By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Bluefield defeated Graham twice last season on their way to a 26-3 record and the Class AA state championship in West Virginia.
One of those meetings was ugly, the other was close. The G-Men are hoping for the latter tonight when Bluefield visits Graham Middle School. Tip-off will come after the junior varsity game, probably around 7:15 p.m.
“I have faith, last year the first game that we played was a 43-point game and the second game that was played was an 11-point game,” Graham head coach Glynn Carlock Jr. said.
Bluefield defeated the G-Men 75-32 last December, but the G-Men kept it close at home, falling the next month 64-53.
Bluefield has traditionally dominated the series, but the G-Men have beaten the Beavers twice during Buster Large’s five years at the helm at Bluefield, including 2009, and during former standout Craig Ponder’s senior season in 2012.
“In my first year we lost and we went over there one game three years ago and got beat in overtime,” Large said. “It is a great rivalry, it is a great rivalry for both communities. They are going to have a real good team this year, an outstanding team, I look forward to it being a real good high school basketball game.”
Expectations are high for both teams this season, especially for the Beavers, who are 1-0 on the season, having defeated Princeton 71-43 last Thursday. Graham is 2-1, beating Tazewell twice 69-59 and 67-44, and falling to Abingdon 70-66.
While Graham advanced to the Division 2 state quarterfinals last season, finishing with a 17-10 record after losing to Gate City, the Beavers won the school’s third state title and return all five starters for this season.
No wonder Carlock is impressed by the Beavers, but don’t discount the chances of the G-Men.
“You are looking at a team that is coming in here that I probably would say not only would be considered the best team in AA, but probably could be mentioned as the best team in the state of West Virginia in any classification,” Carlock said.
“They have only gotten deeper this year with some of the kids that have come up to help them, but I feel like we have guys that are going to step up in this locker room and is going to try to give them a challenge on Tuesday night.”
Bluefield has three all-state performers in the guard trio of Anthony Eades, Lykel Collier and Michael Yost, and a pair of all-state football performers in D.J. Edwards and former Graham performer Corey Coppola. Eades led the Beavers with 22 in the season-opening win at Princeton, while Yost added 13. There is depth as well, with the bench providing 22 points against the Tigers.
“I was very pleased with our defense,” Large said. “I thought we played one of our better defensive games we have played in the five years I have been there, we have just got to get better at some aspects of the game.”
Graham will counter with talented junior point guard Tony Hood, classmate Colby Hill, one of the top shooters in the region, and lone senior Zach Proffitt, who is much-improved on the inside.
Roman Workman is another threat in the backcourt, while the G-Men have gotten significant early contributions from Thomas Clarke, a sophomore and former home-schooled student, and freshman Nick Morgan.
Hood has led the G-Men through three games, scoring 16.3 points a contest, while Hill is averaging 16.0. Workman (9.7), Morgan (8.7) and Clarke (7.7) are also capable scorers for Graham. Four of the five have reached double digits at least once, and Morgan has been within one on two occasions.
“We have scouted them and I am sure they have scouted us,” Large said. “Without a doubt, they are going to have a fine basketball team, they went deep into the tournament last year. We are very familiar with each other, when we go to camps we normally see them. We saw them at UVa-Wise.
“They work as hard as anybody around with their program, they all do an outstanding job.”
Carlock knows very well what the G-Men must do to contend with the Beavers, who are the top-ranked Class AA team in the Mountain State, and the first key is the most obvious to every team that lines up with Bluefield.
“To me it boils down to three things, it boils down to not turning the ball over, obviously (that) is the key thing when you play them,” Carlock said. “You have got to take care of the basketball. I feel like we have ballhandlers that can do that, I think that is an obvious thing that you have to do.”
That is not all. Patience on offense and not allowing the Beavers to make its patented scoring runs will also be key to Graham hopes.
“The second thing you have to do is you cannot take quick shots, you have got to be disciplined against them and run your sets,” Carlock said. “You have got to force them to defend you in the halfcourt and not just run out and shoot layups off steals because that is what they are trying to do.
“You have got to take care of the ball, run your sets and the last thing really is for them you have to weather their spurts. They are going to score in spurts, they are going to have a lot of high energy plays and we have to not go on a long scoring drought and we have to have a spurt of our own to be able to match their intensity.”
Bluefield is known for its fullcourt, man-to-man pressure defense, which can be draining on any opponent, and the G-Men will focus on not allowing the Beavers to take them out of what they want to do.
“They are an intense ball club, they are extremely athletic, and they have a really good bunch of basketball players,” Carlock said. “We know what we are facing, but I also know that I have a pretty good locker room of guys too and we are going to prepare for them on Monday and we are going to try to give it all we have got and try to bring one home in our own gym.”
Large knows that every team is going to give Bluefield its best shot, which is part of being defending state champions.
“We have got to execute, we have got to play with a lot of emotion.” Large said. “In our situation we have just got to play every game this year, everybody has us circled on the schedule and we know that and I hope our players know that.
“We can only stress the importance of being focused for a good game and anything can happen, I just hope we are mentally prepared and mentally focused because they are capable of beating us.”
Bluefield played in front of a standing room only crowd last Thursday in the win at Princeton, and the Beavers could face a similar atmosphere at Graham.
“People are still talking about that crowd and that was almost five days ago and I look for it to be exactly like that tomorrow night,” Large said. “I will say being in some games that we have played in front of, especially in Charleston and regional finals where it is standing room only, it has helped us to prepare for that type of atmosphere.
“Believe me it is not easy playing in that type of atmosphere, you have got to be under control not only with your play, but also your mental aspect of staying focused on the game.”
While Bluefield is a veteran club with championship experience, Large is like every coach, not ever knowing for sure how his team will respond.
“That is why they tip it or kick it off every Friday night or every game night because as a coach you can do the best job you can and that is the way we have tried to approach it,” he said. “You never know how your team is going to perform or react in such a big game like that.”
It’s been three years since Graham defeated Bluefield on the hardwood, but the G-Men like their chances, having started to think about the Beavers as soon as their win over Tazewell was in the books last Friday night.
“My guys are excited, as soon as the game was over that starts to be talk,” Carlock said. “There is one thing about talking and trying to be able to get ready, but the next thing you have got to do is prepare the right way and you have actually got to execute.
“We have a got a day to prepare on Monday and that is what we are going to do.”
—Contact Brian Woodson