By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
ROCKY GAP, Va. —
The future of Bland County girls basketball filled up the gym at Rocky Gap High School on Monday night.
More than 30 young women, from the varsity and JV ranks, ran up and down the court on the first day of prep basketball practice in Virginia.
“We’re always excited for the first day,” said coach Jason Lambert, beginning his seventh year in charge of the Lady Bears.
“We’ve got the JV and the varsity girls in together tonight, just to see what we do have, (to see if we have) any new faces. Starting (Tuesday) night is when we really get to work, though. ... I think they’re ready to get going, I really do.”
Preparation for basketball season no longer begins in November, however.
Lambert said, “I think they know they’ve worked hard this summer. ... This group, we’ve worked hard all year.”
For the first year “in awhile,” he said, he took some Bland countians to a basketball camp at James Madison University. “I was hoping during the summer to get eight kids to sign up, and ended up taking 17 kids to James Madison.”
He noted, “The biggest thing I like is that we’ve matured. I could see that this summer. We were, by far, the smallest school at JMU, and we beat some bigger schools, triple-A schools from down that way. And it’s just maturity. I didn’t see us get rattled.”
“I think, with girls, you’ve got to take them out and you’ve got to let them play against better competition, and get them to where they play faster and learn to play harder.”
“You see the kids working, you see the kids growing,” he said. “We played a lot this summer. I’ve seen a lot of good things. So we’re looking forward to getting started, really.”
Playing informally in the evenings in “open gym” is a tradition in rural America, and the girls from Bland County have taken full advantage.
“We’ve been shooting quite a bit,” Lambert said. “Now that the seasons have opened up, I see a lot of girls in the gym two, three nights a week ... working on their game.”
His view of this time of the year has evolved since his younger days.
“For me as a kid, hunting season was a big thing in my family. Now, it’s the first day of basketball season,” he said. “It’s a big deal for us. With my son playing varsity, and my daughter playing varsity now, it’s a big deal for our family, so we’re excited.”
The big cities of the Commonwealth have a bigger population base from which coaches can draw, leading to more stress to gain success, but Lambert wouldn’t trade where he is for the “brighter lights.”
Lambert said, “People don’t realize that we’re fortunate to be where we’re at. It’s a tight community. Parents are supportive, they’re very supportive. The kids come in, and they know each other, and they work hard.”
He is also pleased this year that the Lady Bears have four starters back.
Amber Eaton, a four-year varsity performer, is “a heck of an athlete, one of the best athletes I’ve ever had,” Lambert said. “Amber has played ball all summer. She has worked hard. Biggest thing I see in Amber is her maturity. Over the years, she has just matured so much. By far, she will be the leader of this team.”
Three juniors return with starting experience, including post players Danielle Russo and Tori Smith and shooting guard Kristen Dillow. Lambert said about Dillow, “She had a couple of big games last year ... so we expect more of that from her this year.”
The Bland County girls will scrimmage Holston High on Nov. 20 in the Bland High gym. The regular season starts on Dec. 2, taking on Tazewell at Rocky Gap.
— Contact Tom Bone at