer.

Jalen Vaughan- 6’6 Senior Power Forward

2018-2019 Stats: 8.9 ppg,  5.9 rpg,  60% FT

Jalen was a starter last year, and spent some time injured early in the season. His absence was a contributing factor to the team’s slow start, and upon his return, he was a big part of the team’s late-season success. Jalen’s height and physicality are difficult to stop when he is inside the paint and he is an excellent rebounder. Vaughan has worked on his shooting this summer and should be a bigger scoring threat outside the paint this season, but will need to stay healthy to help WCA to push into the Division III playoff picture.

conrad - johnsonEthan Conrad 6’5 Junior Guard

2018-2019 Stats: 8.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 81% FT

Ethan Conrad is a dual-threat player, a true swingman. From the outside, he is another sharpshooter who can light it up when his hand is hot. Ethan has a soft touch shooting mid-range jumpers and can finish close to the rim as well. Conrad was also a starter last season.

Returning Bench Contributors:

Will Vandivender- 6’1 Senior Guard

2018-2019 Stats: 2.7 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 35% FT%, 35% from 3-point range (3pt)

During the games while Vaughan was injured, WCA went with a smaller lineup that included Will in many of those games as a starter. Will is an athletic guard who can use that athleticism to block shots and rebound on defense. Will makes it hard on opposing players getting off good shots because of his jumping ability. With his shot continuing to get better, the coaches are looking for Will to be a key producer when he enters the game as a strong option off the bench.

Riley Linback- 6’2 Senior Guard

2018-2019 Stats: 2.6 ppg 1.6 rpg 33% 3pt 67% FT

Riley gave the Eagles good minutes off the bench last season and should provide even more this year. As his minutes go up,  so will his production. Riley is a scrappy player and defender who can do a lot of the dirty work, as he plays with reckless abandon, diving for loose balls and fighting for rebounds. Riley can play the guard and forward position and will hit 3 point baskets if left open. In certain matchup situations, the coaches will look to him to help spread the floor.

carson - johnsonCarson Pietruszynski 5’10 Senior Guard

2018-2019 Stats: 2.6ppg, 0.4 rpg,  32% 3Pt

Carson was another key reserve last season who saw extensive minutes due to his strong defensive play. His solid defense is a huge lift for WCA when he is in the game because he can neutralize the other teams’ better scorers. Carson has worked off-season to improve his shooting and Johnson is looking to put him into the game in situations where he can hit a few three’s when uncontested. The other team’s momentum often stops when Carson comes into the game and makes an impact.

New Eagles on the Court

Jakari Wilkins- 5’10 Junior Guard

Wilkins - johnsonPlayed last season at: Denbigh High School

2018-2019 Stats:

Jakari is a huge addition to WCA on and off the court. On the court, Jakari brings speed and energy and he will be one of WCA’s main ball-handlers at the point guard position, filling the void of an effortless ball-handler created with the departure of Kivinie Johnson. Jakari isn’t your traditional point guard, though, as he is a capable scorer as well. He has a very solid all-around game and can score in every way possible. WCA will be looking for leadership and court command from Jakari this season.

johnson- hermanBrandon Herman- 6’2 Senior Guard

Played last season at: Menchville High School

Brandon is another major addition to our school and team this year. Brandon is also a true point guard and will be a key factor in the success of the Eagles this season. Herman has the ability to drive and finish plays at the basket, and also has excellent court awareness to make the right play and pass to an open teammate. Brandon’s on-court demeanor is always calm and collected, he doesn’t get rattled in pressure situations, which will be a tremendous help to his teammates when the press is on and things get hectic.

johnson- wellonsGeoffrey Wellons Jr.- 7’0 Senior Center

Played last season at: Jamestown High School

“Big G” as he is known here at WCA, Wellons has already made tremendous improvements in his game since coming to WCA. “G” is an extremely hard worker and has been striving to get better every day. With his substantial size and length, Wellons can impact games as both an effortless rebounder and a shot blocker. With the coaching staff currently working with him to improve both his footwork and touch around the basket, Wellons will be one of the biggest variables in this year’s team success. If his skills develop rapidly, his size could make him a dominant force.

johnson - calhounTrent Calhoun- 6’5 Junior Guard

Played last season at: Heritage High School

Trent is a hybrid type player who can score from inside and out, and will remind many longstanding WCA fans of current ODU starter and WCA standout Xavier Green. Trent has a soft touch around the rim and can also shoot the 3-ball. He is a natural athlete that runs like a deer and has tremendous endurance. In pre-season, Calhoun was clocked running the mile at 5:10 seconds while looking like he hadn’t broken a sweat. Trent has the potential to be a matchup nightmare in isolation for many teams because he is tall with long arms so most guards may be too short to cover him, but putting a bigger post player on him will be problematic because of his quickness. He will also tire out almost any player who tries to play press defense on him for very long.

New Conference, Many of the Same Opponents

At the conclusion of last season, WCA elected to depart the Metro Conference in favor of the Virginia Metro Athletic Conference, or VMAC. The move, prompted by transportation issues and an attempt to play all sports in a true Division 3 conference, works very well for many of WCA’s athletic programs, but it appears peering into last year’s schedules that WCA’s biggest challenges will come from its non-conference schedule.  A solid showing and conference title this season should help with election to the state championship tourney, but Coach Johnson’s squad must show its strength early against higher-level teams, such as 2019 playoff participants Norfolk Christian, The Carmel School, and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy if they expect to get a nod into this year’s end of season VISAA tournament. They will also face a perennial playoff team in Christ Chapel, and have old Metro foes Isle of Wight Academy and Hampton Christian on the calendar. WCA will likely play additional competition in several tourneys they have entered, but will not know who they will play until closer to the event.

Notes From Coach Johnson

johnsonCoach Johnson knows there are challenges with bringing different parts together to make a performing whole, but is optimistic about this team’s potential. “Our team is dynamic and we have very high expectations for how we will perform this season.  The practices have been intense, and I have pushed these guys to really expand their core skill set and hone their strengths.” Johnson has also placed a major emphasis on defense in these early season practices and in the off-season as the team came together. “Playing tough, hard-nosed defense is what we will be known for this year and continuing the legacy of outstanding basketball at WCA.”

The team first takes the court in regular-season action on Thursday, November 13th when they travel to play Norfolk Collegiate Academy. Game time is 6 PM. The Eagles will have their home opener on Monday, November 18th at 6 PM versus Norfolk Christian.
Photo credits in large part to Faith Witherby, Eaglegram Student Publishing Staff Photographer
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