ROCKINGHAM – It’s going to be tough to match last season’s record-breaking scoring performance, but the Richmond Senior High School boys basketball team is up for the challenge.
And so is first-year head coach Donald Pettigrew. But along with the barrage of scoring, the Richmond County native hopes to implement a stronger defensive system on the hardwood. And with Pettigrew comes great expectations.
“I want to come into this position and win right away,” Pettigrew said following a practice before Thanksgiving break. “I want the team to compete for a conference championship.
“We’re still going to run an up-tempo offense,” Pettigrew added. “But we are going to change out ‘the system’ and move to a more traditional style of play.”
Pettigrew’s position as head coach may be new, but he’s a familiar face around the Raiders locker room. He’s a former Raiders player who played from 1994 to 1997, and was a member of two state championship runner-up teams (1996, 1997).
Having spent the last 16 years as an assistant coach under former coaches David Laton (2009-2017) and David May (2001-2008), Pettigrew also has conference championship coaching experience, as he led the Raiders’ junior varsity team to three titles and two undefeated seasons. He also has coached several of his current players in Amateur Athletic Union ball.
Pettigrew was named the varsity head coach in June following Laton’s resignation upon retirement.
Last season, the Raiders led the nation in scoring under Laton, as they averaged 100.9 points per game, which was 2.9 more points per game than second place South Bronx Prep (Bronx, N.Y.).
Scoring over the century mark in 16 of 25 regular season games, Richmond netted 2,724 total points to go 19-6, and peaked a season-best 141 points in its second meeting against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponent Purnell Swett High School.
They finished the 2016-17 season 20-7 after being eliminated from the 4A state playoffs in a 108-88 loss to David W. Butler High School in the second round.
Though the Raiders were ranked 31st in the nation in field goals made (992) and 36th in three-pointers made (280), they didn’t put on a strong defensive showing. Despite consistently racking up over 100 points a game, Richmond allowed an average of 88 points per contest, and is a stat that Pettigrew hopes to see dwindle as the season gets underway.
“We practice defense an hour each practice,” Pettigrew noted. “It may not be the most fun, but I want our players to be just as good defensively as they are offensively.
“We’ll be playing more man-on-man defense,” Pettigrew added. “And with that, we’ll get better defensively. The guys just have to come out and grind.”
The Raiders are returning five players from last year’s squad, which include seniors Darius Butler, Malik Flowers, Carl McNeal, Da’Shaun Wallace and junior Roderick Newton.
Richmond lost its top scorers due to graduation in Leon Zeigler (16.5 PPG), Tone Diggs (14.3 PPG) and CJ McDaniel (12.6 PPG). Of those returning, Flowers led all players with 8.6 PPG as a junior.
According to Pettigrew, Butler will be the team’s starting point guard. He is also expecting big things from Wallace, calling him this year’s “x-factor” coming off the bench. Pettigrew views Wallace capable of playing several positions due to his speed, agility and ball-handling skills.
Other notables who are new to the team this year are juniors Xavier Pettigrew, Malik Stanback and Bobby Terry, as well as sophomore center Jarvis Tillman, whose height is something that Pettigrew hopes to use to Richmond’s advantage.
Xavier Pettigrew, who is the son of the head coach, transferred from Temple Christian School. Pettigrew noted that all of his new additions bring speed, strength and high levels of basketball I.Q. to the team. He also said that Stanback may be the “best shooter” on the team.
As the season opener approaches, Pettigrew said his team is still working diligently to improve on fundamentals on both sides of the ball.
“In practice, we’re working on the basics like shooting drills,” Pettigrew said. “I’m trying to teach my players to contest every shot (on defense).
“I’m trying to mold these kids into basketball players,” he continued. “They need to learn how to run sets, build their I.Q. and need to continue to get in better shape through conditioning.”
It comes as no surprise that Pettigrew expects his team to win, and wants his team to win the inaugural SAC championship. Last season, Richmond finished 7-3 in conference play, which was good enough to tie Pinecrest High School for second place. Hoke County High School took the regular season title with a 9-1 conference record, and Pettigrew has explained to his team that this year belongs to them.
“I’m looking forward most to see how the guys compete,” Pettigrew said. “I want to see how we come together as the season progresses, and I hope the guys buy into my (new) system.
“We just need to be ready to play every game,” Pettigrew concluded. “Hoke is a good school with a great coach. But for us, we have to be focused and tuned in for all 32 minutes of the game.”
The Raiders are set to begin the season Wednesday on the road at Fairmont High School in Robeson County at 4:30 p.m. The following week, Richmond will play three games, two of which are against SAC opponents Purnell Swett (December 5, 7:30 p.m.) and Pinecrest (December 8, 7:30 p.m.). The RO will provide coverage all season long.