The Whale Branch boys basketball team is already in Florence, resting up before practicing tonight at an area school. The Warriors face Carvers Bay on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. for the right to go to the Class 1-A title game March 2 in Columbia.
Here is my story about the beliefs that will keep brothers Simeon and Michael Middleton off the court Saturday, and why the game time couldn’t be changed to accommodate them. Look for a preview of the Lower State boys basketball final in Saturday’s newspaper or online.
For a closer look at Carvers Bay, I swapped questions with Ian Guerin. Ian is a correspondent for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach and has been keeping tabs on the Bears. He writes this Prep Talk blog , where you can find my answers to his questions about the Warriors.
Question: Carvers Bay guard Da'Shaun Aiken is the Bears leading scorer and the Class 1-A Player of the Year. Has anybody been successful at slowing him down? How might Whale Branch defend him?
Answer: About the only thing that slowed down Aiken all year was a nagging groin injury he suffered in December (forcing him to miss a handful of games). He's an ultra-athletic kid that has played three varsity sports all four years of high school. Few have been successful in stopping his ability to get to the basket or pull up for a shot. However, his shot doesn't always fall. He's used to a ton of pressure, so that rarely does the trick. He'll take a ton of shots, and opponents all year have found that even if he missed five or six in a row, that doesn't necessarily mean he'll miss the next one.
Q: From everything I've read about Carvers Bay, and from what I know about Whale Branch, it sounds like a track meet could break out in Florence on Saturday. How will Carvers Bay attack a team that plays a similar, fast-paced style?
A: Last summer, coach Jeff Mezzatesta let the players watch tapes of the "40 Minutes of Hell" style created by famed Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. The Bears players fell in love with it, because it allowed them to cover up some of their inadequacies. The team will sometimes have four or five players on the floor capable of bringing the ball up the court. They throw a lot of alley-oops, and the mistakes are forgiven because every possession is minimized. Carvers Bay wants an uptempo game, and teams that have had success are often the ones that were able to slow that down.
Q: Whale Branch has a pair of pretty good post players in Denzel Daniel and Jay Abney, who could be productive Saturday if not bodied up. How does Carvers Bay counter? Do the Bears have a post presence?
A: Carvers Bay doesn't have a true post player, per se, at least not in the case of a big man who can take over a game by setting up in the paint. What the Bears do have is 6-foot-5 senior forward Shayton Durand and 6-foot-3 center Stephon Hannah. The two were crucial in the football team's run to the Region VII-A title last fall and neither is scared of contact. Durand is certainly the better offensive weapon of the two. Hannah, though, is every big of 220 pounds and will make opposing offensive players earn it.
Q: The Bears have won their past two playoff games each by 20 points or more. It seems like they've hit their stride. From talking with coach Jeff Mezzatesta, why do you think that is? What has made them dangerous?
A: Carvers Bay is very confident in what it's doing right now. No player averages more than 1.7 assists per game, Aiken has spent part of the year watching games from the bench, and the Bears have never made it to a Class !-A title game since the school opened in 2000. The year's team has moved past all of that. Playing at home the first three rounds of the playoffs pushed that confidence even higher. Add in leading first-round playoff opponent Latta by double digits for most of the game before pulling starters, and the Bears know they can play with any team in Class 1-A. And as fellow TSN reporter Alan Blondin wrote the other night, several of the guys on this roster are playing with a fire. Many of them were part of the aforementioned football team that was upset in the first round of the football playoffs after earning the No. 1 seed in the Lower State. These kids know what disappointment feels like, and they don't want to experience it again.