By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Size, physicality, toughness, in-your-face attitude, sounds a lot like Gate City football.
Except this is Gate City basketball.
“They like to push the pace, they like to play fast and they play extremely physical,” Graham head coach Glynn Carlock Jr. said. “They are a very physical ball club. That is something when you see them the play, the physicality of them, they are very physical.”
That sounds fine to Graham’s Zach Proffitt and Marshall Hawley, who will have to play the same way against the Blue Devils when the clubs meet in the Group A Division 2 state quarterfinals on Saturday at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.
“I am real excited,” Proffitt said. “We have worked real hard this season and I am just glad it finally paid off and hopefully we can shock a lot of people out there and keep going.”
“I am looking forward to it, I like playing in front of a big crowd, it is fun,” added Hawley. “We have a big group of followers and hopefully they will come and support us. I am looking forward to it.”
The winner will advance to Virginia Commonwealth’s Siegel Center in Richmond next Thursday to face either Northumberland or William Monroe in the state semifinals.
“One more game,” Proffitt said. “We just have to play like we are capable of and do all the fundamentals and what (the coaching staff) has taught us out there.”
Graham (17-9) last reached the same point two years ago, losing in the Division 3 state quarterfinals, an experience Proffitt, who played in the game, remembers well.
“It was fun, I got a taste of it and I have always wanted to go back again,” said Proffitt, who is a junior. “It was real fun.”
What stands out about Gate City (22-5) besides their aggressive style of play is 6-foot-7 Andy Arnold, who will be focus of attention for the 6-3 Proffitt and 6-1 Hawley.
“We have to play physical and box out and do all the basic fundamentals of the game and stick to it,” Proffitt said. “We have to play real physical and box out.”
Hawley added, “That is my style of game. I am looking forward to it.”
While Gate City has guards that can shoot, including Luke Ervin and Dylan Jenkins, who had 35 in the Region D title game win over Virginia High, it is the presence of Arnold inside that will require the G-Men to play bigger than they are.
“Zach and Marshall are going to have to have a great game on the boards for us,” Carlock said. “They are going to have to box out harder than they have boxed out all year, and they are capable of doing that. They are going to have to play smart, they are going to have to use their bodies because we are outsized at this position this week.”
While the Graham guards — Colby Hill, Tony Hood and Spencer Sheets — gets lots of attention for their combined 41 points a game, it is Proffitt, Hawley and freshman guard Roman Workman whose primary role is to crash the boards and do their part for the G-Men around the basket.
Hawley, who wears a brace to protect his right shoulder because of a separation that cost him his senior season on the gridiron, isn’t a big scorer, but contributes in plenty of other ways.
“We have to be real physical and box out and get as many rebounds as you can, get on the floor and take care of the basketball real well,” Hawley said. “I will score if the opportunity comes. I am kind of a meat and potatoes guy, I take care of everything else.”
He did score eight points in the G-Men’s win over George Wythe in the Region C quarterfinals.
“Marshall doesn’t score much, he does all the other things” Carlock said. “He is so valuable in so many ways because of what he brings to the table, but in the game against George Wythe when Zach got in foul trouble we had to count upon him and he was able to secure 8 or 10 points in that game.”
Proffitt gave up all the other sports to focus on basketball. He has achieved his goal and is now a two-year starter for the G-Men, scoring around 8 to 10 points a game, and nearly 10 boards a contest.
“I just love basketball, I love the game,” Proffiitt said. “It is what I have done ever since kindergarten is play basketball and I have wanted to be a starter.”
Both played key roles in Graham’s late run to get to this point. The G-Men had lost four of five, including a 19-point loss to Fort Chiswell in the Mountain Empire District semifinals, seemingly leaving the team reeling as Region C play began.
“I knew we could turn it around,” Proffitt said. “We are capable of doing whatever we want to do. We have a lot of talent out here and we have worked really hard.”
Proffitt was right. The G-Men easily dispatched of George Wythe, and then faced Grayson County — which had won the MED regular season title — in the semifinals. What a game, with Graham winning 77-75 in two overtimes.
“It was crazy out there, it was loud, it was real fun out there,” Proffitt said. “It was tight, that is what basketball is all about honestly, that is what we want to have.”
No one enjoyed it more than Hawley, who along with Sheets, are the only senior starters for the G-Men.
“It was pretty exciting, I had a lot of emotions in that game,” Hawley said. “I thought it was going to be my last game, but we pulled through so hopefully we can keep riding this out and take it all the way.”
Both Hawley and Proffitt feel like Graham’s best game is still ahead of them. Perhaps it will be Saturday.
“We just have to play the way we are capable of, we are capable of knocking any team off, we have worked really hard,” Proffitt said.
“We can be a lot better, a whole lot better, we have a lot of talent, we can do some pretty good things,” added Hawley. “We have a lot more potential obviously and I just hope we can keep up the pace and keep rolling ahead again.
“We are playing hard and have got better as the year goes on still.”
A quick look at the records might denote Gate City as the favorite with 22 wins on the season, but Hawley’s favorite team expects to finish on top.
“I don’t think of it like that,” said Hawley, with a smile. “I don’t like nobody else but us. It should be good.”
—Contact Brian Woodson