Colonels continue making noise on the postgrad hoops scene

Massanutten Military Academy's Tyrese Martin floats through the lane to score during first half action Wednesday night against Beckley Prep Academy in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Massanutten Military Academy guard Tyrese Martin believes the Colonels’ postgraduate basketball team has yet to reach its full potential on the court this winter, a line of thinking point guard Rasir Bolton strongly agrees with. That could be a frightening proposition for MMA’s opponents over the second half of the season.

The Colonels marched into the holiday break with a sparkling 14-1 record and have since built that mark to 16-1 with wins over Hargrave Military Academy and Beckley Prep (West Virginia) after returning to action last weekend, setting themselves up with another strong case for a return to the National Prep Championship tournament in March.

“It’s fun just to see what we can really be,” Bolton said on Thursday afternoon, “just thinking about it and working every day to get it, because once we finally get it, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

MMA has already been on a thrill ride through the first half of the season while picking up wins over Northfield Mount Hermon (Massachussetts) and Hargrave, two National Prep Championship mainstays and teams – like the Colonels – ranked in the top 10 nationally by Prep Circuit. The Colonels’ lone blemish has been a 79-61 loss to Putnam Science Academy (Connecticut) in Baltimore on Dec. 8.

“It’s obviously a great start for us,” said head coach Chad Myers, whose team has won five straight after Wednesday night’s 99-69 drubbing of Beckley Prep at home. “One of the good things is I think we’ve played multiple teams already this season that have a chance to go to the national tournament. … When we talk about winning the national title and making a run at the end of the year, when you have those wins over top teams you get a chance to have a little bit better seed. And we still have four or five more coming up on the rest of the schedule but I think in the first half we’ve done pretty good against the top teams in the country.”

MMA's Gus Okafor goes up for a dunk over Beckley Prep Academy's Jonny Bowers during first half action Wednesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Colonels, who boast four starters averaging double figures, can score and are doing so at a rate of 91.2 points per game. But it was MMA’s defense that Myers mentioned first when asked why the program is on pace to make its fourth national championship tournament appearance in his four years at the helm.

MMA is holding opponents to 69.3 points per game and has allowed 80 or more points only three times in 17 contests. Myers said the Colonels’ length – they start four players 6-foot-6 or taller – has been a valuable asset on the defensive end, and they’ve shown the ability to guard multiple positions.

And most importantly, the Colonels have bought into the importance of team defense.

“As a team we really focus on if you’re not defending, you’re kind of the oddball on the floor,” Bolton said. “If you’re not playing defense they kind of look at you like, ‘Come on, get it together, get your stuff right.’ As long as you play defense you’ll be fine because we can run, everybody can score and we share the ball.”

Bolton, who scored 36 points in last Saturday’s 97-85 win over Hargrave and hung 40 points on S4G Academy on Dec. 11, is averaging 21 points and four assists per game while “taking control” of the team from a leadership perspective, Myers said.

MMA's Mekhi Long goes up to score during first half action in Wednesday night's game against Beckley Prep Academy. Rich Cooley/Daily

Martin, who had 27 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks on Wednesday even while sitting out most of the second half of the blowout, is averaging 14 points and six rebounds per contest. Forward Mekhi Long is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds and 6-foot-10 center Mahamadou Diawara is scoring 11 points and pulling down six rebounds per game.

“I don’t know if one’s Batman and one’s Robin,” Myers said of the duo of Bolton and Martin, “but (Martin’s) been really good too at times at kind of taking control. I think those two guys, their effort and their trying to lead … it allows some of the young guys like Mo (Diawara) and Mekhi, that are really, really talented but they’re younger, to kind of just fall in and be role guys. I think that’s kind of where we’ve learned where to get the ball and when’s a good shot at the time, as well.”

The Colonels have scored 100 or more points six times.

“You go to play against a team, they’ve got one or two guys that are gonna be the go-to guys, put the most points on the board, but with this team we’ve got six, seven guys,” Martin said. “Anybody can go out and get 20 (points). It’s hard for teams to stop us. They could stop one person and the next person’s gonna step up and get 20, easy.”

MMA returns to action on Saturday with a trip to Roanoke to take on Mountain Mission and is nearing a stretch of four key games in nine days that begins with a contest against Miller School in Virginia Beach on Jan. 20. The Colonels host Fork Union Military Academy – another top-10 squad – in the first of two regular-season matchups on Jan. 25, travel to D.C. to face Mount Zion Prep on Jan. 27 and take on a Westtown School team led by Duke signee Cam Reddish, one of the top prospects in the 2018 class, in Pennsylvania on Jan. 28.

MMA's Rasir Bolton goes up to score during second half action Wednesday night against Beckley Prep Academy. Rich Cooley/Daily

The invitation-only National Prep Championship, which unofficially crowns the postgrad national champ, is scheduled for March 7.

“We just have to have no distractions and be locked in every day,” Martin said of the Colonels’ pursuit of the program’s first national title. “Whether it’s practice or weight room or study hall, we just gotta be locked in still because any distractions are gonna take us off from that goal right there.”

MMA's Gus Okafor goes up for jam during first half action Wednesday night against Beckley Prep Academy. Rich Cooley/Daily

MMA's Gus Okafor goes up inside to score with his left hand during second half action Wednesday night against Beckley Prep Academy in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

MMA's Mahamadou Diawara hangs on after a dunk during first half action against Beckley Prep Academy in Woodstock Wednesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily