Lakeland beats Churchland

Published 9:10 pm Monday, December 23, 2019

By Matthew Hatfield


Just two days removed from an emotional win over city rival Nansemond River High School, the Lakeland Cavaliers boys’ basketball team was back in action as part of the Greyhound Tip-Off held at I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, showcasing several of the area’s top teams and players.

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Lakeland scored only one basket in the first four minutes of action against their opponent, the Churchland Truckers, yet quickly found their rhythm offensively and showed poise down the stretch to pull out a 55-52 victory.

“It was a very sluggish start, and I thought it even started in the warm-ups. I didn’t get the feel that we were sweating like we are supposed to, so I had a notion we would start off a little slow,” said Lakeland Coach Clint Wright Sr.

“I called some offenses to speed us up a little bit. Even on the defensive side, we started chasing them around more. That sped us up, sped them up and that’s the kind of game we like to play.”

Igniting the offense was his son, senior guard Clint Wright Jr., who earned Most Valuable Player honors in the showcase for the second straight year. The younger Wright bunched 18 of his game-high 23 points into the first half while converting all five of his three-point attempts on the day. His two corner 3’s late in the first half helped balloon the Cavaliers’ lead to 30-21 by intermission.

“Whatever they do, I try to adjust to how they play. My teammates set me up, allow me to shoot the ball, and I try to make the shot. I just shoot unconsciously,” Wright Jr. said. “Don’t think about it even if you miss. Keep shooting.”

Wright Jr. poured in 25 points in his previous outing against Nansemond River. Schools at the next level are taking notice of his abilities, as he holds an offer from Georgian Court, a Division II program out of Lakewood, N.J. Others at the D-II and Division I level have expressed interest, including Howard, Lafayette and Livingstone.

Coach Wright was pleased with how his team performed against a Churchland squad that last season reached the Class 4 state tournament. The Truckers nearly erased an 11-point deficit and tied the game with under two minutes to play.

“I love playing Eastern District basketball teams. They definitely bring that edge defensively with the bumps. We do see it in the Southeastern District, but not consistently for the full game like we do when we play an Eastern District team,” Wright remarked.

“Their guy (Tywon) McKenzie I think is probably the best post player in the area. You’ve got to front him and have help.”

Seniors Raymond Bellamy and Keimari Artis combined for 23 points, each scoring timely buckets in the final possessions before Wright Jr. iced it with free throws with 27.7 seconds to play.

“These guys have been in the program for about three years now. Ray, being our primary ball-handler and facilitator, has an idea of what he wants to do. Colleges have had interest in him wanting to play shooting guard, so he’s playing more off the ball,” Wright said.

“Keimari Artis is our physical finisher who does a lot of the intangibles that don’t show up in the stat book. Then Clint shoots it well, and when he’s in a zone, he’s in a zone.”

At 5-1 overall, Lakeland has a distinct chance to claim one of the top playoff seeds come February in Region 3A. There is room for improvement between now and then, though.

“We’ve got to sharpen up on defense. Last year, we were more zone-centric. This year, we play more man-to-man,” Wright Jr. said. “We’re trying to focus on rotating and help defense. Defense leads to offense.”

Lakeland puts its five-game winning streak on the line Friday against Class 6 John Champe from Northern Virginia, in the King’s Fork Holiday Classic. A win there would put them in the championship against either King’s Fork or Nansemond River.

“We’ve got eight seniors on this basketball team. A lot of things we have seen before,” Coach Wright added. “I still think we have a ways to go defensively. But I love where we are.”