Prince George High School (Prince George, VA)
Classification: Class 5, Region B
2017-18 Record: 14-9

Time to RELOAD

Head Royals varsity coach, Travis Carr, had a clear specific focus heading into the offseason after this past season concluded: keep his guys in the gym together as much as possible. However, this didn’t stem from disappointment in the season’s result; the varsity squad finished 14-9 with a state tournament appearance in 2018. No, Carr found it imperative to give his players gym availability/planned sessions simply based on the fact that he knew several key roles would need to be filled this winter. The Royals lost last year’s entire starting lineup to graduation. The exit of senior veterans never comes easy for any program, obviously, but an entire new makeup of starters requires some early building up of chemistry before November arrives. As tryouts begin this week, the program can reflect on a successful past few months of time put in the gym. With daily workouts taking place each week, the Royals also made sure to include themselves in a summer league and fall team camp. Making my arrival at last week’s evening workout, it took me no time to notice how comfortable the guys appeared on the court and around each other. Both the camaraderie and skills look sharp.

Show Up, Get Better

About 20-25 players filled up the gym during last week’s session; a mix of all high school ages. The coaching staff had players split up into perimeter and post skill work on opposite ends of the court. I’m not sure if each workout provides a specific emphasis but my visit certainly seemed to focus on finishing around the basket. Along with the recognizable yellow pads used to challenge the players’ finishing ability through contact, I also saw a different type of technique used: tennis rackets. The rackets were held high in the air to contest shots at a great height; I personally just found this as an interesting tactic that more teams should look into emulating. The bigger players maintained a longer focus on finishing for most of the session while the guards also worked on drills to test reaction time and footwork, which ended with finishes at the basket. After some productive skill work, all of the guys got together and went into competitive play. Live-action shell 4v4 took place for several rounds and transitioned into 5v5 half-court battles. The players jumped into full-court runs to conclude the workout. As they huddled up, senior forward Patrick Gee ’19 made a valid point about how everyone will need to always stay ready for whenever their name gets called; he went on to stress how preparation starts now and no time for passiveness on the court can take place.

Best Adjective…

If I had to describe the Royals in one word, it’d have to be: fiery. The returners do a great job in dictating the tempo of how competitive the team’s overall approach must surface, illustrated by Gee’s statement listed above. I honestly feel they might have a chip on their shoulder due to possibly being overlooked entering this season after losing all of last year’s starters. Using their physicality at all times, I see the team exceeding expectations in how well they can potentially perform on both ends of the floor. The players collectively show great activity on the defensive end with their nonstop communication and aggression. Trapping opponents on the perimeter could undoubtedly work in certain scenarios. On the scoring end, they should work very well in offenses that revolve around ‘high-low’ and ‘pick-and-roll’ actions. Their front court mainly gives me confidence in that statement; the big guys can really dominate when they look to take over. In addition, veteran players smartly know how to operate within a “give-and-go” type of play, making entries to the post, and flashing when opposite of the ball. I found the guards’ playmaking ability most impressive. The Royals’ overall feel in playing with each other traces back to my earlier statement of the impressive camaraderie. One can tell they’ve spent a lot of time together since the end of last season.

Who to Watch:

Jeff Jackson ‘19

The lefty senior made my list of standout players from Christopher Newport University’s Fall Team Camp back in late September, when I first saw the Royals in action. Last week, he reminded me why I jotted his name down in showing his tenacious rebounding and scoring inside the paint. Jackson stands as a strong 6’7” forward who consistently uses his physical tools to an advantage and never stops giving effort on the offensive glass. He gets up off the floor pretty quickly for tip-ins/dunks and does an excellent job sealing inside for lobs and/or simple post entries. His patience in the paint leads to great scoring efficiency and I also took note of him appearing to embrace a leadership role going into his final season. Two main areas of improvement I’d like to see out of him involves using his off hand and a dependable mid-range game. If he can start his shooting from close areas near the rim and expand it out, he can become a solid pick-and-pop player at the next level to go along with his inside presence. College programs have been in contact and look forward to seeing a big senior year from Jackson.

Jajour Lambert ‘19

One of the few senior guards returning, Lambert’s intensity, confidence, and knowledge will all prove as vital for the Royals’ success in the play of their backcourt. The 5’7” floor general has a solid frame that aids in his ability to muscle his way into the lane and make plays. Defensively, I see him taking charge as one of the main anchors for the team with his motor and constant communication. One always becomes aware whenever he steps on the floor… he commands the floor in an impactful fashion. Playing as a combo guard, Lambert’s shooting prowess makes him a big three-point threat from various spots on the floor; he may hold the role as the team’s best shooter, honestly. Even with this notion, he must still acknowledge that he’ll need to play a facilitating role primarily at the next level due to his size. Creating more for others and showing a reliable left hand will make everything else fall in place for the passionate guard.

Patrick Gee ‘19

The 6’5” forward brings back a boatload of versatility to the team on both ends. Gee uses his size well in shooting a soft mid-range jumper when he has a good look, either from spotting up or fading away. His fade-away makes him near impossible to defend if a smaller player matches up on him. Gee’s vision from the top of the key also makes him an exceptional passer, especially to the post. My thoughts from earlier regarding how the ‘high-low’ action could work for the Royals mainly comes from noticing how quick Gee can make decisions and feed the ball to his open frontcourt teammates. Playing as a well-rounded athlete, he uses his gifts well to crash the glass and run the floor consistently. Likewise to Jackson, I can see Gee scoring easy off of the ‘pick-and-roll’; however, he’ll need to finish through contact at a greater rate. If he can stretch his solid shooting out to deeper range and show more of a willingness to handle the ball, I feel he has a great chance of blossoming into a stellar wing versus how he currently plays as a forward. After picking up an offer from The Apprentice School back in August, his hard work and leadership continuing into this season should draw the attention of more college coaches.

Johnny Soto ‘20

In my opinion, the crafty 6’1” combo guard has one of the best chances of blowing up as an upperclassmen in the area soon. There’s a lot to like about Soto when analyzing his solid build, IQ, and already-mature game. He seems to enjoy playing as a pass-first guard and has outstanding vision to find others under the rim or in the corner. His ‘herky jerky’ style of play with the ball helps him get paint touches at will and draw other defenders. Similar to Lambert, he doesn’t hesitate to use his voice projection to call out assignments and uplift others. He looks most comfortable with his shot when using it off the bounce but will need to work on developing a quicker spot-up release; he can look a bit unsure at times even when wide open on the wing. Returning with some key experience as one of the few underclassmen on last year’s roster, the confidence proves clear in Soto’s stride on the court. He looks more than eager to make that next jump; keep him on the radar.

Outlook

On a day in and day out basis, Carr and his coaching staff have done a superb job in holding each of the Royals accountable and making sure the players realize what type of tradition they represent when arriving to the gym. Regardless of what those may think/have to say about this team’s new look, the program’s goals remain firmly set in stone. They have big plans in mind of traveling back to the state tournament for a deeper playoff run once the spring hits. Still, there’s a long way to go until playoff time. Right now, working hard to make the team better rests in the players’ control and should remain as a big area of focus. With the ardent returners leading the way, I see nothing but positive things soon emerging for the program.

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