HARRISONBURG — When Turner Ashby High School’s athletics secretary asked third-year coach Chad Seibert for positions to add to the boys’ basketball roster, he had an interesting response.
“There are none,” Seibert said. “They’re all basketball players.”
It’s all part of his plan for the Knights, who are looking to play faster and create chaos. And for TA this year, that may look like five guards on the floor, including returning starters Shane Brown, Taylor Corbin and Angel Bravo.
“That’s not anywhere as easy as it sounds like it is, and the kids are learning that,” Seibert said. “To play that style and still make shots, throw passes and catch them, do those things and do it the whole game, get to the free-throw line and make them, it’s a very difficult style to play.
“… That’s why it’s so impressive what Spotswood does, because they just eventually wear you down.”
Coming off an improved 14-12 season that included a regional tournament appearance, the Knights will need to “learn how to play all over again, ” according to Seibert, and without do-it-all point guard Justin Layman, who graduated and took his 13.8 points and team-leading 6.7 rebounds per game with him.
Replacing Layman on the boards won’t be easy — Brown (4.2 rpg) is the only returner to average more than 2.7 rebounds — but the new point guard is a no-brainer. It will be 6-foot-2, 145-pound freshman James Sullivan.
“Without a doubt. The ball is in his hands,” Seibert said. “… He’s an unbelievable 15-year-old basketball player. But he’s 15.”
In other words, he’s still learning.
Learning the speed of the varsity game. Learning to not let a turnover drag down his psyche. Learning when to be more aggressive as a scorer, which Seibert said Sullivan might have to do early if opponents put their best defenders on Brown and Corbin. Brown led TA in scoring last season, averaging 15.3 points per game. Corbin averaged 8.3.
However, Sullivan has shown flashes of brilliance already this preseason, including in clutch situations at Eastern Mennonite University and Indiana, where TA attended team camps during the summer.
“In Indiana I think it was, it was a close game and we needed a big shot,” Brown recalled. “He got open in the corner and knocked it down. Most young kids are scared to take that shot, but right when he caught it, he put it up in the air.”
Sophomore Brenan Hanifee, who was TA’s sixth man last season, gives the Knights a fourth player with varsity experience. He’s a 6-foot-3, um, basketball player. And his length could come in handy as TA also graduated its starting center, John Keppel, and his backup, David Pence.
“Whoever gets the rebound can just go,” Seibert said. “We’re not really concerned with who’s the point guard. The offense will be initiated by a lot of different people in a lot of different ways.”
The goal is to spread out defenses and give the Knights the freedom to make plays one-on-one. In some ways, that was the goal last year, but a half-court offense suited Layman’s skills set better. Plus, this year, Seibert believes his shooting depth will allow for plenty of dangerous kick-out opportunities, something TA lacked last season.
But after improving from seven combined wins between varsity and JV in Seibert’s first year to 30, the Knights are starting to focus on improving in smaller increments, collectively.
“When you get to a certain point, it starts to plateau,” Seibert said.
As a playmaker off the dribble, Brown is a big fan of TA’s offense and believes improving upon last year is a realistic goal. Also realistic are Brown’s chances of scoring his 1,000th career point and getting on TA’s top 10 all-time scorer’s list. He said he’s within about 400 points of 1,000, and he’s fresh off a 397-point junior season.
But the Knights are also realistic about their goals in Conference 29.
“Most likely, Spotswood’s going to come in and get the No. 1 seed,” Brown said of the Trailblazers, who won the Valley District title last season and finished 28-2. “We just want to get as high up as we can when it comes to the conference tournament so we don’t have to play them early.”
And with a guard-heavy roster and a chaotic pace, the Knights might look more like Spotswood than ever before.
“We have seven varsity guards that can play the game,” Seibert said. “So we have the ability to play fast. We have the ability to press. … We’re gonna go.”