Thomas Dale Boys
By Jamal Davis
Last season the boys’ basketball team at Thomas Dale finished with a 9-13 record. While that may not be where it wanted to be, it was an improvement over the year before. The Knights hope to continue to improve this season under head coach Braxton Byerson, a former standout athlete at Thomas Dale himself. Unfortunately, the Knights will be forced to do so without the help of their best player from a season ago, point guard Elijah Gregory. Even without Gregory, Byerson believes his squad is well equipped to fill the void.
Projected Starting Five:
G James Taylor, Senior, 5-8
G Carlton “C.J.” Williams, Senior, 5-10
G Jalen Blackwell, Senior, 6-1
F Milton “M.J.” Coleman, Senior, 6-3
F Chris Ervin, Junior, 6-4
Backcourt: The backcourt for Thomas Dale this year will look much different without Elijah Gregory. However, the Knights feel they have players capable of filling the void in James Taylor and Carlton Williams. Also in the backcourt is their leading returning scorer from a season ago, Jalen Blackwell. Byerson spoke highly of Blackwell, saying he’s worked very hard this offseason and improved the efficiency of his jump shot.
Front court: In the frontcourt, coach Byerson has specific ideas for what he wants from his players each game. Milton Coleman and Chris Ervin are two of the players Byerson mentioned as impact players in the frontcourt. His focus for them this season is to keep the paint secure, rebound effectively to limit opponents to just one shot, and get the ball out after a rebound and run the break. His hope is that they will create mismatches which could give Thomas Dale some easier buckets on the offensive end of the floor.
Key to Success: Byerson said that his bench will be vital to any success the Knights have this season. He likes to rotate his players based on who is playing the best at the time, and in order to do that, bench production is essential. Togetherness and consistency are also going to be huge for the Knights this season. Every day in practice they stress being one unit and playing with the same energy and effort regardless of opponent. Byerson believes they are getting better with each passing day and hopes that trend continues well into the season.
Prognosis: The Knights play a Central District schedule, which is known to be very competitive year in and year out. With that said, Byerson believes that if the team can stay together, play hard every game, and follow the keys he provided for success, they could be a team to look out for this season.
Thomas Dale Girls
By Jamal Davis
Last season Thomas Dale’s girls’ basketball team fought to earn a 13-11 record on the season. After coming up short, last season’s playoffs to Woodbridge, the Knights are looking to improve on a solid year. Despite losing two key players in point guard Aryianna Laday and power forward Jazlyn Eastling, Thomas Dale will be returning a good portion of its roster, and that could have a big impact on how the year turns out for Leon Gholson’s team.
Projected Starting Five:
G Jasmyne Pettus, Junior, 5-6
G Monay James, Junior, 5-7
G Destiny Callaham, Senior, 5-8
F Monique Jones, Senior, 5-10
F Kylah Webb, Junior, 6-0
Top Player: The Knights have a lot of talent on their team, but perhaps none are more talented than Monique Jones. She has improved her scoring average every season she’s played and she’s led the team in scoring every year since her freshman year. Jones looks to continue this trend in the right direction for the Knights this year in her senior season.
Backcourt: In this upcoming season the Knights will have to make do in their backcourt without their starting point guard from a year ago, Aryianna Laday. However, they have the talent and depth to continue on the success Laday had last season. They are returning a key player in Jasmyne Pettus, who looks to be a major contributor on both sides of the ball after earning a second-team All-Conference nod last season. The Knights have also added some young talent in sophomores Jessica Henderson, who is arguably the team’s best ball handler according to Gholson, and Daizjah Brown, who could push for playing time this year as well.
Frontcourt: The Knights will be getting back a couple of key contributors in junior Kylah Webb and sophomore Jasmine Hawkins. They also picked up a new young talent in freshman Jadah Webb, Kylah’s younger sister, senior Keyazia Taylor, who could have a breakout season, and Monique Jones, who led the team in scoring last year.
Key to Success: Gholson believes the key to success for his team this season lies in their ability to step up to the challenge and continually improve throughout the year. He knows every season is different and presents the team with new challenges to face.
Prognosis: The Knights are a solid team with a good mix of young talent and proven players at the high school level. If they can get their backcourt to continue what Laday started last season and their Jones-led frontcourt is as good as some think they might be, the Knights could present a serious threat to anyone they play this season. This will definitely be a team to watch out for in the Central Region this year.
LC Bird Boys
By Josh Matthews
L. C. Bird fell to Potomac in the 5A state championship game, its second appearance in the state final. While they fell short of their goal, Skyhawks coach Troy Manns points out the learning experience all of his returning players got. Charles Falden, the team’s leading scorer; and Tahkey Williams, a tough wing who played in the post, are gone to graduation. Manns said the team is bigger and that they’ll be more aggressive defensively.
Projected Starting Five
Mario Haskett, senior
Pinky Wiley, senior
Tyrek Williams, sophomore
Jyles Webster, senior
Jaylen Dillard, senior
Player to Watch: Johquin “Pinky” Wiley came to L.C. Bird as a scorer, but because Manns had so many scorers, he tasked him with learning the point guard position. That was a good move for the Skyhawks. A smart player, Wiley has built the needed chemistry of the team, and he’s the captain of the ship for L.C. Bird. “It goes so smooth when he’s out there,” Manns said.
Backcourt: Cam Henry, at 6-5, is poised for a big year, and he will play on the wing, but could also see time at point guard. The long, athletic Henry is a good ball handler who can shoot and get to the basket. Jaylen Dillard, coming over from Clover Hill, was the Cavaliers leading scorer last season. He will fit into the equation nicely. Mario Haskett, a Harvard-commit, is a defensive-minded player with the ability to score and an impressive vertical leap. Keep an eye on Jay Robinson as well.
Frontcourt: Tyrek Williams (6-8), who has an offer from Mount St. Mary’s, will team up with Jyles Webster, who recently committed to Concord University (N.C.). Both are long, can score, and can block shots. More size gives Manns more lineup options.
Key to Success: “As long as we defend,” said Manns, “we’ll be OK.”
Prognosis: There’s a lot of balance in Conference 12 and the 5A South region. The Skyhawks might have the toughest schedule in the state. “We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Manns. This type of scheduling has become the norm for L.C. Bird.
LC Bird Girls
Last year saw another trip for L.C. Bird to the state tournament. While the Skyhawks fell to Thomas Edison in the 5A state quarterfinals, the team’s experience grew and the young players on the roster are ready to step up this season. Graduated are the team’s two leading scorers, Angela Caraballo (Barton College) and KeKe Williams (St. Augustine). Caraballo and Williams were good for 15 and 20 points and both were skilled shooters, while Williams was also efficient in the post. Senior Brina Bentley is now the team’s elder statesman.
Projected Starting Lineup
Brina Bentley, senior, 5-9
Mya Coleman, sophomore, 5-7
Cameron Brown, freshman, 5-4
Jaden Watkins, sophomore, 5-6
Jayla Henderson, sophomore, 5-7
Player to Watch: While Brina Bentley doesn’t look imposing, she’s a force on the glass and on defense. The blue-collar forward will be the team’s leader this year and provide support underneath, an area the Skyhawks lack. Bentley doesn’t score many points, but her work ethic doesn’t go unnoticed. Coach Chevette Waller says she’ll be a mainstay on the floor all year.
Backcourt: On a very guard-centric team, sophomore Mya Coleman is another player to keep an eye on. She’s able to play on the perimeter and drive to the basket, and she’ll need that versatility this year. Sophomore Jaden Watkins is a solid, slasher-type guard with good size; she scored 15 points against St. Catherine’s in the season opener. She moves up to varsity after getting playing time on JV with a loaded backcourt last year. Madison Baum would have been the team’s third senior, but she tore her ACL in the offseason.
Frontcourt: In terms of frontcourt players, Bentley is the only prototypical forward on the team. Rebounding and defense on the block will be a team effort.
Key to success: Ball control. Waller stressed the importance of minimizing turnovers.
X-Factor: Chemistry and team work. Waller stressed again this year needed to be a collective effort.
Prognosis: In the past, it’s always appeard bleak when L.C. Bird lost players, but somehow the SKyhawks always end up in the hunt for the conference title, and typically they advance beyond. Newcomers like Jayla Henderson will assist in the team’s effort as well.