Streaks On Upswing?

With Plenty Of Sampsons Kin On Roster, Maybe

Posted: November 21, 2012

Harrisonburg’s Brian Rodriguez shoots during a scrimmage against Central on Tuesday. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Harrisonburg coach Scott Joyner speaks to his team Tuesday.
Harrisonburg’s Natajhi Alford shoots inside during a scrimmage against Central on Tuesday at HHS.

HARRISONBURG – Life on the rehabilitation table has been frustrating, to say the least, for Harrisonburg High School senior guard Seth Kardos, who is nursing a mysterious ankle injury from soccer season that will force him to miss games for the first time in his varsity basketball career.


Frustration could be the same word to describe HHS first-year coach Scott Joyner’s situation, installing a brand new system and assembling a team without arguably its best player – but he took a different spin on it.


“That’s part of the fun of it,” Joyner said Tuesday before a home scrimmage against Central. “It’s like putting a puzzle together. We have some good pieces right now.”


If Kardos can come back healthy, Joyner said he envisions a potent scoring tandem with Kardos and senior guard Brian Rodriguez, but for Harrisonburg – a squad with eight seniors – there’s plenty of other reasons to be excited despite graduating 6-foot-7 center Salim Charles.


For starters, the Streaks (4-18 last season) are expected to have three newcomers related to former HHS star and NBA Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson on the roster: 6-foot-2 junior forward Chris Whitelow, 6-foot junior guard/forward T.J. Kirkland and 6-1 sophomore guard Damien Sampson, who just recently enrolled at the school and is expected to practice with the team today for the first time.


“He was on varsity in Atlanta. He’s another athletic kid, so it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in,” Joyner said of Sampson, a nephew of Ralph’s. “… He just transferred back. He’s about a 6-1, 6-2 kid. Honor student. You talk about pieces? I’ve got him and Seth, and I haven’t seen them practice [with the exception of] Seth for about an hour.”


An All-Valley District first-team selection in both basketball and soccer, Kardos averaged team highs in points (17.1 ppg) and rebounds (7.3 rpg) last winter and was named to the All-Region III second team. Kardos was able to practice in a pair of light, 30-minute sessions last week. He plans to continue to test the ankle and increase the practice intensity, with the hopes of playing after Harrisonburg’s opener on Tuesday at Charlottesville and a tip-off tournament at Western Albemarle.


“Basically, I thought I had broken it,” Kardos said of his ankle, “but I got the x-ray and it was just a sprain and a torn ligament. I was waiting for it to heal. Three months went by and it was still hurting a lot. I had an MRI and stuff. The doctor thought something had caught in my joint, so I had surgery like a month ago from now. He didn’t find anything.


“My dad’s asked a lot of doctors and he hasn’t found anybody that really knows like what’s going on, or this particular case.”


Given the strange nature of the injury, there’s still the possibility that Kardos won’t play this season.


“I should probably be able to play, but there’s like this snapping noise,” Kardos said. “We just have to figure out where it’s coming from and if there’s going to be anything consequential in the long term. If there is, then I probably shouldn’t even play this season.”


Not having Kardos doesn’t change Joyner’s expectations very much, he said, aside from the obvious bump in scoring.


“I expect us to be competitive every night,” said Joyner, who brings an up-tempo offense predicated on a 1-3-1 trap and matchup zone defense. “He would give us more depth at the guard spot, but the guys in there are doing a good job.”


And “working their tails off” for minutes and starting spots.


Rodriguez, an all-around scorer like Kardos, is the no-brainer. Joyner said he scored 22 points in the team’s first scrimmage, against Handley, last week. Rodriguez followed that outing by netting 11 of Harrisonburg’s first 14 points in roughly a three-minute span in Tuesday’s scrimmage versus Central. He ended up with 33.


“You can tell he just loves the game,” Kardos said. “He’s really focused on getting better like every day. … He’ll definitely like fill my spot in the first few games, replace the scoring.”


Joyner hopes senior returners Issiah Smith (6-foot-3) and Natahji Alford (6-foot-4) can become forces inside to hedge the loss of Charles.
Meanwhile, seniors Noah Royer and Max Johnson are battling at point guard, juniors Ryan Phillips and Matt Shifflett are neck-and-neck at the other wing position opposite Rodriguez, and Whitelow may have something to say about being a dominant forward, as well.


“That Whitelow kid has had a heck of a camp so far,” said Joyner, a 1989 Bridgewater College graduate who won a Group AA state title in 2000 during his 15-year tenure at Bruton High School in Williamsburg.


Generally speaking, Kardos figured having teammates related to Ralph Sampson certainly couldn’t hurt HHS, a senior-laden team he expects to finish above .500.


“Anybody who has some sort of height and genetics like that – yeah, I got excited,” Kardos said, “because it seems like a good addition.”