Seniors key Riders to hot hoop start

Senior Kamal Marvel is one of only two returning players with starting experience for the Riders. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

CAMDEN — For almost as long as Kamal Marvel can remember, he’s been playing basketball with this same group of guys.

The Caesar Rodney High senior figures they were in fourth grade when they first got together.

Marvel thinks it’s pretty cool that here they are, still on the court together as seniors.

“It’s very exciting,” said Marvel. “Not everybody gets the opportunity to play with the same people for so long. It just creates bonds and connections.

“It’s like a brotherhood. Last year we were really close … (but) this year I feel like we’re really together — like we’re one.”

So, while the Riders lacked a lot of varsity experience going into this season, they make up for it in chemistry. And the results, so far, speak for themselves.

CR takes a 2-0 record into today’s 7 p.m. Henlopen North matchup at Polytech (0-1). The Riders have won those two games by impressive margins of 40 and 37 points.

First-year head coach Frank Victory knows it will be difficult to keep winning at this pace. But he’s not surprised that CR is playing well right off the bat.

Frank Victory

Victory said former coach Freeman Williams spent a lot of time preparing this squad in the off-season. So the fact that Marvel and senior Monroe Hite are the only players with starting experience hasn’t been a problem.

The seven seniors on this year’s squad have all paid their dues.

“They’ve worked their tails off to put themselves in this position,” said Victory, who was a long-time assistant with CR’s girls’ program. “They knew this was going to be their year. They’re ready to step in and fill those voids.

“It’s a next man up kind of mentality. As far as playing time is concerned, they didn’t get a whole lot last year. But they are ready to play. Freeman kind of put them through it as far as camps and things like that.”

“We’ve been waiting for this moment since freshman year,” said Hite. “We’re here and we’re ready to prove to everybody that we have something to show.

“I’m not surprised at all. I know our potential. I know how much we’ve grown together as a team. And I just know we can do even more. We have lots of room to improve.”

It also helped that many of this year’s players were already familiar with Victory. He’d worked with many of them in Riders Little Dribblers youth camps.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment since freshman year,” said Riders senior Monroe Hite (41). “We’re here and we’re ready to prove to everybody that we have something to show.” Delaware State News file photo

Going from Williams to Victory didn’t seem like that big a change.

“I’ve known him for a while,” said senior Syed Myles. “Before this season, I used to play basketball with him. As a coach, I do like him a lot.”

“I was kind of nervous going into it,” said Marvel. “I didn’t know what to think. But when he came in and we got things going, it’s like Coach (Williams) never left.”

“It was not a big transition at all,” said Hite.

That’s not to say the Riders haven’t changed their playing style, however.

Rather than using a more deliberate, halfcourt style of offense, CR is pushing the ball up and down the court. The 84 points the Riders put up in a season-opening win over Sussex Central was more than they scored in any game in last year’s 16-6 campaign.

They followed it up with 75 points in a win over Sussex Tech.

“I just feel like it fits us well,” said Myles. “We’re not the biggest team but we do what we do well — and that’s space the floor and shoot.”

“It’s different but I love it,” said Hite. “Even though it’s a change, it’s still the same Riders’ basketball we play every year.”

Victory said the up-tempo offense fits this team’s skills. The other seniors on the roster are Elijah Booker, Benjamin Dawson, Brandon Hatch and Braxton Robinson.

CR has also shown the ability to shoot from the outside. The Riders have already hit 20 three-pointers in their first two contests.

But Victory said the key for this team is knowing its limits when it comes to shooting threes.

“We can’t fall in love with it,” he said. “Some nights the ball is going to go in the basket pretty easily. Other nights we’re going to have to be able to generate offense in other ways.

“You’ve just got to know where that limit is and look for something else that’s going to work better for us.”

Likewise, Victory knows there’s going to be nights when things don’t go as smoothly as they have so far. He wants to see how his players react to being in a nail-biter.

“I think you find out a lot about your team when you have close wins or losses — either way,” said Victory. “You want to see how we respond to that. I even said to them the other night, I said don’t get too high or too low no matter what happens because there’s still a long way to go.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” Marvel said about CR’s fast start. “We take the time and we put the work in. Everything is going as well as it could be going. We’ve just got to keep the train rolling.”

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