By Jeff Nations
There is real star potential for Massanutten Academy's postgraduate boys basketball team heading into Thursday's regular-season opener.
Dwayne Foreman, a 6-foot-8 forward and the lone returnee from last season's standout squad, long ago gave his verbal commitment to play next season at Rutgers. Isaac Fleming, a 6-4 combo guard with dazzling scoring skills, gave his verbal commitment to Hawaii just last month. So there's two, right off the bat, but MA coach Melvin Abrams isn't focused on his squad having just a handful of stars this season -- the first-year head coach wants a complete effort from his entire roster, and plans to get it.
Abrams, the school's athletic director, took over for former head coach Chad Myers following last season's run to the elite, invitation-only National Prep Tournament that included a No. 1 national ranking for much of the regular season. The Colonels, who lost five Division I signees and other verbal commit -- Wichita State-bound Rashard Kelly -- off last season's 30-4 squad, enter this season unranked on the national level.
Massanutten will go with a slightly different name, as well, having dropped the "Military" designation from the school name about two weeks ago and reverting to the original Massanutten Academy moniker. It's up to Abrams and his team to help make a new name for that old name, so to speak, and it starts on Thursday against Kingdom Prep (Texas) in the St. John's Midwestern Military Tip-Off Tournament. The Colonels will then face host St. John's on Friday before wrapping up the whirlwind opening weekend with a game Saturday against Quakerdale (Iowa) Prep.
Abrams thinks his team will have ample opportunity to reach the heights of the school's past two squads, which compiled a two-year mark of 58-12 under Myers.
"We hope so," Abrams said. "We think our schedule is actually a little tougher than what we played last year."
Early indications are positive for the Colonels, who put together a 4-1 record in the preseason with the lone loss a 74-51 setback to perennial national power Oak Hill Academy. In this past weekend's Mt. Zion (Md.) Prep North Vs. South Mixer in Baltimore, Massanutten picked up an 80-78 win over Believe Prep (S.C.) before coming back the next day for a 97-84 win over Mt. Zion Prep to wrap up their slate of exhibitions. Foreman (20 points) and Fleming (15) were predictably strong against Believe Prep, but the Colonels also got double-digit scoring from point guard Fateem Glenn (13) and shooting guard Raquan Brown-Johnson (13). Then against Mt. Zion on Sunday, Fleming (24 points), Brown-Johnson (20), combo guard Elijah Wilson-Thomas (16) and point guard Mauri Winfree (11) shined as the team went with a five-guard lineup for much of the game.
That was a considerably different look from the day before, when MA started a frontcourt of 6-11 center Andrew Singer, 6-8 Foreman and 6-9 power forward Prince Ricky Gouety to deal with Believe Prep's larger size.
"We're hoping to be a team that can adapt to whatever will help us be successful at that moment, whatever the challenge is," Abrams said. "As a coaching staff our goal is to have every player prepared to play in every situation."
The Colonels may not be looking to establish dominant stars, but Abrams is relying on steady play from Fleming and Foreman. He said Glenn and Brown-Johnson have been solid so far, and Singer is a Division I-caliber big man who already had some offers to play at that level before deciding to prep a year at Massanutten. The Colonels' sleeper could be 6-6 shooting guard Dimitri Sousa, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who has played overseas in Italy.
"Sousa is going to be pretty solid for us," Abrams said. "I think a lot of people don't know about him, being from Brazil, but he knows how to play and he knows how to score."
The Colonels will get a chance to show what they can do in their home gym next weekend, when they host the Massanutten Academy Tip-Off Classic (Nov. 8-Nov. 9). The four-team mixer-style format features Believe Prep taking on M.A.C.K. (N.C.) Prep in the opener before Massanutten meets Shooting 4 Greatness (N.C.) in the nightcap. In Saturday's finale, Shooting 4 Greatness faces Believe, and MA will battle M.A.C.K.
A strong start could get the Colonels moving back up the national rankings, a place they've grown accustomed to the last two years. Abrams has no problem with his team having to earn its way back this season.
"That's fine with us," Abrams said. "We don't want it any other way. The most worthwhile achievements are when you have to put forth the effort to achieve it."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>