ROCKINGHAM — Donald Pettigrew didn’t win as much as he would’ve liked in his first year as head coach, but he believes there was a shift within the program that will make things “a lot better” as early as next season.
The Richmond basketball team bid farewell to one of its roughest efforts in recent memory with a five-point loss to rival Scotland in the opening round of the conference tournament Tuesday evening, marking the first time in almost a decade it finished with less than 10 overall wins and at least 10 conference losses in a season.
“Even though we finished 7-18 (overall), we started a new culture. It’s hard to make a transition like they did, but they kept believing in each other,” he said. “The guys still came to practice every day and played hard. That’s all I can ask for.”
Although there was a major change in style of play this past season, Pettigrew believes it was the chemistry, or lack thereof, that kept the Raiders from reaching the same heights as they did in previous years. They struggled to keep a consistent lineup on the floor due to injuries, illnesses, lineup changes and more.
Junior forward Xavier Pettigrew came over to Richmond after two years at Temple Christian and was the team’s main scorer in the first half of the season. After spraining his MCL at Hoke County, however, he was out for at least five weeks in total and never fully recovered from the nagging injury.
Senior forward Malik Flowers missed out on the final two games of his high-school career due to an illness; freshman guard Caleb Hood was called up from the junior varsity ranks early in the season and made a few appearances in the starting rotation; and sophomores Zarmodd Ellerbe and Quamir Sivells — who started at point guard on Tuesday — made their varsity debuts in the conference tournament after spending the regular season with the JV team.
In all, 18 players suited up for varsity this past season — 15 of them starting at least one game.
“We just didn’t have a lot of chemistry, as far as us moving the ball and knowing and trusting each other. Guys played hard and believed in what we were trying to do, we just came up short a lot,” Pettigrew explained. “We just didn’t finish.”
There were a number of positive things Pettigrew saw throughout the season that he hopes to build on moving forward. On the defensive end of the floor, the Raiders did a much better job keeping the opposing team off the scoreboard.
In 2016-17, when the Raiders ran “The System,” they gave up 88 points while averaging 100.9 per game. Though there was a huge step back in the scoring output (57.3 ppg), they improved on the amount of points they allowed (62.6 ppg).
And that’s what Pettigrew deemed most important.
“If we can’t score, we want to stop teams from scoring,” he added. “With just the improvement (I saw) every day, I think we’re going to be a whole lot better defensively next year.”
With nine guys returning and “some promising JV guys” joining the team, the Raiders are expecting to build their chemistry over the summer on an AAU squad that will be led by Ninth-Grade Academy basketball coach Tony Terry.
“We’re looking for big things next year. We’ve just got to stay focused and continue to develop over the summer,” Pettigrew said.
Richmond’s five-man senior class consisted of Flowers, Darrius Butler, Kaleb Douglas, Carl McNeal and Da’Shaun Wallace — all versatile players who played multiple positions. Wallace led the team in scoring in the final three games.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.