By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It might still seem early in the high school basketball season, but the countdown has already begun toward the postseason.
Believe it or not, it is getting that close.
Graham (8-4) has just nine games left on the regular season slate, while the Beavers (7-1) have 14.
While the Beavers won’t play again until Tuesday against Oak Hill, the G-Men return to the court for a third time this week tonight against Mountain Empire District and Conference 39 foe Grayson County.
Graham, which had a six-game win streak snapped by the Beavers, will play its next seven games on the road. They finally return home on Feb. 5 against Richlands.
“It is going to test what you are made of,” Graham head coach Glynn Carlock Jr. said. “It is going to put you in position where you are going to see what you are made of come tournament time.
“The tournament is on the road so we have to win on the road so we will find out right now in a nice long stretch whether we can win on the road or not.”
Bluefield head coach Buster Large, a graduate of Graham, expects the G-Men to challenge for another state tournament berth, something that did happen last season.
The G-Men’s lone losses this year have come to Bluefield (7-1), Abingdon (9-6) and Carroll County (11-2).
“I am happy to get this win, Graham is going to have a fine year,” said Large, after Bluefield’s 77-54 win over the G-Men on Wednesday night. “I told Coach Carlock I feel like they will go deep into the year.
“They have got some good quality players. It is a good rivalry and good for the schools and good for the community and I think everybody would like the sportsmanship showed out here tonight.”
Meanwhile, Bluefield has the majority of its schedule left to play, beginning next week with Oak Hill and PikeView, followed by the always-competitive Mid-Atlantic Classic in Beckley. There is also the much-anticipated rematch with Greenbrier East on Feb. 7.
“We have just got to keep getting better, the next month is going to be critical,” Large said. “Everyone is working so hard, a lot of people are working hard, I am very pleased to come out of this week with two wins.”
Those wins came after a 67-52 loss to Greenbrier East last Friday, with the Beavers recording convincing decisions over Wyoming East (69-44) and the G-Men.
“That was a big motivation for us, we knew we couldn’t lose again,” Bluefield senior Anthony Eades said. “We did a good job, we came in Saturday morning and worked really hard and it paid off.
“We needed these two wins,” added Bluefield senior guard Lykel Collier. “After that loss to Greenbrier East we needed to come out and get these two big wins because we were starting to fall off, but now we have picked it back up. We knew what we needed this week to get these big wins.”
Bluefield did it without defensive stopper and all-state performer Michael Yost, who is out for at least two weeks with a badly sprained right foot.
“I am no doctor by no means, we are shooting for at least the next 10 or 12 days,” Large said. “His health is most important to him and his family.
“We will take it when he is released from the doctor and that is all we can do and just keep sending him to get that therapy every day and keep seeing him smiling because he is a great kid to have around.”
Large was pleased with how his coaching staff of Tony Webster, Don Jones and David Hubbard shuffled the lineup, inserting Jordan Ponder as a starter, but also using the bench — including Matthew Woodrum, Azir Price, Dakoda Smalls and Jordan Huckleberry — to outscore the G-Men’s reserves 14-3.
“I would also like to say that I think our coaching staff has done a really, really good job in shuffling this lineup to be able to get these two wins,” Large said. “It is a lot, not only the offense and defensive schemes that we do, but it is a lot to get everybody on the same track.
“We are just going to keep working and get better and just see what happens.”
Large was pleased with how the Beavers responded to the loss at Greenbrier East, returning to the gym for practice the next morning, and then defeated Wyoming East and Graham by a combined 48 points.
“We and the whole coaching staff feel like we have come a long way since last Friday night when we lost (Yost) one of our all-state players,” Large said. “I will say we have got to continue to work, we have got to continue to get better and it is only going to take practice.
“You can evaluate your strengths and weaknesses now and we have got to get better at our strengths and we have got to eliminate some of these weaknesses.”
Fortunately for the Beavers, point guard isn’t a weakness. No one is enjoying his final season more than Collier, who was ruled ineligible by the WVSSAC last summer, but was able to get his eligibility restored.
‘All’ Collier did on Thursday was scored 11 points and dish out 11 assists.
“I am having a lot of fun,” said Collier, with a smile.. “I get to play my senior year with my friends and enjoy my last year of playing high school basketball with them.”
—Contact Brian Woodson