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Hopewell Prepares For Fort Lee Tournament
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 24, 2013, 09:09

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL Robbie St. John's first five games of his coaching career with the Blue Devils had not gone the way he's envisioned. Hopewell had lost four of the five games and looked poor in doing so, dropping the contests by an average of 16 points.

While St. John acknowledged the adjustment had to be made to his system, he did not believe it was a dramatic shift in philosophy which would cause the poor play. Yet, entering Friday night's game against Colonial Heights, St. John was confident his team had figured it out.

Instead of firing up 3-pointers against a zone defense, quick-passing and dribble penetration into the paint would be the focal point. After 32 minutes of action, St. John was pleased with the result as he stood underneath the basket, eyeing the scoreboard after earning his second win.

"The kids came off the bench and we didn't miss a beat," St. John said as his team's bench production proved critical in a 86-39 victory. "With our style of play, that's what's going to determine how successful we are. Our third point on the board we always have three points was let's play four quarters, eight minutes each quarter because we haven't done that yet."

However, following the win over Colonial Heights, the Blue Devils defeated Mountain View the next day, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season. It's even more impressive considering Mountain View finished last season with a 25-3 record as they entered the state tournament.

The two-game winning streak puts the Blue Devils on a trajectory St. John was hoping for heading into the Fort Lee Holiday Tournament starting today. The tournament also features Varina, Clover Hill, Prince George and seven-time defending champion Petersburg among other teams.

While St. John is aiming for a chance to capture the tournament championship, his main goal is simply to allow his team to get better by the end of the experience.

"It sounds really cliche, but we want to be a better team at the end of the tournament than we were in the beginning of the tournament," St. John said. "We want to win games, but we want to feel good about the progress we made. I think if we play well, we have a really good shot."

Yet, while the Blue Devils do have enough weapons on the court to challenge many different teams, it will come down to the consistency they exhibit. Hopewell has played three quality games out of their first seven thus far, with two of those coming over the weekend.

In each one of those games, there has been a few common denominators playing tough defense with a full-court pressure and a willingness to share the ball on offense.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

When the Blue Devils follow the winning blueprint, good things happen for a team with outside shooters in Deonte Jones, Antoine Ford and Daniel Saunders, inside presence with both Malik Monds and Darrell Taylor along with the slashing and cutting abilities of Johnnie Harrison and Tabyus Taylor.

And it's because of the weapons he has, St. John could not hide the fact his team is eyeing a potential championship round game against a familiar foe. However, they will need to take a one game at a time mindset in order to accomplish their goal.

"Around here, everyone is hoping we take care of our first two, Petersburg takes care of their first two and that will be the final," St. John said. "That would be great. But my goal for the tournament is when we sit down in January and look at the film, there will be more positives than negatives."

By the looks of it, the positives are beginning to outweigh the negatives for St. John's squad. The team has grabbed a handle on the intricacies of a new system, but it does remain a work in progress.

During Friday's game, there were glimpses of a dominating defense with half-court traps forcing turnovers at a high-rate. Then, there were the bad signs as key players recorded more minutes on the bench than the hardwood because of foul trouble.

Hopewell is on a learning curve, but one that is improving in each game, showcased by averaging 83 points per game while allowing just 54 over their previous two contests.

"We are trying not to break out of the system they learned since seventh grade completely, but we are starting to get a transition into it," St. John said. "I think in the future you will see a much more cohesive unit."

While St. John was referring to a few years from now, it can easily describe this team which is slowly transforming itself into a confident group, one which is starting to fulfill the expectations placed upon it prior to the season.

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