Sports

Halifax County High School’s Davon Jennings (23) leaps past a defender as he sails to the basket for an attempted dunk during last season’s Class 4 state quarterfinal game. Jennings played significant minutes for last year’s squad and will be a major contributor on this season’s team.

The Halifax County High School boys basketball team has back-to-back regional championships and two trips to the Virginia High School League state tournament under their belt as they head into the 2021 campaign.

With a majority of their regional championship team from last season returning, the Comets and head coach Sterling Williams will be looking to continue the streak.

The Comets have been back on the court for two weeks now, and hope to start their regular season games this week, but with over nine months off of the court, they are having to compact those nine months of missed work into a few weeks.

“We are so far behind, but we have everyone here that should be here,” Williams said before a recent practice at the high school.

“This has really been a challenge to me as a coach personally, because normally we would put in our offensive sets in the spring and summer and it keeps guys active and keeps them working on their game, with the thought of which position they are going to play so we tailor their skills to that position,” he added.

That is where the missed time comes into play for the Comets, and most every high school basketball team in the state. There is little offseason for Williams’ team as they spend their offseason fine tuning things and preparing for the next season. With COVID-19 not allowing anyone inside of the school until recently, they are trying to make sure they are prepared as they can be heading into the season.

“Once you get into the season we focus strictly on defense, just because that is what is going to get us wins and help us keep games close when we are having bad offensive nights, but these last couple of weeks have just been kind of crazy because we are having to do offensive plays and putting those in when normally they would already be in by now,” Williams said. “We are having to split time between what we do defensively, offensively and conditioning,” he added.

Conditioning also has been an issue with the Comets and other teams around the state. The offseason workouts, conditioning sessions and other things that teams are used to doing were not allowed. A lot of the players were unable to do anything related to basketball until recently, so a lot of the players are having to get back into game shape, which isn’t something that happens overnight.

“We are almost having to rebuild our culture because they had eight months off, so we are trying to get them back acclimated to doing what we do,” Williams said.

When speaking about conditioning issues, and other things that seem to have Williams trying to figure out how to work it all in in such a short amount of time, he realized recently that the entire region and state are going through the same issues.

“We had a college coach come in recently, and I didn’t think we looked as well as we had been looking up until his arrival and he reminded me that everyone in the region is going to be looking the same way, everyone is out of shape,” Williams said.

It isn’t just conditioning either for Williams and other coaches. He mentioned that he has spoken to other coaches in the region and they are having to deal with getting players eligible and adjusting to playing without players that did not return for this season. Halifax has three underclassmen from last year’s team that did not return for the 2021 season.

“It hurt everybody (players not returning) because kids found other outlets or started working and they are pursuing those things other than basketball,” Williams said.

Williams and his staff also have brought in freshman players to practice with the varsity team recently, and he said that the choice was for several reasons.

“We are graduating so many players this year that these guys (younger players) are going to have to play for us next year, and we see their potential so we wanted to get them in here,” Williams said. He also mentioned that with three seniors that are not playing this year that he wanted those younger guys up with the varsity team.

The two freshman that he has practicing with the varsity team are Kanya Caddle and Josh Miller. “We wanted to get those guys up here and playing against bigger and faster guys. We don’t know what the JV season will hold and how many games they will have, and we also wanted to get them acclimated to the speed of the game so that they will be prepared for their season and for next season,” Williams mentioned.

Whether Miller and Caddle play JV or varsity this year is still undetermined, but Williams knows that even if they don’t play varsity this year, they will have to play on varsity next year.

As for expectations for the season, and what he wants to see from his team, Williams says that hard work and fun are the main things he is looking for.

“We just want to see the guys playing hard and having fun playing the game they love. That is the main thing for us,” Williams said.

He also mentioned that because of the lack of preparation time, he wants to see the team be able to make adjustments on the fly. Normally the team would have all of their offensive and defensive sets put in and ready to go, but since that isn’t the case this year, they will have to make adjustments often. “We are going to have to make those adjustments between quarters, timeouts and games,” he said.

With an abbreviated season approaching, and the margin for error slim, the Comets know that every minute of every game is important. Williams believes once the games get started, that mentality will set in for his players. The reigning Region 4D champions have a lot to look forward to in the 2021 season, and Williams believes they will have a chance to do some good things.

“We have some good players that can do some good things and they are going to have to understand their roles, understand what they can do and how they can be successful in their roles. Any given night I think we are going to have a chance to win the game.”

Johnathan Kirland is a sports writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him jkirkland@gazettevirginian.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnathanK_GV