The Jamestown boys basketball team's 2015-16 campaign was a surprise success to those outside of the program as the Eagles challenged for a Bay Rivers District championship before reaching the Group 4A East Region tournament in Donovan Bridgeforth's first season as head coach.
Jamestown's core is back this season, led by the dynamic backcourt combination of twins Evan and Mason Wang. That means the role of underdog that Jamestown played so well a season ago is finished, right?
Not so much if you ask Bridgeforth, who has a knack for finding ways to motivate his team.
"We play with a chip on our shoulder," Bridgeforth said. "… There are always goals to motivate us, and we always work hard. We don't care who we're playing. We're going to play as hard as we can."
Every time Bridgeforth thinks one of the Wang brothers has pulled ahead of the other in progress, the other rises to the occasion. "They can do everything on the floor," Bridgeforth said.
Evan Wang, the point guard, averaged 12 points last season and Mason Wang 12.3. Mason Wang continued turning heads in fall league play with a 34-point outing against three-time reigning state champion Norcom.
Bridgeforth was coy about the potential starting lineup (The Eagles open the season Wednesday at home against Tabb), saying it will vary based on strategy.
It will certainly include Diamante Brown, a versatile 6-foot-3 senior coming off a recent wrist injury.
Michael Schmidt, a 6-5 forward, and 6-4 forward Ryan Devine give Jamestown some size, guard Ryan Jones will have a chance to be an impact player, and Bridgeforth has a pair of freshmen he's excited about in LaShawn Foster and Jarantez Garrett.
Bridgeforth expects the Eagles — with games on the docket against 6A Granby and 5A Bethel and Warwick — to continue doing what they did last season: overachieve. "I want people to say we're the best team in the 757," he said. "And that's how we made our schedule."
What to watch for:
Cle'von and company: Talented guards in Williamsburg are plentiful. None have yet showcased the versatility of Williamsburg Christian Academy's Cle'von Greene, a 6-2 junior that has scholarship offers from Norfolk State and Longwood University.
Greene, a likely combo guard at the next level, often finishes at the rim with authority, complementing a sound shooting game.
Green said he expects to be more of a vocal leader this season and is joined on the perimeter by junior guards Ra'Shawn and Da'Shawn Cook.
"It gives us one of the best backcourts in the state," said WCA coach Chris Brown. "We've got three very fast guys that can shoot the 3 and finish at the rim. And they wreak havoc on defense."
WCA won the Metro Conference regular season and tournament championships last season before reaching the VISAA Division 3 semifinals, but lost a trio of super-talented starters.
Junior varsity call-ups Dexter Radcliffe and Jahvon Noray and Chester Makoi, a 6-9 sophomore transfer from Alaska, are among those that are expected to make an impact.
The Eagles, already off to a 1-0 start, have another tough slate in front of them with stops scheduled in the Kevin Durant Invitational in Maryland, the Allen Iverson Holiday Classic in Hampton and a few other showcase events against strong competition.
"We don't run from competition," Brown said. "I've always believed that if you're playing over your head, they're supposed to beat you. But if you go out there and play fundamentally sound, you can find yourself in the ballgame."
Waiting to gel at Walsingham:
Walsingham went 1-1 in its Thanksgiving tournament, falling 69-58 in the championship game Saturday against Hampton Christian, which knocked down 15 3-pointers.
Sophomore guard Jaylin Stewart led the Trojans with 22 points and he'll be one of the players Trojans coach Billy Barnes relies on after losing most of last year's scoring and rebounding to graduation including Wake Forest freshman Richard Washington's 22 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Stewart is one of three returning starters along with senior point guard Landon Gero and senior perimeter player James West.
Harrison Forrest rounds out the senior class and will see increased playing time this season, as will Sam Jones and Tredell Blow, and junior varsity call-ups Whit Jones and Zach Stanko.
"I think the good news is we have pretty good depth," Barnes said, "but we have lots of young guys."
One is Tariq Balogun, 6-9 sophomore from England, who registered 13 and 11 points in the Thanksgiving tourney.
Second-year Warhill coach Geoff McCulloch said it was never a skill thing for senior Jimmel Davis, just a matter of confidence.
Davis was steady last season, earning all-conference honors, and is the only starter back for the Lions, who reached the conference semifinals a season ago.
Davis, a 6-5 forward that can play inside and out, will lead the way and likely be joined in the starting five by classmate Nick Hunt and Jermaine Rosario, Dcarius Brooks, Armon Fannin, and Antonio Stovall.
"We're just better with my concept as far as defense is concerned," McCulloch said. "We're a better team halfcourt man-to-man than we were last year. That's kind of what I want us to hang our hat on."
More guards: Juniors Keyshawn Jefferson and Timmy Woollum form another of the area's potent backcourts, with Jefferson serving as a wing and Woollum at point guard.
They are the only two starters back for coach Bobby Woollum, but each has started since their freshman seasons.
"I think they can both be really good if they learn to play hard and compete every second they are on the court," Bobby Woollum said. "Both have the ability and the skill. They can be as good as they want to be."
Bobby Woollum added that Jefferson, the Rams' leading returning scorer (15.4 ppg) has the potential to be one of the best defenders in the district.
When Lafayette gets Jack Erwin and Seth Osborne back from football, it could go 12-deep. In the mix for playing time are Sha'Khan Amos and T.J. Eppes, both coming off injuries, and freshman Marcus Banks. Then there are post players Cam Edwards, Sutton Perozek, John Parrot and Tyler Neville.
Rebuilding Panthers: Bruton will pin its hopes on seniors Donevan Adkins, Greg Dockery and host of players competing for starting positions including several members of the Panthers' JV team that was strong last season.
Adkins, 6-3, will play at point and on the wing while Dockery, the standout quarterback in football, will move into a starting role after coming off the bench a season ago.
Bruton coach Brenner Carter's team will be tested early with a season opener Wednesday against one of the district favorites, Smithfield.
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.