New year, new Jags: RMP basketball chases down return trip to state semis
By PATRICK MASON
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
The small, intimate gymnasium at Rocky Mount Prep which acted as center stage for the Jaguars boys basketball team’s run to the state semifinals last season was bustling again.
RMP on Wednesday hosted Roanoke Rapids and battled to a 79-73 win in its home opener, as this season’s team aims to chase down lofty goals of once again reaching such a playoff stage.
“We want to go back to the state championship and do what we didn’t do last year,” senior Trevor Batchelor said.
Batchelor and fellow senior Sam Benton are back as the only two players from last season’s starting five. And it was an important group that did most of the heavy lifting on the way to a 25-1 season; the unit played the majority of the minutes each game as coach Jolly Manning didn’t dip into his bench often.
Last year’s leading-scorer, Kalil Baker (26.8 points per game) committed to play at Davidson County Community College soon after the season ended, and Keyshawn Bryant (21.7) is playing at Pitt Community College.
The other junior from last season’s team, Toyaz Solomon, transferred before his senior year at RMP. That leaves Batchelor and Benton to guide a largely untested roster, and the two said they began preparing for this opportunity as early as the next morning after the loss in the in the semifinals against Pamlico County.
“Me and Trevor had so much pain after that game,” Benton said. “We couldn’t even sleep. We got in the gym the very next morning and started working.”
Much of the focus, they said, was spent on ball-handling and being comfortable orchestrating an offense while balancing an expanded role. Both players have experience playing the point guard position, but weren’t the first or second scoring options with Baker and Bryant on the floor.
Now, Batchelor and Benton will be the top two options as they take on an increased scoring load. The two embraced the role in the Nov. 27 season opener on the road against Roanoke Rapids — a 74-62 loss — as Benton scored a team-high 20 points with Batchelor right behind at 14.
The Jaguars are also lacking the height advantage they enjoyed through much of the season with the loss of Solomon (6-foot-6), Bryant (6-5) and Baker (6-3). That means more attention has to be paid to rebounding as it will no longer be an effortless task to secure the ball.
The Jaguars had trouble rebounding consistently in the season-opening loss at Roanoke Rapids on Nov. 27, and the team has worked on rebounding as a team instead of positioning one player under the basket.
“We have to take a big step in our rebounding,” Batchelor said. “We used to have tall guys that would get it, so now we all have to instead of just one person. We have to crash in after shots because when we’re getting shots up, we want consecutive shots in a row and not just one.”
While the RMP offense averaged 85 points per game last season, the defense held opponents to an average of 60 per game. Tough, tight defense was the calling card of the Jaguars and that expects to continue.
What RMP lacks in height, it makes up for with a quick, athletic roster.
“We still pride ourselves on defense,” Benton said. “We will still fly around, smack the floor and get everyone in it.”
The Jaguars start on a three-game road stretch after Wednesday’s game, before returning home on Dec. 14 to host Northwest Halifax.