The authority for sports coverage in the Fredericksburg region.

RSS feed of this blog

Prep Boys Basketball: Knights thrive with a new mix




Alan Courtney (15) and other veteran Spotsylvania players are meshing with the younger Knights to form a competitive team. The Knights travel to Culpeper tonight. (Suzanne Carr Rossi / The Free Lance-Star)

There were many low points in the 2011–12 season for the Spotsylvania High School boys basketball team.

Head coach Len Carlson would like to forget a confrontation that led to a multiple-game suspension for one of his players.

Senior point guard L.J. Durante said watching Fredericksburg Christian School top the 100-point mark in an early-season setback left him in a foul mood.

“That had never happened to me before,” Durante said. “That just put the stake in us. It just killed us.”

The Knights went on to lose all 22 of their games last season. But while the varsity team suffered, the junior varsity squad was thriving.

The younger Knights finished 15–2 and reached the Battlefield District championship game before a hard-fought loss to King George.

It was all part of the plan for Carlson. He wanted the JV to grow together, experience success and bring a winning attitude to the varsity team.

It’s worked so far. The Knights (9–8, 5–5 Battlefield) aren’t a juggernaut, but they’ve shown steady improvement and appear to be a team on the rise heading into their district contest at first-place Culpeper tonight.

“I would not be surprised at all if that’s the type of team that would have the 3–0 run to win the district tournament because they’re still maturing as the season goes along,” Culpeper head coach James Thompson said. “They’re really not plateauing, so they’re probably the most dangerous team.”

Spotsylvania has defeated second-place Chancellor this season, and they took the Blue Devils to overtime in a 90–82 loss last month.

The Knights have received a boost from four of the JV players from a year ago, including starting center Bradley Anderson and starting guard Darius Carter.

Holdovers Durante and Alan Courtney have also been standout performers.

Durante said last season was miserable after Spotsylvania lost its first five games. He said the players stopped talking to each other and working together. He said there were almost a few fights at practice and “it was just no chemistry altogether.”

Darius Carter (20) is one of the younger Knights players who are contributing in their first season of varsity play. (Suzanne Carr Rossi / The Free Lance-Star)

Durante looked at the JV team and saw no such problems. He said Spotsylvania has been associated with losing because of the struggles of its athletic programs, but that wasn’t the case with that group.

“They had the attitude that they’re winners and they go to Spotsy,” Durante said. “I think it was just that attitude that I was envious of. I had that same attitude, but it was only a few people that had that attitude last year. You have to have a whole team of that to be successful.”

The right mix is starting to come together.

Carlson said it wasn’t an easy decision to keep Anderson, Carter, Bilal Marlowe and Jon Hall on JV.

But Carlson was an assistant before he became the head coach last season. So he knew the program was losing seven seniors and there was no depth behind that group.

However, with Anderson and Carter he saw building blocks, so he figured a successful JV season could change the culture of the program.

He sold the plan to Principal Russ Davis, but many parents weren’t buying in as they watched the team lose game after game.

“It was not pretty,” Carlson said. “I tried to stay connected with the parents about the rebuilding of the program but that’s hard to hear when your kid is playing varsity and you’re going, ‘I don’t want to hear about rebuilding. My kid’s playing varsity right now. We need to be winning now.’ It wasn’t like we weren’t trying to win. We just weren’t successful at what we were doing.”

Thompson said he used a similar plan of JV success to develop his program. The Blue Devils finished 0–23 when Eastern View opened in the 2008–09 season. Many of Thompson’s players from the squad that won the Cedar Run District championship the year before transferred to Eastern View.

“That’s a great move, I think, because if they had brought those kids up, would they still have finished sixth, seventh or eighth in the district?” Thompson said. “That’s how you’ve got to look at it as a head coach. It helps if you’ve got an administrator that will enable you to teach more and you don’t have to worry about, ‘I’ve got to win some games or they’re going to fire me.’”

Anderson said the plan has given the Knights the chemistry and the confidence they need to position themselves for success this year and next season, as well. Durante is Spotsylvania’s only senior starter.

“When we came up from JV we told ourselves, ‘We’re going to make this thing turn around,’” Anderson said. “We wanted to give Spotsylvania a different name, so it wouldn’t be all about Spotsylvania as a losing team.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526