With all but two players back from last year’s Region IV semifinalist squad, expectations are sky high for Carroll County’s boys’ basketball team.
And there is plenty of reason for Cavalier fans to be optimistic about the 2012-2013 season. Brad Hawks will have the luxury of his deepest team as Carroll’s head coach with 10 players that he said he would feel comfortable starting. The Cavs have plenty of big bodies to bang inside to compliment a talented group of guards led by Southwest District Player of the Year and All-Region IV First-Team selection Ryan Gravley.
“We’re expecting to get after people and to be very competitive in the Southwest District and hopefully Region IV,” Hawks said.
While Hawks may be careful with the words he chooses to talk about expectations, the non-district schedule tells a different story. The Cavaliers have considerably beefed up the out-of-league slate with games against Virginia Episcopal on Feb. 2, and three games against defending state champions against Christiansburg on Jan. 5 and a home-and-home series with Galax set for Dec. 6 and Dec. 14. Carroll will also play Oak Hill Red on Jan. 29 and face George Wythe in the Fort Chiswell Christmas Tournament.
“We’d like to get up and play some more man-to-man defense. We tweaked the schedule a little to try to play some teams that would prepare us a little better for the regionals,” Hawks said. “I think our schedule is pretty tough. That should be a good thing.”
Everything will start with Gravley, an exceptional guard that can beat teams with his passing just as well as his scoring. Last year he led the Cavaliers with 15.2 points per game, and his 5.6 assists per contest led the entire Timesland. Perhaps his biggest contribution was his ability to take over games in clutch situations as he helped guide Carroll to a 19-5 overall mark and 12-0 record in the SWD en route to earning honorable mention All-Group AA honors.
“Ryan is solid. He had a good summer and really turned some heads in the camps we went too,” Hawks said. “He is getting some (college) looks right now. He just needs to continue with that steady guard play because we go as he goes. His major strength is not athletic ability - it is his basketball IQ and just being smart with the ball.”
Gravley will have plenty of help in the Cavalier backcourt. Joining him will be junior Connor Lundy, a second-team All-SWD selection a year ago. Last season, Lundy finished second on the team in scoring with 13.3 points per game while shooting 32 percent from beyond the 3-point line. He also averaged 4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per outing.
“Connor is about 6-4 now and he is shooting the ball really well. He will be expected to score a lot for us this year,” Hawks said. “This is his third year on varsity now and he is getting to the rim better this year. He has put on a little weight and he’s a little stronger, so his ability to finish a little better will compliment his outside game.”
Gunnar Beamer earned honorable mention all-district accolades last season while averaging 3.8 points and 2.9 assists per game as a sophomore. Beamer will run the point more this year, which should benefit the Cavs in several ways.
“Gunnar is expected to come in and run the show at point guard and that will free Ryan up to move to the wing a little. Gunnar has had a good summer and has been working very hard. He handles the ball real well,” Hawks said. “With him running point, I don’t think Ryan will get worn down as much as he did last year. Teams threw two or three guys at him a lot, so with Gunnar running the point and handling the ball extremely well, it will be hard for other teams to pressure us.”
Senior guard Chris Smoot returns after an honorable mention all-district campaign as well after averaging 3.6 points and 2.9 rebounds last year. His full-tilt hustle and attitude on the court seem to be infectious and sparked Carroll on many occasions last year.
“Chris Smoot is by far our best on-ball defender,” Hawks said. “He knows his role on the team and knows what is expected out of him. The kids feed off his energy.”
Taylor Case is a reserve guard that provides Carroll with another very athletic body and steady presence. With such a talented backcourt, the Cavs will look to push the pace of the game.
“We’re going to try to get up and down the floor as much as we can. I think guard play is a strength for us,” Hawks said. “We’ll try to get up and down when we can, but we’re not afraid to hold the ball and set up in the offense either because our guards do handle the ball pretty well.”
The Cavaliers are just as deep up front, but the team will certainly miss the services of talented forward Wes Smoot, a second-team All-SWD pick last year. Still, with Cody Keith (an honorable mention all-district pick) and Duncan Reece back after tremendous sophomore campaigns, Hawks believes Carroll will be okay.
“Both are athletic, run the floor well and are very active on defense. Hopefully those two can step in and fill the void Wes left,” Hawks said. “Cody runs the point spot on our press the best of anybody we’ve had. When he is deflecting passes and getting steals, I think our press is very effective.”
Hawks said Reece moves his feet extremely well to be 6-6. He continues to become more active on defense and should help Carroll tremendously.
“He’s come in with a great attitude so far this year about getting better,” Hawks said. “He is putting in extra time shooting free throws and finishing around the bucket, things like that.”
Add senior returners Austin Horton, Tyler Lineberry and Lucas Holder into the mix and the Cavaliers have a big and deep frontcourt. Horton is in his fourth year on the varsity team while Lineberry and Holder come in with two years of varsity experience.
“All three guys can come in and mix it up down low and they all play the back spot on the press pretty well,” Hawks said. “They are all capable of rebounding and scoring in the post.”
An honorable mention all-district player last year, Horton led the team with 5.3 rebounds and placed fourth on the squad with 8.4 points per game. Steady in all aspects of the game, Horton drew 35 charges last season.
“That is an unbelievable number – I’d say it’s got to be some kind of record. Austin has upped his role on the team this year and taken on more leadership. I’ve been impressed with him as far as his leadership qualities,” Hawks said. “He’s also learned to play that back spot in the press as good as anybody.”
A 6-5, 270-pound human roadblock, Holder worked extremely hard in the weight room to get quicker and faster, which Hawks said has made a major difference. Meanwhile, Hawks said Lineberry played AAU basketball all summer and has worked extremely hard on his footwork and ability to score in the post.
Nathan Snow is another returning frontcourt player that always provides a spark with what Hawks calls his “rah-rah” attitude and all-out hustle. Mixing so many talented and experienced parts should allow Hawks to tinker with his lineup most nights based on the opponent.
“I think we have legitimately 10 guys that could all work their way into the starting lineup at one point or another. We are fortunate because the kids will have to practice hard to get on the floor,” Hawks said. “I think it is a good thing because we can go super small if we need to or we can go super big.”
Moving up from the JV team will be Winston Giles, Blake Dalton and Tyler Hayton. Giles will most likely miss the first 4-6 weeks with a hip injury, but Hawks said he has the ability to be a zone buster with his outside shooting. He’s also versatile enough to play forward or guard.
Dalton is a junior guard that can come in and give minutes backing up Gravley. Hawks said he admires Dalton because of the way he practices so hard. Hayton provides more size at 6-5. Right now he is learning his role, but Hawks expects him to improve as he practices against Carroll’s abundance of talented post players.
Carroll will need every bit of its talent, Hawks says, to run through the Southwest District again this year. Abingdon and Tazewell both are very dangerous teams that he expects to give the Cavs a run for their money this season.
“The Southwest District is as strong as it’s been in the five years since I’ve been coaching,” Hawks said.