ROCKINGHAM — During a recent practice, Donald Pettigrew told the Richmond Raider basketball team that the “gold status” of the program is still the standard heading into the new season
Deviating from that plan of physical, defensive-minded and smart basketball isn’t an option for the Raiders and Pettigrew, who enters his sixth season as the head coach.
After an historic season last winter, the Raiders are hoping to remain state title contenders in 2022-23.
Much of the core group of players that carried the Raiders to the fourth round of the 4A East playoffs last season, the first time in 25 years, returns this year. There are also a few new additions, but one major loss.
Paul McNeil, the reigning North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year who averaged 24.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last year, is playing his junior season with Prolific Prep in Napa Valley, Calif.
Despite losing their 5-star recruit, the Raiders’ confidence remains high and will use last season’s success as a stepping off point this winter.
Richmond won its 13th Sandhills Athletic Conference championship behind a 26-2 effort in 2021-22, which set the single-season program record for total wins and winning percentage (92.3%).
A 15-game winning streak to start the season was the best start in program history and tied Richmond’s all-time winning streak.
Returning four starters in seniors Zion Baldwin (wing) and Dakota Chavis (point guard), along with juniors Javian Drake (guard) and Jamarion Wall (shooting guard), Richmond adds a pair of junior wing transfers — Jullien Cole (Pinecrest) and Dylan Lampely (Temple Christian).
Baldwin, Chavis and Drake also return as All-SAC selections from last season, accompanied by Pettigrew who was “Coach of the Year.”
Junior David McNair (guard) and sophomore Raymond Knotts (strong forward) joined the team during the playoffs last year and will make the jump to varsity this winter.
Also joining the mix are junior Toby McInnis (power forward), sophomores Keyonta Davis (guard) and Xavier McDonald (wing) and freshman guard Jayden Hamilton.
Drake, who established himself as a scrappy player last season, returns as the leading scorer, having averaged 12.6 points per game as a sophomore.
Both Chavis and Wall, a pair of three-year starters, netted 9.5 points per game, and Baldwin added 7.5 PPG and is the returning leading rebounder (9.2 RPG).
While a sophomore at Pinecrest, Cole netted a second-best 9.3 points per game and grabbed 4.0 boards per four quarters.
Also looking to make a dent on both sides of the floor is Lampley, who was Temple Christians’s leading man last year with impressive numbers of 27.3 PPG and 13.5 RPG.
During the preseason, Pettigrew has had the Raiders fine-tune their defensive skills, adding that the offensive production will come on its own. The Raiders have also competed in several preseason scrimmages, working on different player rotations and set plays.
Facing Cleveland High School in the elite eight of last year’s playoffs, Richmond’s defensive struggles led to its elimination, something the team hasn’t forgotten moving forward.
During his stint as head coach, Pettigrew has helped reboot the program’s winning culture, something he was a part of as a player during two state runner-up campaigns in 1996 and 1997.
Maintaining that hype and buzz surrounding the team is essential this season, he added, noting the program will need the support of its fans to create an intense atmosphere in the gym.
Richmond will eye its second straight SAC championship, but will have to compete with perennially solid programs like Pinecrest and Union Pines high schools. Last season, the Raiders’ lone regular-season loss came against the second-place Patriots.
The Raiders officially begin their regular season on Friday at home against non-conference Purnell Swett High School. Opening tip is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Richmond Observer will continue its coverage of the Richmond boys’ varsity and junior basketball teams this winter. The JV Raiders will also open play on Friday against Purnell Swett, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Below is the complete 2022-23 schedule for the Raiders. Home games are bold and conference contests are marked with an asterisk.
Nov. 18 vs. Purnell Swett
Nov. 19 vs. Hillside
Nov. 22 vs. Myers Park
Nov. 23 vs. Jack Britt
Nov. 26 @ Trinity Christian
Nov. 29 vs. Northern Guilford
Nov. 30 @ Purnell Swett
Dec. 2 vs. Uwharrie Charter Academy
Dec. 9 @ Pinecrest *
Dec. 13 @ Southern Lee *
Dec. 14 @ Pine Forest
Dec. 16 Holiday Tournament, TBD
Jan. 3 vs. Hoke County *
Jan. 6 vs. Union Pines *
Jan. 10 @ Lee County *
Jan. 17 vs. Scotland *
Jan. 20 vs. Southern Lee *
Jan. 24 vs. Pinecrest *
Jan. 27 @ Hoke County *
Jan. 31 @ Union Pines *
Feb. 3 vs. Lee County *
Feb. 10 @ Scotland *