Sunday, 21 November 2021 17:32

SEASON PREVIEW: Talented Raiders shooting for conference, state titles

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Sophomores Paul McNeil (2) and Jamarion Wall (15) are two returning players looking to guide the Raiders in 2021-22. Sophomores Paul McNeil (2) and Jamarion Wall (15) are two returning players looking to guide the Raiders in 2021-22. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — Donald Pettigrew smiled when he said the hype surrounding the Richmond Senior High School boys’ basketball team is the highest he’s seen it since his playing days for the Raiders in the mid 1990s.

As Pettigrew enters his fifth season at the head of the program, a young, but talented group of players look to help fulfill the team’s aspirations of winning conference and state championships.

Richmond will officially begin its 2021-22 season on Tuesday and look to build off a second-round playoff appearance last winter. 

“The guys are ready,” Pettigrew said. “If we can play the game the right way, and trust each other, we’re going to have a really good season.

“The hype is here, and the last time it was like this was in 1996 and 1997 when we were state runner-ups,” he continued. “I tell the guys to seize the moment and enjoy it, but we know we still have a long way to go.”

Pettigrew added that the mindset of this year’s team is different, noting that the Raiders “want the challenge” of playing quality teams from across the state. 

A season ago, Richmond went 8-5 and finished third in the standings during the COVID-shortened campaign. 

Led by sophomore shooting guard Paul McNeil (6-6), who already has seven college offers, the Raiders will look to earn their first Sandhills Athletic Conference title since 2016-17. 

“We want to start by winning the conference championship and then go the whole way and win a state championship,” McNeil said. “We have a special team that’s good on offense and we’re getting better on defense.

“There are a lot of pieces on this team and we’re young,” he continued. “There’s a lot of chemistry between us and people are seeing how special we are. We are going to put in the work to reach our goals.”

This preseason, the Raiders went 4-0, including a 76-36 win over Red Springs last week. Richmond also picked up three wins in a jamboree at Southern Lee.

Of their early efforts, Pettigrew noted he’s been pleased with the Raiders playing with a lot of energy. He said the defensive aspect has been there and that Richmond functions with a “high motor” on both ends of the floor.

Over the summer, the team played 30 games, which allowed the “young team” to show “a lot of progress from last season to this season.” That rigorous offseason also helped prepare the team for a full schedule, which will be complete with non-conference games.

This season will have the Raiders playing in the newly realigned 3A/4A SAC, featuring regular opponents Hoke County, reigning champion Pinecrest and Scotland. Fresh additions are Lee County, Southern Lee and Union Pines (all 3A).

“The conference is still going to be competitive,” Pettigrew said. “Pinecrest and Hoke County are always going to be good, and some of the new teams will be a challenge.

“We will just have to play every night, one game at a time, and continue to get better as a team. Basketball is a long season, but we can compete with anybody if we hold ourselves to a high standard.”

McNeil and a host of other Raiders will try to fill the gaps left by former players Dylan Lewis, Patrick McLaughlin and Nygie Stroman. As a freshman last year, McNeil averaged 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and is the only returning All-Conference player.

Also back is fellow sophomore guard Jamarion Wall, who was third on the team in scoring last year (11.6 PPG). Currently, Wall has an offer from Shaw University.

Other returning varsity players include senior guards Xavier Collazo and Deshon Watson, and junior guard Dakota Chavis. Making the jump from junior varsity are sophomore guards J.V. Drake and Zay Hubbard, along with junior forwards Zion Baldwin and Emoni McBride.

Newcomers include senior guard Travion Dumas, and seniors Will Dawkins and Domanyck McDonald, who both will serve as a presence in the middle of the floor at center.

“Everyone knows Paul is our guy, but we want to show we have a lot of pieces to the puzzle around him,” Pettigrew explained. “Zion is our rebounder with a high motor, Will will help us with height and crashing the boards and J.V. is our scrappy alpha dog that is a tough x-factor.

“Deshon is the glue defensively and he’s ready to play after injuries have limited him,” he continued. “Jamarion has the ability to shoot and is also a high profile guy. Dakota is tough and a solid guard, and Xavier is another senior leader who does the little things that will keep us competitive.”

When asked what it will take to get the Raiders past the second round of the state playoffs, the round they’ve exited in each of the past three seasons, Pettigrew noted it all starts with how well the Raiders can control the game with their defense.

He added that the offense “is there” and that if the Raiders shoot the ball at a high clip, the points will follow. The added year of experience will be helpful and Pettigrew said the Raiders will need a little bit of luck, too.

“The team chemistry is really good and we know we have to play well together on the court,” Watson commented. “We’re a family and we know what we need to do to win games.

“As a senior, I’m going to try and do my part to help the other guys. We all lean on each other and are trying to learn as much as we can to try and win a state championship.”

The Raiders will travel to non-conference Northern Guilford High School on Tuesday to start their season. The game will begin around 7:30 p.m. following the girls’ game.

The Richmond Observer will continue its coverage of the Richmond varsity and junior varsity boys’ basketball teams this winter.

Below is the complete 2021-22 schedule for the Richmond boys’ varsity basketball team. Home games are bold and conference games are denoted with an asterisk.

Tuesday, Nov. 23 @ Northern Guilford, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 30 @ Uwharrie Charter, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 3 vs. Pine Forest, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 4 @ Jack Britt, 6 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 7 vs. Southern Lee, 7:30 p.m. *

Friday, Dec. 10 vs. Pinecrest, 7:30 p.m. *

Saturday, Dec. 11 vs. Jack Britt, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 28 - Thursday, Dec. 30 Cherokee Classic (TBD)

Tuesday, Jan. 4 @ Hoke County, 7:30 p.m. *

Friday, Jan. 7 @ Union Pines, 7:30 p.m. *

Tuesday, Jan. 11 vs. Lee County, 7:30 p.m. *

Saturday, Jan. 15 vs. Lumberton, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 18 @ Scotland, 7:30 p.m. *

Friday, Jan. 21 @  Southern Lee, 7:30 p.m. *

Tuesday, Jan. 25 @ Pinecrest, 7:30 p.m. *

Friday, Jan. 28 vs. Hoke County, 7:30 p.m. *

Tuesday, Feb. 1 vs. Union Pines, 7:30 p.m. *

Friday, Feb. 4 @ Lee County, 7:30 p.m. *

Friday, Feb. 11 vs. Scotland, 7:30 p.m. *

Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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