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Rocky Mount Prep basketball has a role for everyone

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Rocky Mount Prep's Trevor Batchelor, left, defends as East Carteret's Paul Dixon looks to pass Saturday during the NCHSAA 1-A state playoffs third round game at Rocky Mount Prep.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Friday, March 2, 2018

It all happened so fast. For this team, that’s how it goes.

Sam Benton wasn’t scoring. The point guard for the Rocky Mount Prep boys basketball team didn’t bother to scrounge for shot attempts. Instead, Benton focused on defense. He baited cross-court passes, and all but attatched himself to his defensive assignment

He took four shot attempts throughout the first three quarters of the Jaguars fourth-round win last Tuesday against Durham Voyager Academy. His lone point came after making the first of three free-throw attempts.

But Benton didn’t worry about contributing on offense. He didn’t have to. Not while senior teammates Kalil Baker and Keyshawn Bryant are on the floor. And they’re always on the floor — they’ve played every minute of every playoff game. In the final 3 minutes, 45 seconds of the game, however, Benton showed up and poured in seven points.

He also snatched the ball away from the Mariners, who were pushing in the final moments to make up ground on a four-point deficit, and dished a cross-court assist to Baker, who finished the play with a layup and breathing room. Benton finished with eight points and beamed postgame. He was most proud of his defense.

Because that’s what Benton, the 5-foot, 8-inch junior, does best.

“Defense is the key to playing this game,” Benton said. “And for me, that’s how I contribute most. Everyone has a role to play on this team. And the best part is that we all know who does what the best, and we stick to it.”

Trevor Batchelor, the other half of the Jaguars athletic backcourt, views his role through the same lens. Like Benton, Batchelor often defers scoring opportunities to Baker and Bryant, as each average more than 20 points per game.

But don’t be fooled by Batchelor’s seemingly passive approach to offense. He’s always looking for a crack in the defense to attack. He’s shown countless flashes of powerful drives to the basket throughout this postseason run. Jaguars coach Jolly Manning expects Batchelor to drive if he’s being defended by just one player. But Batchelor knows for this work, he can’t always be testing the teeth of the defense.

“When I see an open lane I’ll take it,” Batchelor said. “If you miss you miss, and you get back on defense. That’s the beauty of it, because someone else on this team will make that shot the next trip down.”

Batchelor missed his first three free-throw attempts of the game on Tuesday, then made his final five in the final minutes of the win. When he isn’t shooting, Batchelor is a supreme passer, making sure to get the ball into the hands of whichever teammate is open. A dish to Toyaz Solomon in the paint in the first quarter were the first points of the game for the Jaguars. Solomon, the wiry 6-foot-6 forward, first got a chance to start on this team in December.

Solomon had to improve his rebounding and defensive efforts to be a mainstay, and once he figured out how to defend and clean up errant shots under the basket, he morphed into a valuable cog.

Solomon racked up four blocks in a third-round win. Batchelor, who is the team’s third option for points, has scored in double figures in each of the Jaguars three postseason wins, including 14 points against Durham Voyager, 11 in a second-round win over East Carteret and 10 against Plymouth.

“My guys know each other and share the ball so well,” Manning said. “Most have been together since middle school, so they have a good chemistry on and off the court.”

That chemistry, or familiarity with each other’s games, has led to a 25-0 season and a spot in Saturday’s East Regional finals. The top-seeded Jaguars will play No. 3 Pamlico County (21-5), a team that beat Tarboro High in the second round.

RMP is a fun watch. Its fast-paced offense lends itself to exciting dunks and long-range, game-changing shots. Racing upcourt and catching opponents out of position is where this team shines. And while much of the spotlight and the scoring load is shouldered by both Bryant and Baker, the roles of the five starters are so clearly defined that this high-speed train never gets derailed for too long.

Benton describes it best. He knows, as the point guard, how, and through who, he should direct this offense.

“Here’s how it is,” the emotional leader of the team starts. “I run the one, Trevor can shoot and plays well off the ball moving around. Kalil does what he wants on offense, Keyshawn shows out at the right times, and Toyaz locks down under the basket.

“We know we need points to win, and we know who gets them and who does the other work so we’re in that spot. When we started the first game and figured out what each other does well, then we put it all together.”

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