WCA EAGLE VARSITY BASKETBALL PREVIEW: YOUNG GUNS LOOKING TO STEP UP THIS SEASON

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The Friday before the break represented the first official season action for the WCA Eagle Varsity Boys Basketball team. For those of you new to our school, the WCA Varsity Boys Squad has enjoyed major success over the past decade. With Division 3 State Championships in 2012 ( a year that our Varsity girls were also State Champs) and in 2017, as well as a State Finals appearance in 2018 and several State semi-finals appearances, it has been quite some time since WCA hasn’t been the preseason favorite to win the METRO Conference.

But with VISAA D3 Player of the Year Cle’von Greene now at Radford, and lightning fast guards Ra’Shawn and Da’Shawn Cook now both at Mary Washington, can returning starter Dexter Radcliffe lead this year’s squad to Metro success? Can Senior guard Kivinie Johnson become the dauntless ball handler that the Big Blue Crew has come to expect?

If the initial effort (a respectable 79-66 loss) against a very strong Carmel School Wildcats squad is any indication of their capabilities, this may not be a state championship level squad, but they will definitely be very competitive against the collection of teams that compose the Metro Conference. Let’s look down the roster and where the team stands for the 18-19 campaign.

Dexter Radcliffe- 6’3″ Senior Forward: Radcliffe broke out two years ago in the VISAA Championship game where he was the difference in a contest where the guards had become double teamed and were missing shots. Radcliffe continued strong play the following year as the muscle presence under the boards, helping the Eagles to their second finals appearance in two years. But this season, as the only returning starter, will be his toughest challenge yet. In the first game of the young season, despite giving up 4 inches to his defender, Radcliffe was used as a center/post forward, and was effective scoring 18 points with 8 rebounds, while pushing the interior defenders of the Wildcats into foul trouble. Radcliffe will need to continue to work on his free throw shooting, as his physical brand of play will deliver him to the foul line frequently.

Kivinie Johnson- 5-10″ Senior Point Guard: Kivinie played often but sparingly last year with most of his action coming in contests against weaker opponents where the game was in hand relatively early. Ball security and control was the rub on Kivinie last season, but his comfort leading off the dribble was much improved last Friday night, and he was much more apt to dish to the open man than he was last season. Johnson finished with 12 points and 5 assists, and looked very capable and comfortable, even on the press. After he fouled out with about 4 minutes left, the Wildcats went on the press and effectively ended the game with several turnovers they converted into buckets.

Jalen Vaughan- 6’5″ Junior Center– Jalen had big minutes in JV ball last year, and was used on the varsity level when the team needed an infusion of bulk in the middle. Vaughan is certainly a space eater and can defend and rebound very well due to his sheer girth. In a game where he was much needed to combat a much taller Carmel team, Jalen got into foul trouble early, and wasn’t a major factor down the stretch. Not uncoincidentally, although going into the half with the lead, with Vaughan out of the lineup the Eagles couldn’t keep pace in the second half. Vaughan will have to watch his fouls, especially those when he is taking chances, for the Eagles to have a presence in the middle.

Connor Simmons- 6’3″ Junior Wing– Simmons played primarily on junior varsity last year, and in dwindling minutes time last year in varsity games. Against Carmel he was clearly the surprise of the night, as he looked very comfortable handling the ball against an aggressive Wildcat defense, while cooly dumping in 25 points with 4 assists to lead the team in scoring. The confidence in the long threes and willingness to step up and take the open shot (and make it) almost got the Eagles back into the game with an astonishing 6 point play opportunity. Simmons hit from three, was fouled, and was awarded an additional 2 technical free throws and the ball after a Carmel player lobbed a highly disrespectful insult at him. Simmons made 2 of three free throws for a 5 point play. If he can continue that level of play, this team will certainly compete every night, regardless of opponent.

Ethan Conrad- 6’2″ Sophomore Guard– Conrad is a solid ball handler and when given an open shot is usually very true. He represents another good ballhandler, and has good court vision. Ethan’s role was not as prominent in this game, but those that watched him in junior varsity last year know that he can get on a three-point shooting streak and stay there. Although younger, he maintains good court presence. Moving without the ball and finding the open shot will be key for Conrad to maximize on his shooting ability.

The Bench:

The bench has a number of players with JV playing experience a year ago, but who show something of a dropoff in ball control and comfort with the ball in pressure situations. Now on the varsity level, though, players such as Will VanDivender, Carson Petroszynski, and Jacob Thomas should grow and develop more confidence to close that gap in ball security that currently exists when one of the starters has to head to the bench.

The summary: The loss of 6th man Malachi Banks to transfer this year certainly was a point of concern, but the team’s initial look is one of a team that, if it plays hard and hustles on defense, should be able to contend for the Metro crown once again. The Eagles will get another stiff test as it battles perennial powerhouse Cape Henry Collegiate on Tuesday night, before it heads to a local tournament this weekend. Following those two contests, the Eagles will head into Metro Conference play.


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