— The prologue for the best chapter in Jamestown boys basketball history begins about five years ago at Hornsby Middle.
Five members of Hornsby's 2012-13 eighth-grade team – Evan Wang, Mason Wang, Michael Schmidt, Ryan Devine and Ryan Jones – managed to stay together through high school and as seniors, have helped lead the Eagles to their first state championship appearance in program history. Jamestown (26-2) will meet Loudoun Valley (29-1) 8:30 p.m. Friday at VCU's Siegel Center for the Group 4A crown.
The five former Hornsby Hawks combine with fellow senior Diamante Brown, who starred for Berkeley Middle in those days, to form Jamestown's primary six-man rotation. The Wang twins each were first-team all-region selections as well as Conference 18 Players of the Year, but each of the six pieces is almost equally essential to the Eagles' unprecedented success this season.
They were quite a bit smaller at Hornsby, but more or less, were miniature and unpolished versions of the standouts they became.
"We definitely jelled over the years, so I think a lot of (our success) is the chemistry (between us)," Mason Wang said.
"Along with chemistry," Evan Wang said, "it's the countless hours in the gym together."
Longtime local coaching fixture Jamal Oweis spent some of those hours in the Hornsby gym with them. Most of them played together as seventh-graders, too, with Devine joining the fold in eighth grade.
Oweis still coaches basketball and baseball, and teaches math at Hornsby. The veteran closing in on four decades of coaching noticed traits in middle school then that made the group of five special.
"They obviously were really good basketball players, Oweis said, "but the thing that stood out to me was they were smart. They could out-think people."
Since then, Oweis said, their size and athletic ability caught up and made them lethal basketball players.
Each player can shoot from the outside, though the Wangs have developed reputations as lights-out marksmen. Evan Wang shares point guard duties with Jones, who was used sparingly last season, but has emerged as a vital contributor this season and especially in the postseason. Similar to Jones, Devine did not see a lot of action last season, but has given Jamestown an athletic post presence in this state final run.
Schmidt gives the Eagles a reliable and sturdy post figure. With a stable of offensive playmakers, he no longer needs to put up the points he did at Hornsby when he was the leading scorer.
"We definitely got a lot better, but we've always connected," Devine said. "Right when I came in (in eighth grade), there was an instant connection between us all. Through all these years, it translated into high school."
Brown recalls his former middle school rivals playing much the same as they do now. Jamestown senior Rashaun Jones also teamed with Brown for the Bulldogs then. "I remember Ryan (Jones) breaking all of our presses," Brown said, "and Evan and Mason, just like they are now, they didn't miss."
Each of the five also stood out in baseball for Oweis, who formerly coached Jamestown and Lafayette's varsity baseball teams.
The Wang brothers elected to focus on basketball in high school, while Devine and Schmidt developed into two of the best baseball players in the area. Next year, Devine will pitch for St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
Schmidt, who skipped a grade in his youth and just turned 17 in January, could play college baseball if he wanted, but has elected to focus on academics. The son of College of William and Mary economics professor Martin Schmidt will attend the University of Virginia and plans to study economics and finance before law school, and expects to opt for club sports.
Schmidt joined Jamestown's varsity basketball team as a freshman while the Wangs, Ryan Jones and Devine played junior varsity for current Jamestown assistant George Piggott Jr.
"Every time we didn't have practice, we were playing together," Ryan Jones said, "going to the rec center or somewhere. It's a huge factor in why we have so much chemistry on the court."
Jamestown head coach Donovan Bridgeforth also had a front-row view in those middle school days as a teacher and assistant coach for Berkeley. He could not have predicted how good the group became because he did not know then they would be able to remain together through the middle school dispersal of students to high schools.
Bridgeforth believes his Eagles still do not always pass the "eye test" of onlookers and opposition. There are more athletic teams, with higher-level college prospects, but he said most of his Jamestown players play for no other reason than they love the game, as they did for Hornsby.
Oweis took in two Jamestown games this season, both against Smithfield, who the Eagles successfully toppled to win Bay Rivers District, Conference 18 and 4A East Region titles. He did not believe how amazing his former Hawks became, and will get to see them play one more time on Saturday in the final game of their high school careers.
"It makes you feel good," Oweis said. "You like to take credit as a coach, but they've been winning all the way up the line. It's really them. They're just really great kids. They're intelligent, and they can play ball."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.
Want to watch?
Jamestown (26-2) will meet Loudoun Valley (29-1) 8:30 p.m. Friday at VCU's Siegel Center for the Group 4A crown.