Martinsville’s basketball team returns just five players from last season. Only two returners saw significant minutes, and only one player is left from the Bulldogs’ team that won a state championship two years ago.
Martinsville has eight new players who have never played for Jeff Adkins before, a prospect that excites the coach.
“I’m excited,” Adkins said at a recent practice. “We have a lot of new players, guys that played JV last year… Guys who didn’t play last year will probably have to step up and start for us but it’s always a great time of year. It’s fun getting the team ready, the kids are playing really hard and they’re picking up stuff really quick so I’m excited.”
It will certainly be a different Bulldogs’ team than in recent years. They had two big graduating classes the last two seasons, and Adkins said it will take time for this year’s squad to learn his terminology and coaching style.
The Bulldogs’ finished last year in the Region 2A quarterfinals at Dan River. It was the first time in three years Martinsville didn’t make it to the state final four. Adkins said he believes that team simply didn’t peak at the right time, something he’s hoping to fix this season.
“That’s what was frustrating for me. Maybe we were just wore out a little bit. I’ve been coaching a long time and usually we peak at the right time,” he said. “We’re going to struggle at times with our schedule. We have a really tough schedule, we know that, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t have to win 20 games we just need to win them at the right time at the end so hopefully we can handle our losses, learn from them and get better.”
The two returning starters, point guard T.J. Pettway and forward/center E.J. Bratcher will be expected to carry a heavy load for the Bulldogs. While Adkins said coaches tend to focus on role players, he expects both seniors to continue to improve and get better. In both of the Bulldogs’ recent state championships, Adkins said the teams benefitted from stars continuing to get better, and he expects the same this season with Pettway and Bratcher.
“I see a big difference in T.J. He’s playing great defense, he’s trying to have a great year. He’s settled in… sometimes it can take a year for someone to get used to your system,” Adkins said. “It’s good to have a good point guard in T.J. You need a good point guard, so it’s good to have him. He can set the floor. He can score which I like a scoring point guard. And I think he’s got guys at the basket. Hopefully this year we have five guys who can catch the ball and make some plays.”
The duo will be joined by fellow seniors Jaylon Bennett and Jordan Hundley, as well as juniors Nigal Davis and returning guard Dasyne Hairston, all of which will be strong complementary pieces.
Adkins has installed a new offense that he hopes will alleviate the Bulldogs’ scoring woes from last year and provide more easy buckets. He said it will take patience for the full team to catch on to the changes completely. In the meantime, they’ll continue to focus on the same defense that has made Martinsville a force for the last half decade.
“I like our ability to catch the ball, I like our basketball knowledge. Nigal has an extremely high basketball IQ. I like our passing game, I like our defense,” he said. “We really work on defense and that’s the key. We spend most of our time on that and it kind of creates our offense. I’m seeing more this year. People are trying to earn playing time so I’ve seen really good effort. We are having good effort out there which is really good as a coach to see.”
It won’t be an easy road for the Bulldogs. Eight new players will try to take back control of 2A basketball, and Adkins said he thinks their region is one of the toughest in the state.
A changed and virtually all new Bulldogs’ team will suit up at Martinsville Middle School this season. Adkins said he has no idea what to expect when the season starts, but he eager to find out.
“We figure we’re fourth, fifth or sixth in our region so we have to really pick it up to advance. We’re in what I think is the toughest region so we know what we have to do,” he said. “Our goal is to be playing better at the end but I really don’t know where this team is going to be. I don’t, that’s what exciting about it. I see potential.
“I’m excited every day.”