By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- The bar is set high for Massanutten Military Academy's postgraduate men's basketball team, and that's just where first-year coach Melvin Abrams wants it.
Abrams, MMA's athletic director, took over the postgraduate program after Chad Myers stepped down following last season after two years leading the Colonels to spectacular success at the national level. Abrams is tasked with keeping the program at level or even exceeding it. It won't be easy -- only one player, forward D.J. Foreman, returns from last season's squad that held the No. 1 national ranking for much of the season and reached the prestigious invitational-only National Prep Championship in New Haven, Conn. The Colonels were the top seeds in that eight-team field last year, but lost to No. 8 Notre Dame Prep (Mass.) in overtime in the quarterfinals to end their season with a 30-4 record.
"When you look at what we accomplished last year, it's no secret that standards have changed and the bar is pretty high," Abrams said. "I think we have a challenge ahead of us. We have a lot of guys who are new to this level of basketball."
Foreman is the exception, and Abrams will lean on the Rutgers-bound forward to provide leadership both on and off the court. Foreman, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Spring Valley, N.Y., is entering his third season at MMA and is a postgraduate player this year.
Among the extensive group of newcomers is 6-11 center Ryan Singer from Littleton, Colo. Singer, who drew plenty of interest as a high school player at Littleton's Heritage High School, decided he wanted the extra year a postgraduate program provides to improve his game and possibly his options.
"I had offers. Whether or not they were right for me or not, it's my decision and my parents' decision," Singer said. "We saw Massanutten as an opportunity to get an extra year to get bigger and stronger, and get more play and hopefully bring in more looks from college."
"... I found out about Massanutten because of the reputation. Obviously, it's a great basketball program and they did very well last year and drew a bunch of attraction."
Abrams is also expecting big things from 6-4 combo guard Issac Fleming, who already has offers from Hawaii and High Point, among others, and continues to garner plenty of interest during MMA's open workouts. Abrams thinks the Bear, Del., resident has a chance to join the impressive list of recent MMA standout guards including Frank Mason Jr. (now at Kansas), Deandre Burnett (Miami) and Corban Collins (LSU).
Beyond that trio of Foreman, Singer and Fleming, the Colonels feature a roster of players aiming to raise their stock and a few interesting prospects for the future.
Among the first group are a pair of teammates from Philadelphia's Martin Luther King High School, 5-9 point guard Fateem Glenn and 6-4 swingman Raquan Brown-Johnson. Glenn, although a bit undersized, could have a real impact for MMA this season after a stellar high school career in Philadelphia, and Brown-Johnson is also gaining interest since coming to Woodstock.
"He's very quick, very explosive for his size, pretty athletic," Abrams said of Glenn. "He's a traditional Philly kid -- tough, feisty. I think he has the potential to be a low- to mid-major type guard, depending on the situation."
Shooting guard Dmitri Sousa has plenty of size at 6-6, and already has the most varied basketball experience on the roster. Sousa played club basketball in his native Brazil, but spent the last four seasons playing on an under-19 team in Italy as part of a professional development program. Sousa, who is spending his first year in the United States, is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Adonis, who played in Greece before coming to the U.S. to play in college. Sousa could have stayed in Italy and gone pro once he turned 19, but instead decided to change continents.
"I was playing in Italy, but European and American basketball is a lot different," Sousa said. "There it's like more tactics and technique -- we didn't have as much athleticism as here. But I think I'm doing good and getting used to this kind of basketball."
Like most of his teammates, the military school experience he's gaining at MMA is a first for Sousa.
"I was expecting worse," Sousa said. "I thought it would be like, really military. It's tough because you've got to do everything right, but its not something impossible. You can handle it. I'm still getting used to it, but I think in a couple of months everything is going to go great."
Other postgrads on the roster this season include combo guard Elijah De'Shar Wilson-Thomas from Goldsboro, N.C.; point guard Mauri Winfree from Bowie, Md.; and shooting guard Christian Hansen from Osbourn Park High School in Manassas.
Abrams, who played professionally overseas for seven years, put his contacts to good work in connecting with Sousa and two front-court prospects from the Ivory Coast, 6-8 forward Diomande Moussa and 6-9 forward Prince Ricky Gouety. Both Moussa and Gouety are just juniors, and could possibly be part of MMA's program for three years. That prospect is exciting to Abrams, who hopes to build in a bit more continuity at MMA.
"Most of these guys, with the exception of Foreman, came here to attract interest and they're kind of letting that interest come, and sorting through and kind of enjoying the ride," Abrams said. "Probably a little later on during the season that will start firming up."
The Colonels once again face a national-caliber schedule, starting with a three-game postgrad tournament in Delafield, Wis., where they'll face Mid-West Prep Academy, St. John's NW Military Academy and Quakerdale Prep Academy to open the regular season in late October. The Colonels will host three tournaments this season, plus feature home games against rivals Fork Union Military Academy and Fishburne Military School, and will play again in the National Prep Showcase in New Haven, Conn., in hopes of preparing for a return to the season-ending National Prep Championship. Despite the challenges of putting together virtually an entirely new team, Abrams thinks the Colonels have a chance to continue their recent run of success.
"For the most part, we've tried to put together a schedule that every night we've got to bring it," Abrams said. "Scared money don't make no money."
Singer said the team is quickly coming together, and he's excited to see how MMA stacks up with other top national programs this season.
"We're here to do the best we can," Singer said. "Everyone's goal is to win the national championship."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>. Follow on Twitter @J_NationsNVD