Castlewood point guard Patrick Fisher's recent claim that he didn't know the Blue Devils were the top-ranked Group A team in Virginia may or may not have been tongue in cheek.
Regardless, everyone else in Region D is acutely aware of the fact that Castlewood (15-1, 5-0) sits not only atop the Cumberland District standings, but also the Associated Press Group A poll.
The Blue Devils received six first-place votes in the most recent poll and are chased by Hogoheegee powerhouse George Wythe (15-0), which sits at No. 2 with four first-place votes. Ninth-ranked Twin Valley (12-3) is the only other Region D team in the AP Top 10, although Gate City (12-4) received votes.
Castlewood coach Aaron Williams admits that his players don't exist in isolation . They'd have to live in a cave not to know about their ranking.
That doesn't mean they're not doing their utmost to ignore it. One Blue Devil assistant coach confirmed that Fisher avoids reading newspaper articles about the team. He just wants the Blue Devils to keep doing what they're doing. He doesn't want any distractions.
The obsessive adherence to daily routine - "They just play. They don't get too excited," says Williams - is a healthy attitude for a squad that represents Castlewood's best chance for a VHSL Group A Final Four appearance since Williams took over the program.
It's an especially healthy attitude for a team that wants to stay on top of the Cumberland District standings. Unlike their AP poll status, the Blue Devils have relied entirely on the sweat of their own brows to retain the prime piece of real estate in that rough- and-tumble neighborhood.
The overall quality of play in the Lonesome Pine District may have been obscured somewhat by Gate City's dominance. That goes double for the LPD girls, where Gate City's third-ranked status in the AP poll is a fair reflection of the Lady Blue Devils' alpha status in Region D.
In contrast, Castlewood has rebuffed some very serious challenges within its own district.
It seems not unlikely that five of Region D's six best boys teams really are lodged in the Cumberland: Castlewood, Rye Cove, St. Paul, Twin Springs and Thomas Walker. Of those five, the Titans represent the end of a dynastic talent cycle. The Pioneers reflect the growing pains of a new one. And that's probably the worst that can be said about either.
For Castlewood, getting the sweep on next-door rival St. Paul Tuesday night was huge. To the best of our knowledge, the Deacons have yet to be beaten on the boards by any opponent. They're by no means out of the Region D tournament picture, even if they are in Castlewood's rear-view mirror.
Don't expect Fisher to be eager to pick up a newspaper this week. Because the Blue Devils' pending meeting with Rye Cove Friday night is arguably an even bigger, scarier deal than Tuesday night.
The Eagles (12-6, 4-1) are the only district team Castlewood has yet to face this season. The Jan. 9 game at Castlewood was rescheduled to Feb. 7 due to inclement weather. During the interval between then and now, star scoring engine Adam Hood endured a shooting slump - then broke out of it while setting Rye Cove's all-time scoring record.
Cutting off Hood's water will be easier said than done. He's averaging 32 points per game over his last two outings and has the potential of recording a triple-double every time he sets foot on the floor.
Thanks to improved scoring output from teammates like John Franklin and Michael Thacker, Hood's ball-distribution threat has become increasingly dangerous to disregard. On the defensive end, the Eagles are notoriously ferocious. One sportswriting colleague recently noted that the influence of retired J.J. Kelly basketball luminary Dave Bentley clearly can be observed in coach Reagan Mullins' defensive deployments. In case you were wondering, that is a good thing.
Rye Cove's home gymnasium isn't quite as claustrophobic as St. Paul's. But the place probably will be packed and intensely noisy. The atmosphere should be thick with excitement.
Just another game? Williams hopes so.
"We know they've got Hood and he's a great player. And they've got some other kids as well," Williams said. "I think our guys will come out and play."
George Thwaites covers high school sports in Southwest Virginia. E-mail him at email@example.com