WOODSTOCK – Some members of Massanutten Military Academy’s postgraduate boys basketball team have struggled adjusting to the military school lifestyle to the point where the team recently lost the privilege of 24-hour cell phone availability, a luxury not generally afforded to the rest of the school’s cadets. But on the court, the Colonels have become much more comfortable.
MMA is 14-2 at the midway point of the 2016-17 season, the first in head coach Chad Myers’ second stint at the school. With just two losses so far, both of which came against teams ranked in the top 10 nationally by Next Up Recruits and Prep Circuit, the Colonels feel they’re in good position to make a run at the National Prep Championship at season’s end.
“This experience has been great so far,” said Colonels guard Charles Falden, a Richmond native and former standout at L.C. Bird High School. “At the beginning we scrimmaged Oak Hill and we lost kind of badly. But after that game it just really improved us more and ever since we’ve been playing real good.”
The Colonels have won eight straight games since dropping two contests in back-to-back days during the National Prep Showcase in New Haven, Connecticut on Nov. 19 and 20, and have scored more than 100 points in five of those games. The highlight of the run to date, Myers said, was MMA’s most recent victory, a 96-67 thumping of Wesley Christian (Kentucky) at the Chance Harmon Classic in Floyd last Friday. (Weekend snow prevented the Colonels from competing against rival Hargrave Military Academy, ranked No. 2 in the latest Next Up Recruits top 10.)
Myers called the victory a statement win considering Wesley Christian entered the contest boasting wins over Huntington Prep (West Virginia) and Mount Zion Prep (Maryland), two schools Myers referred to as a “national high school power” and “a borderline top 10 prep school” respectively.
Falden and 6-foot-11 forward Kasper Christiansen also said they considered the win over Wesley Christian to be the Colonels’ biggest of the season’s first half. Christiansen, a native of Denmark, said he was particularly pleased with the Colonels’ performance considering they were playing without fellow big men Keon Queen (who has left the school) and Dom Sakickas, and it was the team’s first game after taking three weeks off for Christmas.
“The game last Friday, we played beautiful basketball,” Christiansen said. “We passed the ball around good and found the open man every time, against a good ranked team. We beat them by 30. I guess we must’ve been doing something right.”
That ball movement, Falden said, has become one of MMA’s greatest strengths on the basketball court since the Colonels fell to Putnam Science Academy (Connecticut) — led by coveted prospect Hamidou Diallo, who has since committed to the University of Kentucky – and Commonwealth Academy (Massachusetts) in the National Prep Showcase.
In fact, Myers said the Colonels’ willingness to share the ball has helped fuel perhaps MMA’s greatest offensive attribute – their ability to shoot. The Colonels are averaging around 48 percent from the field this season and nearly 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and have hit over 20 3-pointers in at least two games. Myers said guard Bud Mack, who signed with Manhattan College in November, has made nearly 70 3-pointers already this winter.
“We can obviously make shots but I think part of that is we’ve been so unselfish all year,” Myers said. “… I was watching tape from Friday night, we had like four possessions (and) I think we made like 20 passes in one set. … That’s just how it’s kind of been all year, and it just became contagious that instead of taking a contested shot we normally make the next pass and that’s why we’re shooting the ball at such a high percentage.”
Led by Falden (20.1 points per game) and 6-foot-9 Ole Miss signee Jamarko Pickett (18 points, seven rebounds per game), the Colonels are averaging 98.1 points per game. Myers said to complement that output, MMA needs to continue to improve its rebounding and defense, adding that he has simplified the Colonels’ man-to-man concepts since the start of the season.
MMA returns to the court Tuesday night when it hosts Shenandoah University’s junior varsity squad, the first of three straight home games. The Colonels play Virginia Prep Academy on Friday before hosting Fork Union Military Academy – ranked third by Next Up Recruits – in the first of three key matchups between the two teams next Tuesday. The Colonels also have Mount Zion Prep remaining on the schedule, and Myers said MMA is planning to reschedule its postponed game against Hargrave, giving the Colonels plenty of chances to boost their postseason resume.
“For us to be really good, we’ve gotta be locked into what we’re supposed to do,” said Myers, who led MMA to two appearances in the National Prep Championship during his first two seasons at the school in 2012 and 2013. “We have a lot of guys that are talented and skilled but we have to be in the right spots and not turn the ball over.
“I think that’s just our thing is us mentally being locked in, one through 13, knowing what we’ve gotta do and get better at it every day. If we do that, I think we can beat everybody.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org