Statesmen Make Solid Statement
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Oct 18, 2013, 08:10
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG — Exhibition games normally fall into one of two categories: they are either a glorified practice where all situations are controlled and dictated by the coach or it’s a game against an inferior opponent used to boost up the ego of the home team.
However, for Richard Bland’s men’s basketball team, it was not either of the two above categories. Instead, head coach Chuck Moore wanted to challenge his players and give them a test to see where they stand as a unit.
Fishburne Military Academy, a prep school which churns out Division I prospects like Hershey’s chocolate factory produces candy. The program made a national tournament appearance last season and are favored to win the national title this season.
All of those factors added into what Moore described as the perfect storm to test his team.
“It was purposely scheduled,” Moore said of the exhibition. “We wanted to see where we stood early on. They already had two scrimmages and that’s going to be as good (of a team) we see all year.”
Which makes what the Statesmen did in the three 20-minute period exhibition, winning two of them outright by a combined 79-72 score before faltering in the third, all the more impressive.
The Statesmen took to the court like an experienced squad, not one filled with players taking to the hardwood for their first collegiate action. Yet, against the skillful Caissons’ squad, Richard Bland jumped out to an early 9-2 lead with baskets scored by three different players.
It was a foreshadowing of what was to come as the Statesmen responded quickly to a Fishburne 4-0 run with one of their own, ending in an easy put-back off an offensive rebound, igniting the crowd.
“That wasn’t even all of our fan section,” Statesmen’s forward Melvin Gregory said of the crowd. “When we get the whole thing rocking and carry it over from game to game, we are going to have a nice little fan section.”
“It’s good to know we have a good support system,” Moore said. “We hope to put out a good product and be able to play the game aggressively and entertain because we want those fans here.”
And it’s very likely they will because the Statesmen have a roster filled with weapons from top to bottom and it showed in the exhibition. It seemed a new player stepped up in each period, providing timely jump-shots, huge rebounds and stout defense.
However, no one needed a stat sheet to know Richard Bland guard Micah
Thomas put on a shooting display which would leave reigning NCAA 3-point champion Troy Daniels blush.
After missing his first 3-point attempt — a wide-open chance which clanked off the side iron — Thomas nailed his second just 2:07 into elapsed time in the first period of play. Then, Thomas nailed two consecutive 3-pointers as he singlehandedly traded buckets with the Caissans late in the first period.
In total, Thomas recorded 13 of the Statesmen’s 39 first period points before dropping in an additional 9 points in the second period on the strength of three more 3-pointers.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
“I just tried to lead by example,” Thomas said after his 24-point performance. “Coach is looking for big things out of me and I’m just trying to help my team win.”
But it wasn’t just Thomas who helped Richard Bland jump out in front of Fishburne but also the play of Gregory inside. Faced with the unenviable task of going up against the likes of USC commit Jabari Craig, Mount St. Mary’s commit Mo Sallah and St. Bonaventure commit Jordan Tyson — all 6-foot-8 or taller — the 6-foot-7 forward held his own.
In fact, it was Gregory who helped establish the dominance on the offensive board, collecting rebounds with just sheer determination and hustle best displayed on a play where he hurtled himself out of bounds to save an errant pass.
“Being long helps and he got his hands on the ball a lot which keeps it live,” Moore said of his forward. “We work on that and try to keep the ball alive on the glass, especially offensively.”
And Moore had to be happy with 11 of his 15 players cracking the scoring column, showing how deep and talented his squad can be this season.
Everywhere one looks, there are playmakers to be had.
Behind Gregory is Tavon Mealy who attacked the glass at will, earning hard-fought points in the paint. If that isn’t enough, the third period also saw the emergence of 6-foot-7 forward Avery Ugba as he took control of the inside when the rest of his team tired down the stretch.
“We just want to play harder each and every game,” Gregory said. “This was just the sample of what we can do. I just see us getting better each game.”
After outplaying one of the nation’s premier prep schools, the Statesmen are riding high with confidence. But they also know they need to work on the little things like limiting turnovers in their final exhibition against Virginia State before truly being ready for their home-opener Nov. 2.