Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of previews of area high school boys basketball teams.
The one player who will have the biggest impact for the Danville boys might be one who isn’t there.
There are plenty of capable players on the roster, many of whom proved themselves in various roles last season, but most of them will see their job descriptions redefined following the departure of Tryston Ford, the Admirals’ leader in scoring and assists last season.
“Their roles have changed somewhat this year because they won’t be able to rely on Tryston for scoring,” Danville coach Andrew Zaheri said. “We’re going to have to take a look every game at the matchups for each game.”
Zaheri said that might mean different scoring leaders in different games, and he said he believes he has several players capable of filling that role.
The top returning scorer is senior guard Christian Gateskill-Fuqua, who will also take over as the Admirals’ primary point guard.
Another Admiral who will be expected to handle the ball at least occasionally is senior forward Alex Burnside, who will spend much of his time in the post but can also operate away from the basket.
Danville’s remaining returning starter is senior forward Devonta Alcorn, who was a much-improved inside player and one of the area’s leading rebounders last season and who figures to again be a force in the paint.
The Admirals also return senior forward Damir Karapandzic, a part-time starter last season, and junior guard Jawan Grey, one of their first players off the bench last year.
Several Danville players, including Alcorn, Grey and Karapandzic, are still playing football and won’t join the basketball team until after football season ends, and Zaheri said the Admirals will be a work in progress for a while.
“We may be working on some stuff right now that come January we’re going to throw out the window,” he said.
Zaheri is more at ease with that this year, and he said he and the players are more at ease with each other at the start of his second season.
“I know what to expect, and they know what our expectations are,” he said.
Zaheri’s first season had its ups and downs. The Admirals went 13-15, winning the 12th Region All “A” Classic title and one game at the statewide tourney but losing in a 45th District tournament final and in the first round of the 12th Region Tournament for the fourth straight year. And while the coach may not know exactly what this season holds, he said that after seeing his players for a season and a summer, he is optimistic about what the Admirals can do this season and in years to come.
“I’m pretty confident. I know we’ve gotten stronger, and we’ve got some really good athletes in our underclassmen,”¿he said.
Key to the Season
Ford was the obvious leader last year, and not just in the statistical sense. And just as the Admirals can’t replace his point production with a single player, they’ll be looking for multiple leaders as well.
“I think there are going to have to be,” Zaheri said. “Christian is going to be our primary point guard ... and Alex is a vocal leader, but I need leaders as far as leading by example, too, and I need the kids to take care of themselves.”
Player to Watch
Zaheri is putting a bigger load on the shoulders of Gateskill-Fuqua, whom he said will have to help the Admirals show opponents they can withstand the pressure he’s sure they’re going to face.
“I’ve already told Christian he’s going to have to be mentally so tough this year, because I know a lot of teams are going to try to press us early this year, especially because we graduated some ball-handlers,” Zaheri said.
Zaheri said he’ll be looking for a significant contribution from sophomore guard Trenton Johnson.
“He’s going to have to step up and give us some varsity minutes. He has a lot of energy, he’s really athletic and he can knock down shots,” Zaheri said.
With players expected to be doing different things and with many of them not in practice yet, Zaheri said it’s difficult to discern what the Admirals will do well.
“I think a weakness right now will be (finding) what will be our team strengths,” he said. “I kind of know our individual strengths, but as far as night in, night out, what’s a couple things that gives us the best chance to win?”
Top Returning Players
Devonta Alcorn, 6-3 Sr. F, 9.0r
Alex Burnside, 6-3 Sr. F
Christian Gateskill-Fuqua, 5-11 Sr. G, 6.0p
Jawan Grey, 5-11 Jr. G
Damir Karapandzic, 6-4 Sr. F