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Commentary: Hopewell Could Surprise Next Season
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 27, 2014, 15:12

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL It's been over a week since the Hopewell basketball team was bounced out of the Conference 26 Tournament semifinals in disappointing fashion, but after an up-and-down season the future seems bright.

While the Blue Devils were completely outperformed and outclassed against George Wythe in a 69-51 dismantling, it must be noted the Bulldogs were the No. 22 ranked team in the state at the time of the victory. And the one loss to a talented team does not wipe away the type of success the Blue Devils had over the course of the season.

In head coach Robbie St. John's first season, Hopewell endured growing pains during their first five games of the season as they won just one game and showed an inability to play shutdown defense. Yet, instead of dialing back the playbook to make it easier on his players, St. John decided to continue to implement his defensive schemes in the hopes of it paying off down the stretch.

And it did just that as Hopewell won a season-high four consecutive games with wins over Colonial Heights, Mountain View, Ben Franklin and Varina with the average margin of victory of 27 points. It was the most dominating span of play Hopewell would have all season and showed glimpses of how good they could be.

"We contemplated as a staff whether we were going to cut some corners this year and work on it this summer or we were going to throw it all at them," St. John said during the conference tournament. "And with our record coming in, I've second-guessed that because you can get away with cutting corners."

Yet, that would have cheated seniors Tabyus Taylor and Malik Monds of a chance to win when it mattered most.

And over the course of their last three games, Hopewell recorded two of their biggest wins in recent memory during the span, knocking off Matoaca and Petersburg in back-to-back games.

The win over the Warriors was unexpected due to them being one of the hottest teams in the area with a 12-game winning streak, but the Blue Devils disrupted their offensive sets by battling through screens and being quick with rotations on penetrating drives.

Then, in the opening round of the Conference 26 Tournament, Hopewell took a 40-20 lead over Petersburg, held on late and advanced into the next round. The win meant a lot to a program aiming to be among the best in the future.

"No disrespect to anyone else, but I think we climbed the biggest hurdle for us," St. John said after the win.

While he was talking about the conference tournament, he could have easily been talking about the mental aspect of the program. With a team filled with sophomores and juniors who had never beaten the Crimson Wave, it was an eye-opening moment for them.

They learned that if a game-plan is executed, they could overcome Petersburg. It also provides the ground-work to continue working through the summer and into the 2014-15 campaign as the Blue Devils look to improve off of this past season's performance.

And it would be hard to bet against Hopewell doing just that with the type of young talent on their roster.

Start with leading scorer Daniel Saunders. The junior showed a great ability to finish in the lane with traffic all around him, allowing him to draw fouls and complete and-1 plays. While his outside shot was streaky, his high-motor made him one of the most dangerous weapons on the court.

Much like Saunders, Deonte Jones showed good driving ability as well, but also was able to consistently stretch the court with his 3-point range. In the win over Petersburg, it was Jones who led the charge with 31 points 18 of those coming from beyond the arc.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

Then, there are both Antoine Ford and Johnnie Harrison who supplied timely shots from the outside and a defensive presence which was unmatched. Even Darrell Taylor had dominating spurts of action as his confidence grew throughout the year, finishing with authority on transition dunks and baby-hooks from inside the paint.

Yet, it all begins and ends with one of the better floor generals in the area in Isaiah Fernandez. The junior point-guard finished the season averaging 5.7 points and 5.7 assists per game with a 1.66 turnover-to-assist ration, leaving his mark on the offense.

"We have a young group coming back and like I told them, George Wythe has a young group and we'll see them next year in some facet," St. John said following the season-ending loss. "When that happens, we have to come out and just remember that we are supposed to be there."

While the moment may have been too big for them this past season, with the added experience and hunger from a disappointing loss, Hopewell could be even better next year.

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