ROCKINGHAM — When the Richmond Senior boys basketball team tips off its season tonight against South Robeson, it will be a little shorthanded.
The Raiders will be without two starters as well as missing three key contributors from last year’s 20-7 squad which reached the third round of the 4A playoffs.
Point guard Josh Calhoun is sidelined until at least January and the start of the Southeastern Conference season while he battles back from off-season knee surgery. Forward Jordan Richardson is listed as day-to-day with a bruised kneecap. In addition, Jalen Clarke, Justin Glenn and Trey Little graduated, leaving Richmond coach David Laton with nine healthy bodies to battle the Mustangs.
“We’ll miss them and all they did,” Laton said of the departed trio. “But we have our leading scorer in Shydamion (Ellerbe) back. Jordan is also back and was the MVP in the Pinecrest tournament. We’re looking through our windshield, not the rear view mirror. We are focused on what’s in front of us.”
In addition to having two of his top scorers in Ellerbe and Richardson back, Laton is excited about the improvement of two players from last year’s squad — Jalen McDonald and Kendo Wallace. McDonald saw spot action as a reserve, while Wallace was used as a defensive spark at the top of Laton’s 1-3-1 zone defense.
“Jalen has shown the most improvement from last year and he will start at point guard,” Laton said. “Kendo is going to start as well. I think we really have a nice mix and everybody seems to know their rule and the chemistry is there.”
Last season, the Raiders started 10-0 before losing five of eight games. The team recovered with four straight wins before falling to Lumberton in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
Laton thought the team lacked focus during the lull and believes this year’s squad is better prepared to handle adversity.
“I think things like that happen to every team,” Laton said. “I think we have more depth, but we have to keep improving each week. We have to take it one game at a time, but I think this team’s chemistry is better than last year’s.”
The Richmond girls team, unlike the boys squad, will be forced to replace its top scorers. Tiara Ellerbe and Malaysia Bloomfield as well as Taylor Diggs were key cogs in last season’s 16-9 team which finished second in the league during the regular season and tournament, but lost in the first round of the state 4A playoffs.
Following the loss to North Davidson, the school’s administration decided to dismiss Nellie Harrington and promote junior varsity coach Victoria DeFrate.
The first-year coach said she plans on focusing her efforts on teaching the Raiders, “defense, defense, defense,” but knows her team needs to score as well.
DeFrate has two players — Jade Evans and Kivana Keane — to build her offense around as both led the team in scoring in a several contest last season. In addition, Kayla Ewing and Kevyna Stanback also logged key minutes last year.
“Kayla and Kevyna have really stepped up,” DeFrate said. “I think we are playing more as a team. I think that’s a positive because the other team can’t focus on just one player.
“When someone is down, there is someone else to pick her up. I think that’s good because in our scrimmages we have had people out.”
Before the season started, DeFrate had her team compose a list of individual and team goals. She was pleased to see one of the top priorities her players jotted down.
“They want to have a winning season, be competitive but they also want to work as a team,” DeFrate said. “They don’t want to have to rely on one person.
“I think if they work hard in practice and work on the little things…then big things will happen.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.