WOODSTOCK — Massanutten Military Academy’s postgraduate boys basketball team has reached the National Prep Championship tournament in each of head coach Chad Myers’ four nonconsecutive seasons at the school. Each time, the Colonels failed to win a game in the tournament, let alone a national title, and Myers’ recruiting efforts this offseason were meant to try to change that narrative.
MMA’s past struggles in the National Prep Championship, Myers said Monday, rested largely on the team’s lack of post depth and inability to convert high-percentage looks in key, late-season games. He’s built a roster this season that could address those problems.
“Late in the season you’ve gotta be able to rebound; you’ve gotta be able to finish in the paint, you’ve gotta get easy baskets, all those things. When we tried to recruit this year, we tried to kind of work on our size and length and post depth,” said Myers, whose team opens the 2018-19 season with a home game against Shooting 4 Greatness Academy (North Carolina) on Saturday afternoon. “I think that’s a huge thing for us. Of course, obviously we’ve gotta stay healthy, but that’s gonna be big, us getting easy baskets and not giving up easy baskets. Late in the season, people are gonna make tough shots, people are gonna play well, but can you get easy baskets and not give up easy baskets? That’s kind of been our focus.”
That’s clear from a quick glance at the roster.
The Colonels’ projected starting five of point guard Dereon Seabron (the 2018 VHSL Class 4 Player of the Year from Lake Taylor High School), shooting guard Jarren McAllister, small forward Brandon Suggs, power forward Jarvis Vaughan (a Staunton native and Robert E. Lee High School grad) and center Mahamadou Diawara goes 6-foot-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-8 and 6-10, according to MMA’s roster list. Some of the first guys off the bench — swingman Connor Withers, forward Nate Spurloc and wing Daniel Corley — are listed at 6-7, 6-8 and 6-7.
MMA’s offense, which for the past two seasons had relied more on 3-point shooting to pour in the points, has shifted accordingly and figures to be far more post-centric this season.
“We’ve gotta continue to show that we can make jump shots because that’s obviously gonna be a little bit different challenge, where I think the last two years we’ve been more of a perimeter shooting team. This year I think we’re more of attacking the basket, throw the ball inside,” Myers said. “We’re still scoring 90 points a game; it’s just kind of a different way of doing it. We’re getting to the rim; we’re playing in transition, getting fastbreaks. Instead of us shooting as many threes, we’re probably more drivers, throw it inside, attack off the dribble.”
And by all accounts, the Colonels are more unselfish with the basketball, less reliant on one or two go-to scorers than they’ve been in the past. Suggs said MMA has seven or eight players who can step into that role on any night and Diawara, the lone holdover from last year’s team, agreed that the Colonels are much deeper than they were a season ago.
McAllister added that the on-court chemistry has exceeded his expectations to this point.
“We’re not that kind of team where we’ll try to be selfish with the ball,” said McAllister, a former Virginia Tech signee who recently committed to Virginia Commonwealth University. “When we notice that somebody has an obvious advantage on our team and they’re kind of on a run, we’ll make sure we get the ball to them and make sure we put them in the best position that we can.”
Myers, who said the floor leadership of backup point guard Jeffery Armstrong has helped bolster MMA’s offense, noted that the Colonels still need to clean up their execution in some aspects of their half-court offense, namely screens, cuts and getting to certain spots on the floor. He added that the team has shown improvement in its transition defense in two exhibition games against Oak Hill Academy and Patrick Henry Community College, an area he said was a concern heading into the season.
MMA will continue to use full-court pressure defense, Myers said, and will mix in man-to-man and 2-2-1 zone looks. Myers added that the Colonels have, to this point, done well in using their size to keep the ball in front of them and force opponents to score over top of them.
Though Suggs said the team has seen progress on defense from its first exhibition game against Oak Hill to Sunday’s preseason contest against PHCC, Diawara added that the Colonels still have some steps to take on that side of the ball.
“If it’s a ball screen or something, we don’t talk to each other,” Diawara said. “We’ve just gotta work on that a little bit. If we do communicate we’re gonna be really (good).”
MMA’s 2018-19 schedule includes a trip to the National Prep Showcase (New Haven, Connecticut) in November, where the Colonels will play a pair of Connecticut schools in Woodstock Academy and St. Thomas More. Woodstock Academy, like MMA, was invited to the National Prep Championship last season, and Myers said St. Thomas More traditionally challenges for a spot in the tournament each season.
The Colonels also play two games against Fork Union Military Academy and have a neutral-site contest against Hargrave Military Academy. Myers said each of those three Virginia programs will host a two-day circuit this season, during which MMA figures to play against some top-level teams.
“It’s obvious, we have a lot of talent on our team,” said McAllister, one of a handful of Colonels who has received heavy Division I interest. “There’s still some of us still trying to find our way and find what our purpose is on the team, but I can really see us doing big things in the future if we keep playing as a team and keep working as hard as we’ve been.”