Chapmanville’s basketball program took a hit in the off-season with the graduation of guard Drew Williamson, the school’s all-time leading scorer.
That alone might have led people to believe that the Tigers would have a hard time defending their Class AA championship. But as the calendar flips to 2019, Chapmanville looks just as dangerous as it did a year ago.
The Tigers are off to a 7-1 start, losing only to Oak Hills, Ohio 48-46 in overtime during the Rock Holiday Classic in Windermere, Florida last week. That loss snapped a two-season, 26-game winning streak for coach Brad Napier’s club, which is still 5-0 against West Virginia schools this season and 2-0 in the Cardinal Conference.
One of Chapmanville’s earlier wins came against Fairmont Senior 49-46 in the Tigers’ own holiday tournament two weeks ago.
The Polar Bears and Tigers have met in the state finals each of the past two seasons, splitting the pair of games.
So far, the Tigers have replaced Williamson’s output with a balanced offense that features as many as six double-figure scorers. The team’s top six scorers average between 14.1 and 8.4 points per game, led by Devin Collins (14.1), Obinna Anonchili-Killen (13.3), Jordan Kish (11.5) and Andrew Shull (11.0). The others are Philip Mullins (9.3) and Brandon Elkins (8.4).
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who can score,’’ Napier said. “When you have a lot of different guys, you can be a pretty balanced team. We’ve had five different guys lead us in scoring this year and we’ve got six guys who can get 20 to 25 on a given night. We just never know where it’s going to come from.’’
Napier knew his program wasn’t going to suffer a dramatic dropoff with the loss of Williamson and four other seniors from last year’s title team, so he scheduled several tough games for the Tigers, including three at the Rock Holiday Classic and another on Jan. 19 in Charlotte, North Carolina, against Liberty Heights, which features 6-foot-6 Juwan Gary, who has committed to Alabama.
“We felt like we had a pretty good group of kids coming back,’’ Napier said, “and some talented guys, and we just wanted to challenge those kids and put them in a bunch of different situations where they had to play really good competition. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to schedule Fairmont as well. We have several kids who want to play college basketball, so we try to play against the best competition we can.’’
Of course, much of what the Tigers do on offense and defense revolves around the 6-9 Killen, a Division I prospect who has added 10-15 pounds this season and now weighs about 215. In last year’s title game win against Fairmont Senior, Killen delivered 16 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots, three assists and helped neutralize the Polar Bears’ pressure defense by bringing the ball up the floor.
Killen, a junior, isn’t the only player with good size on the roster, as Collins has sprouted three inches and now stands 6-8, while Kish and Elkins are 6-4 and Mullins 6-3.
“We’re a bigger team this year than we were a year ago,’’ Napier said.
That added dimension has helped Chapmanville survive any style of play so far. Besides edging Fairmont Senior in that low-scoring game two weeks ago, the Tigers have also outgunned Lincoln County, Kentucky 79-75 during their Florida trip and have hit 90-plus points in two other games.
“We’re better when the game’s faster,’’ Napier said. “Oak Hills sort of slowed it up on us and basically tried to limit our possessions by working the ball around. In the Fairmont game, it was a defensive struggle. The officials let the teams play and it was a struggle for both teams to score. But we prefer an up-tempo game; we think we’re better when the game’s faster.’’
One of the season’s most surprising teams so far has been Hurricane, which is off to a 7-0 start that includes wins against defending AAA champion George Washington, Greenbrier East and South Charleston.
The Redskins have leaned a lot more on 6-4 senior Joe Muto, who has come into his own offensively after averaging just 6 points per game last year, reaching double figures only five times in 24 games. Muto is now tied for second on the team with his 16.6 scoring average.
Muto has also flashed a dependable perimeter shot this season, hitting three 3-pointers so far, two of them coming in a win against Winfield. Muto didn’t have a single 3-pointer in either his sophomore or junior seasons as he played alongside older brother Nick Muto, a first-team All-Kanawha Valley talent.
“He kind of played in the shadow of his brother,’’ Hurricane coach Lance Sutherland said of Joe Muto. “But this year, he’s stepped out and is getting more confident in himself. The good thing about it is that he can do it, he can shoot that shot.’’
Joe Muto’s inside play has complemented the outside shooting of teammates Jordan Nicely (17.9 ppg, 24 3-pointers) and Austin Dearing (16.6 ppg, 13 3s).
n The Winfield at Sissonville game has been moved from Jan. 11 to Feb. 6. Also, Sissonville added a Jan. 31 game at Richwood to its schedule.
n Nicholas County’s Luke LeRose (33.0 ppg) has scored at least 29 points in all six games thus far for the Grizzlies (2-4).
n Man’s holiday break lasts an extra-long 17 days between games against Van (Dec. 21) and county rival Logan (Jan. 7).
n Ravenswood, last season’s Class A runner-up, is off to a 1-6 start. The Red Devils haven’t had a losing season since 2012-13.