MMA postgrad team optimistic in return to court

Massanutten Military Academy coach Chad Myers speaks to his players during practice Tuesday afternoon in Woodstock. The team will play an exhibition game today to start their season. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – When Chad Myers sat down to discuss his return to Massanutten Military Academy to coach the school’s newly reinstated boys postgraduate basketball program back in April, he joked that a national championship was his top priority.

All kidding aside, Myers hit the recruiting trail shortly after that small press conference at the Woodstock school and spent consecutive weekends in Washington, D.C., New York and Atlanta in search of the talent to build his 2016-17 roster. With nearly two months of walkthroughs, open workouts, scrimmages and practices behind them, the Colonels will begin their new season – their first since the postgrad program was terminated in 2014 – with an exhibition game at home against Middleburg Academy tonight at 6:30 p.m.

MMA’s assembly of 15 players – nearly half of which have already gathered multiple Division I college scholarship offers – has Myers and the Colonels thinking a national prep championship might not be so farfetched.

“I think we’ve gotta defend, rebound and do some stuff as a group but I think we’ve got enough pieces to compete and win a national title,” said Myers, who led MMA to back-to-back appearances in the invitation – only National Prep Championship and a No. 1 national ranking in his first two years with the Colonels from 2011-13.

“I think we have good depth so the good thing is … we have a lot of guys who could fight for minutes all throughout the year, so my challenge will be to be able to find the right guys all the time, those five guys to put on the floor and play together. But that’s a good problem to have right there.”

Massanutten's George Brown, left, of Sandusky, Ohio; MJ Melvin, center, of Fayatteville, North Carolina, and Charles Falden, right, of Richmond, work on dribbling drills during practice on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

This year’s edition of the Colonels boasts seven players with DI offers already in hand, including 6-foot-9 swingman Jamarko Pickett (Eastern High; Washington, D.C.), who said he has already drawn offers from Ole Miss, Rhode Island, Boston College, Creighton, South Carolina, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Memphis and Kansas State, to name a few.

Myers called Pickett, who is a strong shooter from the perimeter, “probably one of the most talented guys I’ve ever coached,” adding that Pickett could play both guard positions in addition to forward for the Colonels.

“We’ll let him rebound and bring it down and play the point. We’re gonna set ball screens, pick and pop. He can obviously play off ball screens with the ball in his hands, which is a hard mismatch for people because he’s also capable of going to the post and scoring,” Myers said.

“His challenge is just getting stronger. Right now he’s 6-9, probably like 195, so he’s gotta put on weight and all that stuff. But he’s got a great skill set and obviously can make plays.”

Six-foot-11 forward Kasper Christiansen, a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, can also create matchup problems on the perimeter with his unique blend of size and shooting ability.

MMA coach Chad Myers pushes 6 foot 9 inch Jamarko PIckett, of Washington, D.C., as he runs the court during practice on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Christiansen, who has received offers from James Madison and Richmond, said MMA’s strength this season should rest on the Colonels’ quickness and shooting ability beyond the 3-point arc.

“I mean we might not have a 6-10, 300-pound center but we have five guys on the court who can run really well, so we’re gonna get a lot of fast-break points and it’s gonna be fun to watch,” said Christiansen, who played for Myers at Elev8 Sports Institute in Florida last year and followed the head coach to Woodstock. “Just the fact that we can all shoot – all of us – we’re gonna be dangerous behind the arc.”

Myers said 6-3 guard Charles Falden, a Richmond native, can score from “different levels” on the court. Falden, who was named the Virginia High School League Group 5A State Player of the Year at L.C. Bird last season, opted to prep at MMA despite offers from Virginia Military Institute and Campbell.

Six-foot-8 forward Keon Queen (Washington, D.C.) – who has offers from Boston College, Towson, La Salle and Duquesne, Myers said – has drawn praise from Myers for his rebounding ability and toughness.

Myers added that Bud Mack, a 6-1 guard from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and another talented shooter, 6-3 guard Kendrick Tucker (Roanoke) and 6-7 Lithuanian-born forward Dom Sakickas each have Division I college offers as well.

Kasper Christiansen, of Copenhagen, Denmark, fires a jump shot during practice on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Myers said that while the Colonels should have no trouble scoring, their biggest challenge will be in how well they can rebound and play defense. And with so many unfamiliar faces – MMA’s roster represents eight different states and four different countries – the Colonels have had to learn to trust each other and determine what role each player will fill.

“It took a couple weeks because everybody’s new to everybody,” Falden said, “… but we finally got it together.

“We play together really well. We pass the ball. We share the ball. We’re also able to get up and down and press as well.”

All 15 of MMA’s players are getting the military school treatment for the first time, as well.

“I’m good now but like the first two weeks I wanted to go home,” Pickett said. “But everybody told me to stick with it and it would pay off.”

Myers has made sure the Colonels’ 34-game schedule, which includes a pair of home tournaments, is loaded with top competition. MMA has another exhibition game against Oak Hill Academy next Tuesday, and the Colonels’ regular season schedule includes games against Virginia prep powerhouse Hargrave Military Academy and junior-varsity squads from the University of North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and tournaments in Baltimore and St. George Island, Florida. The Colonels will also compete in the National Prep Showcase in New Haven, Connecticut in November, where they are scheduled to play local powerhouse Putnam Science Academy.

“I look forward to it every day,” Falden said of the Colonels’ tough schedule. “Every day I look at the schedule and think these guys are the top-ranked players. These are the players you play in college or you see in the NBA, so I wanna get a chance to play against them.”

“We all wanna win the national prep school championship,” Pickett said. “But everybody came here to develop their game on the court and get better as a person off the court, and get scholarships and play college basketball.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com