New Warriors face new challenge

Published 11:01 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2008

After seven consecutive Southeastern District regular season titles, the Nansemond River High boys basketball team finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being back in the pack. Warrior coach Ed Young, who’s guided the program to a 90-17 record in his four seasons at the school, said he isn’t sandbagging, just being realistic.

“People who pick us at the top or near the top of the district are doing it because of our name,” said the coach, whose squad was 23-4 overall and 17-1 in district play last winter. “I appreciate that, but we don’t even know what kind of team we have, so how can anyone else?”

What Young does know is that his Warriors are not blessed with height, exceptional quickness or experience, but that a roster with six new players is cohesive and plays fairly hard. Nansemond River lost eight players to graduation and one to a transfer after last season.

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“We’re just a very different looking team,” said Young, who sent graduated seniors Andre Jones and Nick Wright to NCAA Division I programs and several others to lower-level college squads. “I always like to run and be aggressive and pressure other teams, but it may take a while for us to find a way to do that this season.”

Nansemond River returns no true starters, welcoming back only two players with partial time in the top five. Dion Bivens, a 6-foot junior, started six games at point guard last season and Dontrel Silver, a 5-10 junior, started three contests at the same position. Now, however, Bivens has been moved to a shooting guard position and Silver will run the point.

Sam Hughes, a 6-foot senior, will likely start in a swingman slot and 6-3 senior Derrick White and 6-4 classmate Shakor Sommers will rotate in the post. White, who’s described by Young as the team’s hardest worker, is a defensive presence, while Sommers is playing his first varsity season and only his second of high school basketball after averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds for the junior varsity last winter.

“He’s deadly on the offensive boards because he does such a good job of keeping his hands up when he gets a rebound,” Young said, lauding Sommers for not bringing the ball to the floor after snatching it out of the air. “He keeps it up and away from opponents and he’s a solid inside scorer.”

Morris Johnson, a 6-2 junior trying to get in basketball shape after football season, will get first crack at seizing the forward slot alongside White or Sommers. Young said Johnson has great athleticism but hasn’t yet figured out how to best use it.

Also vying for playing time are shooting guard Nate Nicholson, a 6-foot senior and 6-2 classmate David Long, who’s described by Young as one of the district’s top 10 athletes but still struggling with playing hard for long stretches.

Steve Skinner, the football team’s quarterback, is a senior utility player and junior forward Brandon Debblay and sophomore point guard Ashton Moore round out the roster.

“With six new kids, we have to learn what to do, how to do it and when to do it,” said Young, whose team opens the season Tuesday against district rival Great Bridge. “We’ve had to do a lot of teaching with this group and sometimes that takes away from your team’s intensity because everyone’s thinking about what to do instead of doing it instinctively.”

Asked where he’d rank the Warriors in the 10-team district, Young said he’d slot them No. 6 or 7 to start the season. But the coach thinks finishing third or fourth and therefore needing only one victory in the district tournament to reach regional play is possible.

“I believe we can be good or even real good,” Young said. “But it will be later rather than sooner.”