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Middlesex cagers to host Essex Monday

by Tom Chillemi

Senior point guard Michael Bess (right) has started the past three years and averaged 12.8 points per game a year ago.  (Photo by Tom Hardin)
The Middlesex High boys varsity basketball team has only two returning players. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that they are standouts Malcolm Ward and Michael Bess.

As co-captains, Ward and Bess will lead the 2008-09 Chargers, who opened with a 59-44 loss at Northumberland Tuesday night.

“Both have taken leadership positions seriously and gotten us off to a good start at practice,” said MHS head coach Neil Bailey, who begins his fourth year guiding the Chargers’ basketball program.

Ward, a 6-foot senior, is one of the leading returning scorers in Region A. He averaged 17.1 points per game last season. “We’re going to count on Malcolm for a lot of different things, including scoring and defending the opponents’ better players,” said Bailey.

Bess, a junior, has started at point guard since his freshman year. He averaged 12.8 points per game last season and is a tenacious floor player. “Michael is a good outside shooter and he runs the offense. He’ll be counted on to provide leadership and scoring,” said Bailey.

The Chargers lost nine seniors to graduation. Last season they finished in third place in the Tidewater District behind King William and Colonial Beach, which tied for first place. Last year’s team (6-4, 13-13) was knocked out of the Region A Division 2 Tournament in the second round by eventual state runner-up King William, which made it to state semifinals.

Middlesex defeated King William the first time the two teams played last season, but lost to the Cavs in the district and regional tournaments.

Four new seniors

The Chargers will be aided by four senior players who chose not to play their junior year. “Their presence should help us a lot,” Bailey said.

Center Michael Eades (6’4”) is a big athletic player who will help the Chargers’ inside game, said Bailey.

Forward Nigel Rich (6’1”) will be counted on to defend bigger opponents and for rebounding, said Bailey.

Guard Jake Fletcher (5’8”) will provide “energy and offensive spark,” Bailey said.

Ruffin Creekmore (6’3”) adds depth to the front line at the center position, said Bailey.

Moving up

Several players are moving up from junior varsity. Cody Hunter (6’3”), one of the top scorers and rebounders on last year’s JVs, will be on the wing. “He has the potential to be a very key contributor,” said Bailey.

Junior Matt Duke (6’2”) “plays tough inside and will give us some good minutes up front,” said Bailey.

Sophomore Davonne Bryant (5’7”) will get playing time at guard. “He’s a solid player on both ends and understands the game well, and is a tough competitor,” Bailey said.

Sophomore Shawn Lee (5’7”) “has a lot of potential and is a very quick guard,” said Bailey. “Hopefully he can give us a spark with his quickness.”

Bailey said he’ll be depending on these former JV players. “JV coaches Jason Daniel and Jerry Duke did a good job of getting them prepared for playing on the varsity.”

Junior Sean Sutherlin (5’9”) at guard “will give us depth at guard and outside shooting,” said Bailey.

Junior Markus Hammond (6’0”) brings “athletic ability and provides depth at guard,” said Bailey.

Sophomore Ryan Dixon (6’0”), a transfer form Essex, “is very athletic and has a lot of potential,” Bailey said.

Overall program

When Bailey came to MHS four years ago he implemented a comprehensive basketball program stressing fundamentals to younger players.

This season, freshmen and sophomores have been through the program from 8th grade up, noted Bailey. “We’re beginning to see the benefits to my system being in place. Younger players will take a more prominent role.”

His program is used at St. Clare Walker Middle School. “We’re taking it to the sixth grade level and starting to get building blocks in place.”

Last season Bailey had five seniors who had never played basketball at Middlesex High. “It’s hard to teach basketball in one year,” Bailey noted.

The Chargers will play man-to-man defense. “If we can rebound better and combine that with our tough defense, we should be able to improve,” said Bailey.

“I now have an intense group of players. They have the ability to execute some of the things I’ve wanted to do for the past couple of years,” he said. “I believe they’re smart enough to listen and apply it under pressure on the court.”

The Northumberland Tournament previously scheduled for this weekend has been cancelled. Instead, the Middlesex varsity and JVs will play at Northumberland on Friday, Dec. 5.
Game times are 6 p.m. for the JVs and 7:30 p.m. for the varsity.

On Monday, Dec. 8, Mid-dlesex will host Essex, “a definite favorite in the region,” which has forward John Dillie, an All-State candidate, said Bailey.

“Come out and support the team,” said Bailey. “They are a great group of guys and are excited about representing the community. They take it seriously and they want to make fans proud of Middlesex and Middlesex High School basketball.”

MHS will host Lancaster on Thursday, Dec. 11.

Bailey is assisted by coaches Jason Daniel, Amy Daniel, Mark Taylor and Marlon Parker.

posted 12.04.2008

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