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Published 8:10 pm Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nansemond River’s Jamal Cannon drives to the basket in NR’s scrimmage Wednesday evening. The Warriors finished fourth in the district and upset Beach District champ Landstown in the first round of the Eastern Region Tournament last season.

Warriors seeking return to high standard

By most high school hoop standards, the last two seasons for the Nansemond River Warriors would be excellent campaigns.

The Warriors have averaged 16 wins a season and reached the last eight of the Eastern Region Tournament last season, upsetting Beach District No. 1 Landstown in a dramatic first-round victory.

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The Warriors and head coach Ed Young set higher goals though and want to return to the time of seven straight Southeastern District championships.

The Warriors who peaked in the final few games of last season were an odd mix. There were a lot of newcomers, even in the team’s six seniors, meaning this year’s squad is largely new to the varsity level again.

“We have only six returning players from last year and one full-time starter,” said Young. “Everyone else played in certain roles last season. Now they’re going to have to step up and we’ll have to have others step up into those roles.”

Nansemond River must make up quite a bit of its scoring from a season ago. Shooting guard Brian Clarke, 6-foot-2 center Morris Johnson and reserve sharpshooter Kerrington Harris totaled 39 points per game. In all, nine letter winners have been lost.

“Some kids are going to have to step right into key roles, kids who weren’t even JV starters,” Young said.

“Our standards don’t change,” Young said. That goes from day-in, day-out practices to season-long goals.

“We have to have the goal of getting consistently better each day, whether it’s a game or practice,” Young said.

Ashton Moore was the second-team All-Southeastern District point guard last season. The Warriors will need even more from Moore as he’s the only returning starter.

“He has the chance to be the district player of the year. That’s how good he can be,” Young said.

Moore’s backcourt running mate, and with how the Warriors usually like to play “running” is literal, will be Dontrell Bright, who’s transferred from Grassfield.

Bright has the ability to play the point, perhaps freeing up Moore to look for his own attacking and shooting more often. Young compares Bright, or at least his potential, to one of the best point guards he’s coached.

“He might be the best we’ve had here since Vaughn Wilson,” Young said. By leading NR’s intense full-court defense and plenty of red-hot shooting nights, Wilson quarterbacked the Warriors to four of their seven district titles.

The rest of the starting lineup is still to be determined in the last few practices before opening up against Lakeland on Friday.

Center John Joyce and forward Mike Copeland are the returners in the frontcourt. Both saw significant playing time last season as sophomores. Joyce tops the Warrior roster at 6-foot-4.

Jamal Cannon, Shannon Evans and Eryck Robinson add athleticism to the wing positions. Cannon and Robinson were defensive specialists last season. They certainly are in Young’s group of role players who will have larger roles after a season’s learning experiences.

Evans, a junior, became an important scorer off the bench late in the season.

“He has the potential to be a double-figure scorer for us,” Young said.

“There are probably six or seven teams that can make a case to win the district,” Young said. “It’s going to be wide open and competitive every night. I think we’ll see close games, overtime games and buzzer beaters most nights. The district will be close. We have to figure out a way to be in the mix.”