At NCAA Division II Virginia-Wise, men’s coach Blake Mellinger is preparing his youth-heavy squad for its first run as member of the South Atlantic Conference after making the move from the tough Mountain East to what many consider an even tougher league.
“It’s a step up in terms of the level of play from top to bottom,” Mellinger said. “There are some very good teams at the top of the Mountain East, but from top to bottom this league is definitely better. So we’re going to have to figure it out and go from there.”
Mellinger will rely on a young, yet proven squad to compete in the first year of the SAC.
While seniors Eric Okenchi (6-foot-7, post), Chance Sheffey (6-4, point guard) and Tajh Eason (6-4, post) and redshirt junior Yesid Mosquera-Perea (6-6, post) will provide plenty of leadership, a lot of the emphasis will be on redshirt sophomore Briggs Parris (6-4, guard) and sophomores Cameron Whiteside (6-4, guard) and Kaleb Carter (6-5, post).
All three were starters last year for UVa-Wise.
Parris averaged 16 points per game last season and hit 44% of his shots from the floor. Whiteside finished the season averaging 13.3 points and Carter averaged 9.3.
Though his roster was nearly full from last season, Mellinger did bring in three new recruits. Among them was Izeah Parker out of Hopewell High School near Richmond. The 6-8 post is one of the highest recruited players in UVa-Wise men’s basketball history. He had six NCAA Division I offers before electing to join the Cavs, and he’s likely to see plenty of playing time early in his career.
Drew Greene, a 6-3 point guard from Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C., is another true freshman the Cavs will rely on this winter.
“One thing we wanted to emphasize from a recruiting standpoint was to get a high-IQ basketball-savvy point guard,” Mellinger said. “In the past, we’ve always had more of a ball-dominant point guard and I don’t know if that’s what we need right now.
“We have a lot of different guys who can score the ball. We need a point guard who can more than anything get other players involved, run the offense and things like that. (Greene) and Chance Sheffey will definitely log a lot of minutes at point guard.”
The Cavs will tip off their season on Nov. 8 against King in the Conference Carolinas/SAC Challenge at Lees-McRae in Banner Elk, North Carolina. The Cavs will host Lees-McRae on Nov. 9.
UVa-Wise’s first home game is slated for Nov. 12 against Piedmont International, and the Cavs will play their inaugural SAC basketball game on Nov. 26 at home in the Prior Convocation Center against Mars Hill.
FOOTBALL PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
5-star — Martin Lucas, RB, Abingdon
Lucas accounted for five of the six Falcons touchdowns in Friday’s 42-19 Mountain 7 District win over Wise Central.
Lucas rushed for 194 yards and five touchdowns on 21 carries, and he’ll be relied on heavily again this Friday night when Abingdon hosts Virginia High in nondistrict play.
4-star — Mikey Culbertson, RB/LB, J.I. Burton
The senior leader was a force on both offense and defense the Raiders’ 48-6 Cumberland District win over Eastside. He ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries and had 50 receiving yards on two catches. On defense, he totaled a team-high 12 tackles.
3-star — Kenny Ball, RB, Thomas Walker
The junior rolled up 223 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the Pioneers’ 44-26 win over Harlan, Kentucky, that moved Thomas Walker to 4-1 on the season.
2-star — Jaymen Buchanan, QB, J.I. Burton
The sophomore quarterback was a major reason for the Raiders’ success when they opened up their offense in Friday night’s win over Eastside. Buchanan completed 9 of 16 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
1-star — Candler Dudley, RB, Castlewood
The Blue Devils’ success continues through the middle of the season and the senior running back is a key cog. In Friday’s 38-6 win over Northwood, Dudley rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries.
Ridgeview at Union — This is it. The game of the season in the Mountain 7 District. The Wolfpack (5-0, 3-0) goes to Bullitt Park for a key game with Union (5-1, 2-0).
Union’s loss to Kentucky power Paintsville last week ruined the chances of a matchup between undefeated squads. However, both are still unbeaten in district play and are the top candidates to win the Mountain 7 championship.
Here’s the catch: Neither Ridgeview nor Union has yet to play a Mountain 7 foe. And defending district champion Abingdon, despite a 3-3 record, is still unbeaten inside the Mountain 7 and, like last year, will have a say in which team takes home the district trophy at season’s end.
Marion at Gate City — Gate City’s season-opening win over Richlands sparked a lot of hope for the Blue Devils this season. Since then, Gate City (1-5) has dropped five in a row.
Friday’s game against Marion (3-2) at Legion Field is a key home game.
With four regular-season games left, the Blue Devils hold the eighth spot in the playoff field. A late-season winning streak would put Gate City in the postseason for the first time in three years.
John Battle at Wise Central — This is another key game when it comes to the postseason.
Neither Central (3-2) nor Battle (1-4) has had the best of seasons, but both have had worse years.
Central has already faced two of the three Mountain 7 front-runners and a late-season run through the remainder of this month and into November could give the Warriors their best season in school history.
Battle faces an uphill climb to make the postseason, and this week’s game is a must-win.
FOOTBALL TOP 10
The top six teams remained the same, and two Cumberland District teams, J.I. Burton and Thomas Walker, entered the Southwest Virginia poll this week.
Here’s a look at the top 10 after Week 6 with record, how they fared last week and previous ranking.
1. Ridgeview (5-0) did not play — 1
2. Union (5-1) lost to Paintsville, Ky. 21-14 — 2
3. Graham (3-2) def. Princeton, W.Va. 42-6 — 3
4. Patrick Henry (6-0) def. Rural Retreat 31-0 — 4
5. Chilhowie (5-1) def. Virginia High 22-7 — 5
6. Tazewell (4-1) def. Honaker 40-21 — 6
7. Abingdon (3-3) def. Wise Central 42-19 — 8
8. Wise Central (3-2) lost to Abingdon 42-19 — 7
9. J.I. Burton (3-2) def. Eastside 48-6 — NR
10. Thomas Walker (4-1) def. Harlan, Ky. 44-26 — NR