ROCKINGHAM — For the second season in a row, the Richmond Raider basketball program dominated the All-Sandhills Athletic Conference roster.
Released following the Raiders’ appearance in the 4A state championship game on Saturday, a total of six Richmond players, along with head coach Donald Pettigrew, were recognized.
Junior Paul McNeil Jr. headlined the 2022-23 roster with his third career selection, while also being named the SAC’s “Player of the Year” for the second season in a row.
Earning their second career selections were seniors Zion Baldwin and Dakota Chavis, along with junior Javian Drake. Fellow juniors Jullien Cole and Jamarion Wall rounded out Richmond’s representation with their first career nod.
Pettigrew was also named the SAC’s “Coach of the Year,” notching the recognition for the second time in two years.
Of the 16 total players chosen, Piencrest had three players named, Hoke County and Scotland each had two players selected, while Lee County, Southern Lee and Union Pines all had one player.
It was also announced prior to the state title game that McNeil Jr., Cole and Pettigrew were selected to the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association’s All-District 4 team.
McNeil Jr. made 1st Team and was named the All-District 4 “Player of the Year” for the second straight season, while Cole was named 2nd Team. Pettigrew was chosen as the All-District 4 “Coach of the Year.”
“It’s so well deserved since the guys all worked so hard. This is the first time we’ve ever had six guys make All-Conference,” Pettigrew said. “I’m proud of them for the way they came together and played as one.
“Paul is a team guy with great leadership who plays unselfishly. Ju is new here and a great shooter, he plays with a lot of tenacity on defense. Javian brings a lot of energy and has the heart of a lion and won’t back down from anyone.
“Jamarion has all the potential in the world, he can be as good as anybody in the state. He’s a team guy first who is a smart player,” Pettigrew added. “Dakota is a leader, another coach on the court, who has been with us for four years who deserves to play in college. Zion is our hustle guy who does it all and does his job no matter what’s asked of him.”
Paul McNeil Jr., junior wing
N.C. State Commit
SAC, District 4 Player of the Year
Returning to the team at the end of November after playing in California for a couple months, McNeil Jr. picked up right where he left off. He led the SAC and the 4A East in scoring with 24.0 points per game and added 599 points to his career total.
McNeil Jr. shot 53% from the field and scored 78 three-pointers, hitting 38% from beyond the arc, which was third in the 4A East. Connecting on at least five triples in a game seven times, McNeil Jr. had 18 games of 20+ points, nine games of 30+ points and tied his career-high of 41 points against Union Pines on Jan. 6.
His 8.7 rebounds per game led the Raiders and were third in the SAC, leading to 13 total double-doubles, a team-high. Other stats include 4.2 assists per game (2nd in SAC), 2.2 steals per game and he has 1,477 career points, passing the 1,000-point mark on Dec. 13.
Scoring a team-high 21 points in the 4A state championship, McNeil Jr. was named Richmond’s “Most Outstanding Player” in the game. In February, McNeil Jr. became the first Richmond basketball player to commit to a Power 5 conference.
“I’m truly blessed,” McNeil Jr. said. “Me being me and playing my game, that’s why I think I deserved these awards. I put a lot of work in and the hard work shows. It was a crazy ride and it was all about us trusting each other. The crowds were insane and we really tried to be role models for the kids.
“He means a lot to us and it’s more than just about basketball with Coach Pettigrew. He’s caring, he loves us and he puts so many hours into this. He’s been through this and brings so much knowledge, so we’re lucky to have him as our coach.”
Zion Baldwin, senior forward
2nd Career Selection
Richmond’s go-to post player, Baldwin proved effective on both ends of the floor in his third varsity season. He was the Raiders’ second highest rebounder, pulling in 7.2 rebounds per game, which was also fifth in the SAC.
Netting 7.3 points per game, Baldwin was tied for fourth on the Raiders’ depth chart. He also led the Raiders’ in field goal percentage, finding the basket 68% of the time.
Recording five double-doubles, Baldwin scored a career-high 18 points and snagged 19 boards in a win over Lee County on Jan. 10.
“It feels great knowing I could help the team and that the other coaches in the conference recognized me as one of the better players,” Baldwin said. “My biggest role this season was to be a beast in the paint and always play hard. I also had to do a lot of rebounding and give the team second-chance opportunities. I felt like I did that.
“I’m going to miss the team a lot since our bond was so close. I’m going to miss the fans a lot, too, because they brought so much energy to our games.”
Dakota Chavis, senior point guard
2nd Career Selection
A three-year varsity starter, Chavis wrapped up his career at Richmond with a series of impressive numbers. As the Raiders’ starting point guard, Chavis used a balance of cutting the lane and outside shooting to average 6.1 points per game.
Better known for his ability to facilitate Richmond’s spread offense, Chavis made it count when finding open shooters. He averaged 4.1 assists per game, just behind McNeil Jr., and was third in the SAC in that category. Chavis recorded six games of 10+ points and averaged 3.1 boards per night.
