Richard Bland Cracks Top 20 Poll
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 16, 2013, 09:00
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG —Prior to Richard Bland's opening game, head coach Chuck Moore knew his team had enough talent to compete at the highest level. He knew his team could surprise many and contend in the National Junior College Athletic Association's Division II tier.
Yet, Moore could not envision the honor which was bestowed upon the Statesmen last week.
Garnering votes over the course of the previous two weeks, Richard Bland cracked the Top 20 poll after an 8-1 start to their season — 9-1 now — and ranking highly in numerous categories, including ranking 10th in scoring offense, averaging a robust 94.1 points per game.
"I knew we had the ability to be among the top teams," Moore said in his office before a practice. "Did I think the exposure would come so soon? No, I didn't. But anytime you can get national exposure, it's a good thing."
The exposure is likely to stay as Richard Bland has racked up impressive victories in a variety of ways. The Statesmen have won games with their defense, capturing a nine-point win against Catawba Valley Community College Dec. 7, and have won with their offense, routing Wytheville Community College by 23 points last month.
How have they managed to adjust to opponents with ease?
Because of the depth Moore has at his disposal. The Statesmen's head coach frequently plays 10-deep, outlasting opponents who can't compete with Richard Bland's fast-paced style.
However, Moore also has the ability to adjust his team's style of play based on the opponent they face. Against certain teams, Moore will run an up-tempo system, pushing the ball up the court without hesitation after missed shots, not allowing the opposing team's defense to set-up.
But against physically imposing teams, Moore can match them with physical players of his own in NJCAA Player of the week Tavon Mealy and bruising forward Avery Ugba.
"Our depth really makes a difference," Moore said. "We can adjust to whatever the opponent tries to do, we can go 10-deep and they have to prepare for that."
However, the most difficult aspect teams must prepare for is the grittiness the Statesmen play with. All of Richard Bland's players play with a chip on their shoulder and it shows on the court.
The team dives after loose balls and contends every attempted lay-up attempt, showing the heart of a team striving to make a point. And no one portrays the team's mentality better than Mealy.
The undersized forward knows how to utilize what he has underneath the basket, averaging 16 points per game while also nabbing 7.6 rebounds per contest. Last week, Mealy was named the NJCAA's Division II Player of the Week after averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds in two separate wins.
"We're a tough team and Tavon Mealy is impossible to guard," fellow forward Melvin Gregory said before practice last week. "He's the toughest guy we have as far as scoring down low. He's very physical and we want to bring that mentality every game."
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
And the Statesmen's fans have seen a small amount of the tough mentality over the course of the last week.
Following a loss to Pitt Community College, Richard Bland's first loss all season, the team could have gone in one of two directions: show the mental resolve to bounce back after being kicked down, or continue the free-fall.
The Statesmen bounced back in impressive fashion on a night the shots were not falling to grab an 83-74 win against Catawba Valley. Richard Bland shot a frigid 43.5 percent from the floor in the contest, but they both got the free throw line and made shots, 17-of-22, helping them remain in front in the waning minutes.
It's the type of effort Richard Bland will need in the coming weeks as their No. 19 ranking provides a target mark for their future oppositions. Teams will want to take their best shot at the Statesmen, making the game a litmus test for them, and defeat a team that is among the Top 20 in the nation.
However, even with the added number in front of their team name, Gregory said the Statesmen will continue to take the hardwood with the same mentality they have all season.
"No one can beat us," Gregory said. "That's how we have to look at every game. We have to go in there with supreme confidence and dominate our opponents night in and night out."
It's something Micah Thomas not only believes the Statesmen can accomplish, but they are aiming for higher goals this season and are not satisfied with a No. 19 ranking.
"We really feel like we should be in the Top 10," the team's leading scorer at 18.6 points per game said. "We are Top 20 right now and that's okay, but if we haven't lost that one game, we'd be Top 10. We're still just as hungry as everyone else."
The hunger Thomas eluded to is one which propels the Statesmen forward as they continue to play hard and attempt to gain a higher national ranking in the process.