By Jeff Nations
Massanutten Military Academy postgraduate boys basketball coach Chad Myers has everything in place to put on a show for this weekend's First Bank Invitational.
A solid four-team field featuring a bit of something for everyone -- Division I athletes, local ties, a dominant home favorite -- hits the hardwood at Central High School starting with tonight's opener between South Carolina's Believe Prep and Baltimore's Mt. Zion Academy. Host MMA gets the nightcap, facing off against Philadelphia's Rise Academy in the semifinals. Saturday features a consolation game at 2 p.m., followed by the championship at 4 p.m.
It's a rare chance for the Colonels to play before a home crowd. So far this season, MMA (27-3) has played just four games in Woodstock. One of those, a 118-31 win over VMI's junior-varsity team on Nov. 1, 2012, was played at Central High School. That's where the First Bank Invitational will take place, as well, providing a larger venue for what Myers hopes will be a larger than normal crowd.
In his second year coaching MMA's postgrad program, Myers has been pleasantly surprised by increased attendance at the Colonels' sporadic home games.
"The community support has been great," Myers said. "We wanted to do it at Central because it's a little bit bigger gymnasium. Our turnout has been so much better this year, compared to last year. It's not even close."
Tonight's 6 p.m., opener features Believe Prep taking on Mt. Zion. Believe was a late substitution for Gray Military Academy, which dropped out of the tournament Tuesday after losing its standout point guard to what could be a season-ending injury.
"Believe Prep was trying to get in, and they didn't have anything this weekend so it worked out," Myers said. "It was pretty nerve-wracking for about 10 hours or so."
Myers thinks Believe, which pushed MMA to overtime in a matchup earlier this season, likely makes the field even stronger. Believe is led by point guard Shadell Millinghaus, who is currently being recruited by high-level Division programs including West Virginia and Oregon. Former New York high school state player of the year, Leroy Flood, also suits up for Believe. Flood, a one-time Rutgers commit, is now undecided.
Mt. Zion counters with a pair of Division I recruits in shooting guard Charles Taylor Jr. (verbal commit to Maryland-Baltimore County) and 6-7 forward Rodney Hawkins (verbal to St. Peter's). Mt. Zion also features a former area standout in 6-8 forward Terry Wood, who graduated from Sherando High School last year.
Rise Academy features 6-8 guard Kyle Kuzma, still only a high school junior in eligibility who already has several Division I offers, and athletic 6-7 forward Theo Brown.
All are solid programs, but the host Colonels promise to be the real show stoppers among the First Bank field. MMA features seven commitments on its roster, the latest being 6-4 guard Hunter LeVeau (NCAA Division II King College). He joins a cast including standout point guards Frank Mason (Kansas), Deandre Burnett (Miami), combo guard Q.J. Peterson (VMI), 6-5 wing Ahmad Fields (Utah), 6-10 forward Damonte Dodd (Maryland) and forward Garland Owens (Boston College).
Burnett leads the Colonels in scoring with 23 points a game. Mason is averaging 16, Fields 13 and Dodd 12 this season.
The Colonels have played all three potential opponents in the First Bank field. MMA beat Rise Academy 90-70 on Dec. 6, 2012, topped Mt. Zion 88-64 on Dec. 15, 2012, and downed Believe Prep 102-94 in overtime on Jan. 30 in Woodstock. MMA is coming off a 92-54 victory over the Naval Academy's junior-varsity team on Tuesday night.
This is the second year MMA has hosted a tournament, and Myers is hopeful that the school could possibly add more home games and tournaments next season.
"I think we would like to schedule more home games next year, maybe add another tournament as well," Myers said. "When I first got here, teams weren't easy to attract. But I think more schools are willing to come here now."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>