Five of the seven seniors Carroll County’s boys’ basketball team lost from last year’s Region IV, Division IV championship squad are now playing a collegiate sport.
Among those lost to graduation include Region IV Player of the Year Ryan Gravley (now playing basketball at Emory & Henry College), Austin Horton (a member of the Guilford College basketball team) and Tyler Lineberry (who now plays basketball at Shenandoah University). Also gone are center Lucas Holder, now playing Division I football at Liberty University, and Chris Smoot, a member of Emory & Henry’s football team.
“That’s a lot of players that are now playing a college sport,” Carroll County head coach Brad Hawks said.
But don’t cry for Hawks. The Cavaliers still return seven players from last year’s team that tied a school record with 24 wins, including second-team All-Southwest District selections Gunnar Beamer and Connor Lundy, and honorable mention picks Cody Keith and Duncan Reece.
As a junior point guard a year ago, Beamer finished just four assists behind Gravley for the team lead with 111, dishing out 4.1 per game. The lightning quick guard also led the team in steals with 65 and was third in scoring with 7.9 points per game. Beamer was also second on the team in free-throw percentage at 68.2 percent and was fourth on the squad in 3-point shooting at 25 percent (14-of-56).
Last year as a junior, Lundy brought versatility to the Cavs as he could hurt opponents from the guard or forward positions. By far the team’s biggest outside threat, he led Carroll in 3-pointers made (47-of-146) and 3-point percentage (32.2 percent). He also was second on the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game and finished third in field goal percentage (45 percent), including 63.1 percent (65-of-103) on two-point field goals. Lundy was also third on the team in rebounds (82) and assists (1.8 per game) and fourth in steals (39) and free-throw percentage (63.2 percent).
As a junior forward last season, Keith averaged 7.8 points per game and led the team with 4.8 rebounds per contest. He really turned it on late in the season, scoring 20 points against eventual state champion Salem in the Region IV Championship game. At 6-7, Reece gives Carroll plenty of height and athleticism after averaging 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
“All four of those guys started at one time or another last year. I think our senior leadership is going to be really good this year,” Hawks said. “I think our top six to seven guys will be able to play with anybody. The things that worry me are foul trouble and injuries this year. The depth and size we had last year we don’t have as much of this year.”
Beamer will continue to be the primary ball handler, just as he was most of the season last year. As he goes, so will the Cavaliers’ offense, Hawks said.
“He will be relied upon to get us in our sets and run the show and get other guys shots,” Hawks said. “He will also be looking to score more himself.”
The Cavaliers lost more than just five college athletes, though. Replacing the scoring of Gravley, the defensive wizardry of Smoot, and the toughness of Horton will not be easy.
“Those things are all hard to replace. It is going to have to be by committee,” Hawks said. “I think Winston Giles was very limited last year because of injuries, but he is coming back as one of our pure shooters. He will be playing guard at 6-2, 6-3, which is a big guard in our league. Connor is going to be relied upon for more scoring and rebounding this year. And we are looking for Cody Keith to get more involved in offense. So far, he has picked up this year where he left off last year. He just does what he does, runs the floor and finishes well. And then Duncan is 6-7 now and he’s got really good feet. He moves his feet as good as guards do and he can finish down low.”
Blake Dalton is a player Hawks believes can have a huge impact on this year’s team if he can get back from a broken arm suffered during football season. Last year, Dalton’s role was limited playing behind Gravley, but he lit teams up when he did get the chance to play.
“Blake will be a very important person on this year’s team. He’s kind of like Cody in that he has a motor that never quits. I’m hoping to get him back as quick as possible,” Hawks said. “Last year he was playing behind the Region Player of the Year, but Blake is really going to help us this year if he stays healthy and comes back from this injury 100 percent.”
Tyler Hayton also returns from last year’s team and provides the Cavs with more size up front. New players to the varsity this year include Dane Shinault, a senior wing player who did not play last year after being a valuable contributor in the jayvee program. Up from last year’s JV team include junior Alan Bolen, who can play the guard and forward positions, junior guard Daniel Bowman, junior forward Zach Cochran and sophomore guard Noah Johnson.
Carroll County will be making the move to a tougher league this year, going from the Southwest District to the River Ridge. But last year the Cavaliers faced most of those teams, going 5-0 against River Ridge competition (beating Hidden Valley in a scrimmage, sweeping Pulaski twice, beating Christiansburg in the regular season and Salem in the regional championship).
“I’m excited about the level of competition we are going to be playing this year. We played most of those schools last year and had success,” Hawks said. “We picked up Radford at home, which will be a great game. They won state last year and have everybody back, and we will play another state champion Salem home and away this year. I think playing Patrick Henry will help us as well in the grand scheme of things.”
Salem will undoubtedly be the preseason favorite in the league coming off a state championship and returning most of their players. Carroll County should be picked right up there with the Spartans, though.
“I’m excited about this team. These guys have been in tough games, which gives them confidence coming into this season, I think,” Hawks said. “The returning guys and new guys all had a pretty good summer. And in October we had 12 college coaches come in here and look at our top five or six guys along with 15 of the best local high school players. The response was really good and I think the experience will help our guys this season, as well as with getting recruited. Some of them have already been on several visits.”