In wins over Southern Lee and Pine Forest in the second half of the season, Chavis dished out a career-high 10 assists in both games. In 22 games this winter, he had at least three assists. Adding 1.5 steals per game, Chavis was recognized at the 4A state championship with the “Outstanding Sportsmanship Award.”
“This is a good accomplishment for me and the guys,” Chavis said. “To have six guys on the team says a lot about our dedication and we have the coach of the year, which means a lot to us.
“I really enjoyed making memories with the guys. They’re like brothers to me and we’re all a family. Even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, it was a great season and we got a lot accomplished.”
Javian Drake, junior point guard
2nd Career Selection
Drake, a fan favorite known for his high intensity and showmanship on the court, rounded out his second full varsity season with a balanced stat sheet. Coming off the bench, Drake scored 10.6 points per game (third on the team) and was also third with 2.9 assists per game from the point guard position.
With his ability to drive the paint and slide past defenders, Drake was also one of Richmond’s top four three-point shooters this winter. Scoring 10+ points in 19 games, Drake had 10 games where he scored at least two triples.
He was seventh in the SAC with 35 made three-pointers, and scored a career-high 26 points in a holiday tournament loss to Knoxville Catholic, one of just three losses this season. On the boards, Drake pulled down 2.7 rebounds per game.
“It feels good to make it again, especially since I think I played better offensively last year than this year,” Drake said. “I stepped up and played a lot more defense, doing the dirty work and being a scrappy guard.
“Being the one to stop the key players, I’m proud of that. My favorite part of the season was going to states with the boys. We knew we were going, we just took it game by game.”
Jullien Cole, junior wing
1st Career Selection
Transferring from Pinecrest last summer, Cole had the biggest breakout season for the Raiders, helping solidify the Raiders’ electric offense. Netting 16.9 points per game, Cole was second on the team and fifth in the SAC in average scoring.
His 6.4 rebounds per game were third on the team and sixth in the SAC, and Cole led the conference with 2.6 steals per night. Collecting five double-doubles, Cole scored 20+ points in 12 games and had three 30+ point performances.
Cole’s biggest contribution was his three-point shooting this winter. He led the 4A East with 87 made three-pointers, averaging 2.8 triples per game. He made 42% of his shots from downtown, netting 5+ three-balls in a game seven different times.
Against Purnell Swett in the first round of the playoffs, Cole scored a career-high 38 points, including setting the program’s single-game record of 10 three-pointers.
“I thought I’d have a good season, but I never thought I’d have a season like this,” Cole said. “All of the record breaking and making it to the state championship, it feels really good to see our hard work pay off.
“We still have a lot to work on. I enjoyed winning the conference championship and it was fun when Paul came back. We really got the connection going and we won a lot of games.”
Jamarion Wall, junior shooting guard
1st Career Selection
Like Cole, Wall earned his first career postseason accolade after a worthy performance during his junior season. A three-year varsity starter since his freshman year like McNeil Jr., Wall served several different roles this past season, both in the starting five and off the bench.
Tied with Baldwin for fourth on the team with 7.3 points per game, Wall proved to be another successful perimeter shooter. He connected on 36 triples this season, third on the team and sixth in the conference.
With seven 10+ point performances and five games with at least three triples, Wall’s three biggest three-pointers of the year came in the fourth quarter of the 4A East regional championship. He scored a career-high 26 points against Lebanon over the holiday tournament.
“It honestly feels good because last year when I didn’t make it, my coaches told me I should have shown that I belonged,” Wall said. “In the beginning of the season it was rough, but I started getting in the gym more, knocking down my shots and doing the things I knew I could do.
“This season was great and the best part was that last run through the playoffs to the state championship. Everybody’s spirits were up, we were clicking and we played our best basketball.”
SAC, District 4 Coach of the Year
In his sixth season coaching his alma mater, Pettigrew put up the best numbers yet as a head coach, while continuing to trend the program in the right direction on and off the court.
Under Pettigrew’s direction, Richmond was nearly unbeatable, compiling a 28-3 overall record, the best record by the basketball team in its history and a tie for the most wins in a season by any Richmond team (2013 baseball, 2014 softball).
The Raiders also played in their fourth 4A state title game in program history, making the trip for the first time since 1997 when Pettigrew was Richmond’s starting point guard.
The Raiders won their first outright SAC title since 2003-04, sweeping conference play (14-0) for the first time in program history. Richmond took the SAC tournament title, just the second time the team has won the regular-season and tournament championships in the same season.
A program record 21-game winning streak spanned from mid December all the way through the Raiders’ 4A East regional championship win on March 4. Netting 77.5 points per game, Richmond scored over 2,000 points (2,401) for just the sixth time in program history.
Known for his big smile, intense coaching style and emphasis on defense, Pettigrew said the team is already looking forward to getting back to work.
“If it wasn’t for all of our players, I wouldn’t have been named Coach of the Year,” Pettigrew said. “It’s all about them and I appreciate them giving me a chance to be their coach. I’m blessed to be in this situation and thankful.
“Yes, most definitely. We’re ready to get back to it in three weeks,” he smiled.