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T-D Top 10 for boys basketball: Henrico ascending ahead of showdown with Varina
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T-D Top 10 for boys basketball: Henrico ascending ahead of showdown with Varina

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T-D Top 10 for boys basketball

Rec. Prv.

1. L.C. Bird 9-0, 2

2. Steward 11-1, 4

3. John Marshall 5-3, 1

4. Benedictine 8-2, 3

5. Varina 6-0, 5

6. Manchester 8-0, 6

7. Henrico 7-1, --

8. Douglas Freeman 8-1, 7

9. Petersburg 7-3, 10

10. Highland Springs 5-1, --

Henrico ascending under first-year coach

Led by first-year coach Nick Leonardelli and leading scorers Jaden Walker and PJ Wyatt, Henrico jumped into the T-D Top 10 at No. 7 on the heels of a 7-1 start featuring impressive wins over Hanover (59-49) and No. 8 Douglas Freeman (48-47).

Walker and Wyatt were honored on the Henrico Holiday Hoops all-tournament team. The Warriors reached the final after defeating the previously unbeaten Mavericks in the semifinals in come-from-behind fashion. Henrico suffered its only loss of the season in the final, 60-50 against Class 6 power Patriot (Nokesville; 6-0). 

Walker scored 29 points, including 7-of-10 shooting from 3-point range, in the Warriors' 70-54 quarterfinal win over Matoaca (2-7), and Wyatt added 24 points and five rebounds.

Against Freeman, Wyatt led the way with 20 points, while forward Karon Burton scored 11 and grabbed eight rebounds and Walker scored 8. 

"Jaden is a really dynamic guard, he's a really good blend of having the ability to make plays for other guys and score," Leonardelli said of Walker, a quick, 5-foot-10 junior. "He's a threat to pass, he's a threat to make 3s, pull-ups and finish at the rim. He does a lot of different things that impact the game."

A 6-2 senior, Wyatt is more of a combo guard who's comfortable playing on or off the ball. 

"He's a longer guard who has the ability to make 3s, get to the rim and finish very high with a number of different shots around the rim," Leonardelli said. "When you have both of them [Walker and Wyatt] out there, they can play with and off of each other."

Leonardelli has not been on the sidelines the last three games because of health protocols. He's watched film of the Freeman game several times though, and called the Mavericks a "tough" defensive team that made his Warriors take difficult shots. Freeman led most of the way, but Henrico hung around with hard-nosed rebounding and defensive play to give themselves a chance late. 

Richardson, Matthew Elliott and Kyle Brand-Parker, all seniors, have played key roles supplementing Walker and Wyatt's scoring output. 

Leonardelli called Brand-Parker and Richardson, both forwards, "warriors" who embody the program's nickname. 

"They play really hard, have a knack for getting their hands on balls offensively and defensively, they seem to always be in the right position rebounding wise and just give you every bit of ounce and effort," Leonardelli said, adding that Richardson's calling cards is strong, physical finishes in the paint while Brand-Parker is a "Swiss army knife" who can guard multiple positions and handle the ball. 

Elliott rounds out the starting five. He's a tenacious defender who embraces the responsibility of guarding the other team's best player, Leonardelli said.

The Warriors will face their toughest test of the season thus far Friday night at 7:30 p.m. on the road against fourth-ranked and unbeaten Varina, led by star guard and VCU recruit Alphonzo Billups. Elliott should see some time guarding Billups, but Leonardelli said his Warriors will have to throw a number of bodies at the Blue Devils' high-flying top recruit if they hope to slow him down. 

Leonardelli sees a talented Varina team on both sides of the ball with "tremendous length" and "a good variety of different types of players that play well together."

"They're really good on offense, and they do a great job of using their length on defense to disrupt you," Leonardelli said of the Blue Devils. "You don't just guard Varina with one player, you've got to guard them as a team."

A former UMASS Lowell and Bucknell assistant who has spent time at Division I, II and III basketball programs, Leonardelli faced ample unknowns heading into Henrico's first season since before the pandemic and his first coaching in the Richmond area. He said, given the circumstances under which they entered the season, he's thrilled with how far his Warriors have come in a short time.

"One of the things I'm most encouraged about is how our team has handled adversity well," he said, noting COVID-19 and snow-induced interruptions.

"I have a really mature group. They're really enjoying being around each other. As a program, we talk about being grateful for today. Before last year, you always assumed there was a tomorrow in basketball. But as we found out, it's a little more fragile than that. And they've really embraced that, to stay present, just do what we can today, control all of our controlables and be ready to go tomorrow. I'm really excited about where we're at, but what excites me the most is how much better we can get."

ZJoachim@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6555

Twitter: @ZachJoachim

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