Posted September 18, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Nations: MMA post-grads no longer a secret

Jeff Nations

By Jeff Nations - jnations@nvdaily.com

Chad Myers couldn't say for sure, not exactly, just how many people Massanutten Military Academy's Memorial Gymnasium might hold.

The second-year head coach for the Colonels' postgraduate boys basketball team is willing to take a stab at it -- say, 800 -- but that's really just a theoretical number, never tested by actual fans in the stands.

"Maybe," Myers said of that hypothetical capacity. "Maybe not -- maybe 600, 700. We've never really been close to where we had an issue with that. We'd like to have that as a problem."

Myers and his staff have rapidly put together a team that deserves to test those limits.

Last season, Myers' first at MMA, saw the Colonels rocket into national prominence by playing against some of the top prep school programs in the country.

The Colonels won plenty of those matchups, too, enough so to earn an invitation to the National Prep Championships in New Haven, Conn. That eight-team field featured the top prep school programs in the country, and MMA got to face the very best in the opening round. The Colonels lost a hard-fought 92-88 decision to eventual national champion Brewster (N.H.) Academy. Brewster, by the way, beat Hargrave Military Academy by double digits in the championship game.

Hargrave is where Myers first became acquainted with the prep school system, first as a player and then later during a three-year hitch as an assistant coach. Myers moved on to an assistant coaching job at Radford for a couple years before taking the MMA job last June with the intention building a program at MMA that could rival -- eventually surpass, even -- Hargrave.

"It's kind of what I know because I've been there as a player and a coach," Myers said. "So that's easy for me to model like that, but also they've been so successful. There's not many people around the country that say anything bad about their kids, their program, what they've done."

Myers is aiming for just that same reputation in Woodstock, and already he's shown a knack for recruiting top-level talent. The Colonels sent a slew of players on to college last year, including high-level Division I players Terry Brutus (Ole Miss) and Corbin Collins (LSU). This year's group already has two players orally committed to Division I programs in Damonte Dodd (Maryland) and Deandre Burnett (Miami), and most of the Colonels have multiple offers from Division I schools.

Just this week, 6-foot-7 forward Rashard Kelly (just a high school junior) got an offer from Old Dominion, highly recruited point guard Frank Mason added Boston College to his offers list, and guard Ahmad Fields is set to visit St. Joseph's this weekend after getting an offer from that school.

College coaches have been flocking to MMA, as well. Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson has been beating a path to Woodstock, while head coaches including Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh) Mark Turgeon (Maryland) and Matt Brady (JMU) have already stopped by. Tim Floyd, the former USC and Chicago Bulls head coach now at UTEP, is scheduled to visit today.

This is just what Myers had in mind back when he was coaching at Hargrave. At the time, he and then fellow assistant A.W. Hamilton marvelled at how Hargrave had managed to rise so far above most of the prep schools in the state. Hamilton is now the head coach at Hargrave, and Myers is fast becoming a dangerous rival for primacy among prep programs in Virginia.

Not that anyone has seen it -- Myers said home games last year at MMA averaged between 25 to 200 fans. The high number came during MMA's invitational tournament, when those in attendance got to see a field loaded with talent. Among them were Hargrave's 6-8 forward Montrezi Harrell (now at Louisville), guard Corey Heyward (Georgia Tech), guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (Georgia Tech, forward Charles Buggs (Minnesota) and seven-footer Andre Washington (Wake Forest). Fishburne Military had standout guard Teven Jones (Virginia).

MMA's tournament this year (Feb. 15-Feb. 16) could be just as stacked, with Fishburne's highly-touted Kuran Iverson and New Hampton (N.H.) big man Noah Vonleh among those expected to play in the six-team tournament. Another school in that tournament, Baltimore's Mt. Zion prep, features former Sherando High School standout Terry Wood.

Whether MMA's past success and promise of much more to come is enough to draw fans remains to be seen, but athletic director Melvin Abrams is optimistic.

"The word is getting out," Abrams said. "We all know that success breeds interest. We're hoping to get some more people here. We're going to try to do some things a little differently this year. We're going to try to get to some of the rec centers, invite some of the youth out, things of that nature."

Abrams credits Myers and his staff with the remarkable transformation of MMA's postgrad program from "mediocre, mid-level to upper echelon" in less than two years.
Myers remains focused on the dual goals of helping his players reach the next level -- all 14 Colonels have offers from programs at least at some level -- and winning games.

Having fans in Woodstock see it all come together would be a bonus, but one Myers and his team would welcome.

For now, plenty of good seats remain in Memorial Gymnasium. It might not be that way for long.

-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at jnations@nvdaily.com

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