Last Updated: Mar 31st, 2014 - 14:20:42

Hopewell Rounding Into Form
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 1, 2014, 09:26

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL Just one week before the Fort Lee Holiday Basketball Tournament began, Hopewell continued to look for answers as its basketball struggled out of the gates. The 1-4 start frustrated all those involved: players, coaches and fans.

Robbie St. John's facial expressions on the sideline told the full story. He seemed bewildered that the team had struggled to pick up the slightly different concepts of his scheme from the one they had previously played. He also tried to reinforce the message of support, letting his team work through mistakes on the court as part of the learning process.

Then, against Colonial Heights, his team found the right gear.

The 2-3 zone defense remained stout with smart rotations along the baseline and perimeter. The offense which looked at an opposing team's zone defense as hieroglyphics, figured out how best to attack it.

Drives to the basket became the norm with cuts to the basket off screens opening up the paint. It helped the Blue Devils capture two consecutive wins, scoring at least 82 points in each game.

"This place is special and there's an expectation of winning. When you start the season off the way we have, there's a lot of pressure on these kids," Blue Devils' head coach Robbie St. John said after defeating Colonial Heights. "They're tired of losing. They expect to win ... I was really happy about seeing what I see in practice translate to the game."

It all added up to the idea that he wanted his team to be better at the conclusion of the tournament than they were when entering it.

Two wins and one loss in the finals, St. John had to be happy with what he saw even as the pain lingered as he discussed the loss to Petersburg.

He pointed out his team made more field goals than the Crimson Wave, 19-to-13, but had lost the game based on their performance from the free throw line. The Blue Devils connected on just 6-of-12 from the charity stripe, missing on the front-end of three one-and-one opportunities.

"I told the guy afterwards that between good teams, it's going to come down to one or two possessions," St. John said after the game. "We had a bunch of possessions where we fell asleep on defense and we hadn't been doing that. When we were winning, we played great defense."

St. John is right.

During the Blue Devils' four-game winning streak, the defensive side of the ball was unrelenting. The defense surrendered just 52 points per game while racking up the turnovers with their full-court pressure defense.

In fact, while St. John was not pleased with his team's defensive effort in the finals versus Petersburg, his team did play well. The Crimson Wave were unable to play their type of game which is to strike fast.

Instead, they were held to a half-court offense which halted their offensive productivity. The Crimson Wave also saw their spark-plug off the bench, Kaimonne' Douglas, held scoreless through the game's first three quarters.

It was enough to leave an impression on the Petersburg head coach.

"That's good coaching," Hite said. "Robbie St. John did the homework on them. The man can coach. You get a good coach and you get good kids, they got something good over there."

And following an impressive showing at the Fort Lee Holiday Tournament, Hite is right about this Blue Devils' squad. While the team is not at its best yet, there are signs it will get there soon.

The inside combination of Darrell Taylor and Malik Monds is starting to awaken. Both players played critical roles in defeating Varina in the tournament semifinals. It was Monds who put on an amazing display, showing an elbow jumper, a spin-move in the post and a quick cross-over move for a runner.

Then, there is the emergence of Deonte Jones who is showing deft marksmanship from beyond the arc. In the finals, it was Jones who picked up the scoring slack for Daniel Saunders as he was blanketed for much of the night.

Even Tabyus Taylor is rounding into form with his unstoppable penetrating ability into the paint. It's enough to think this Hopewell squad is ready to make a run.

"I definitely think we are a better team now than when we came in," St. John said. "But for us to be successful, we still have a huge jump we have to make ... If we peaked now, it would be a bad season. We have a lot of room to grow."

It's how fast the team continues to grow and mature which will determine the amount of success they have later in the season.

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