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Growth Spurt: Raider hoops develop talent over summer slate

Rising sophomore point guard Javian Drake dribbles around a defender during the Raider Classic Jamboree in June.
Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — It’s been a jam-packed summer of growth for the Richmond Senior High School boys’ basketball team.

Returning to a regular summer schedule, the Raiders and fifth-year head coach Donald Pettigrew played 30 games and collected a 20-10 overall record. 

Coming off a shortened 2021 season that was impacted before and during by COVID-19, the Raiders’ focus the last two months has been to transition back into a regular routine while grooming a younger team without some of its former multi-year starters.

“It was great getting back out of the court and getting the guys the opportunity to get varsity experience,” Pettigrew said. “We’re a very young team with only a couple of seniors who had limited playing time this past year. 

“For the team as a whole, it was good to have them play together without P.J. (McLaughlin) or Nygie (Stroman), two guys who started for three years for us,” he added. “I wanted the boys to gain trust with one another and play a lot of tough competition, which was big for us.”

Opening with the Raider Classic Jamboree in early June, Richmond played in a host of tournaments all across the state. The Raiders competed in the Fred Lynch Tournament in Wilmington, going 2-1 with wins over Laney and Mount Zion Prep.

Richmond won the gold bracket championship at the East Coast Invitational Team Camp in Jacksonville at the end of June, seeing rising sophomore Javian Drake hit the game-winning basket in the title game.

One of the last tournaments Richmond played in was a live event in Winston-Salem in front of Division I college coaches from around the country. 

Rising junior Dakota Chavis (5) defends a player during the Raider Classic Jamboree on June 10. (Kyle Pillar)

Pettigrew said the rigorous schedule was a good opportunity for the Raiders to see what’s working well and what areas the team needs to improve on for the upcoming 2021-22 season.

“Our ball movement was good, and the team chemistry was really good because a lot of these guys have played together from AAU ball to high school,” Pettigrew noted. 

“We’re not a big team (in size), but we’re scrappy. The guys didn’t fold in games when we were down and overcame a lot of adversity, which is good for a young team.”

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Defensively, Pettigrew explained the Raiders are missing a traditional shot blocker like Stroman or other recent graduate Travis Thomas. One player who had a handful of blocks this summer was rising senior DeShon Watson.

Filling the holes on defense will be a focal point moving forward, but the Raiders are “getting in the right place at the right time” to slow opposing offenses and take charges.

The Raiders’ offense is its strongest asset moving into fall workouts, as a trio of rising sophomores highlight the core of the team’s offensive production. They are Drake, a point guard, and Jamarion Wall and Paul McNeil, both shooting guards.

Pettigrew was quick to also credit other players in other roles, starting with rising junior Dakota Chavis, who “is good at driving the ball and finding open shooters.” Expecting more minutes out of Chavis, Pettigrew added this summer boosted the guard’s confidence.

Fellow rising junior Zion Baldwin was “a rebounding machine” for the Raiders, something that complimented his scoring abilities. Rising senior Xavier Collazo and rising junior Emoni McBride “gave us a lot of good minutes and contributed to the team’s efforts.”

“The offense will come because we’re so talented, and a lot of guys are still finding their roles,” Pettigrew said. “Paul, Javian and Jamarion can shoot the ball at a high clip, but our offense really starts with Paul. 

“We have to seize the moment and the guys have to be ready to play at a high level,” he added. “And they are starting to do that by being in the gym all the time getting shots up. That’s a testament to them and how seriously they’re taking this program.” 

Rising sophomore Jamarion Wall (15) hits a jumper while teammate Zion Baldwin (left) boxes out for the Raiders. (Kyle Pillar)

The Raiders will take some time off before getting back in the gym this fall when school resumes, but Pettigrew expects players to continue working out on their own.

“I was so impressed with the way we believed in each other this summer,” Pettigrew closed. “As a team we came together and accomplished what we’re trying to do.

“We can compete with anybody on any given day, and these guys never quit in 30 games. They handled the summer really well and we’re looking forward to this upcoming season.”

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.