State tournament defeat motivates Rider boys basketball team

Caesar Rodney’s Shaft Clark (Delaware State News file photos)

CAMDEN — Caesar Rodney High’s boys’ basketball team had a lot to be proud of last season.

But the way the Riders ended the season wasn’t necessarily one of them.

It wasn’t that CR lost to Cape Henlopen in the first round of the DIAA state tournament.

It was that the Riders lost to the Vikings by 18 points despite having the homecourt advantage and downing Cape by 11 only a month earlier.

“It was tough,” said junior forward Shaft Clark. “We had unforced turnovers. We didn’t play our style.”

“We just didn’t play our game — the game that we usually play every game,” agreed senior guard/foward Davionne Robinson.

The Riders, though, did something with their disappointment. They worked even harder in the offseason.

And, so far, CR has emerged in the early part of this season looking like a squad that’s ready to be a contender in the state this winter.

CR head coach Freeman Williams

The Riders are 3-0 right now with all three victories coming in the Henlopen Conference Northern Division.

But coach Freeman Williams has been excited about this group since the summer. He could see the chemistry building with the Riders playing an estimated 45 games together in the off-season.

“Guys have really been committed,” said Williams. “We want to get better every day in practice. But we also talked about, we want to win the division and also we want to win the whole thing. If those are your goals, then you have to make sure that you work every day at them.

“We have a long way to go. We’re only three games into this thing. But we like our group.”

“We noticed it when we were playing together (in the offseason),” said Robinson. “We definitely have a lot of potential. A lot.

“We played a lot of games. That’s when that chemistry comes in. It’s been way different.”

CR’s Davione Robinson

After going 14-7 last season, CR has a veteran roster, which includes seven seniors and seven juniors. Robinson was a second-team All-North selection with Clark earning honorable mention accolades.

Senior Aaron Grimes had a big game in the Riders’ 80-67 win over Dover on Friday, netting 25 points and sinking five three-pointers. Senior Najee Watson and junior Jaden Corbett have also had double-digit scoring games this season.

But what Williams likes is that the Riders seem to have bought into playing good defense. They’re giving up only 47.3 points per game so far.

“We have a group that’s really gravitating toward what our philosophy is,” said Williams. “All coaches, you look for certain signs, you plant the seed for this. Then, there’s things, when you start to see them take root, you want to plant more seeds.

“Defensively, there’s really things I’m getting excited about.”

“Defense wins games and the offense will come,” said Robinson.

While the Riders will happily take their 3-0 start, they also know the schedule will only get more difficult.

CR hosts Cape Henlopen in its next game, on Friday at 6:15 p.m. Of course, the Riders also still have to face defending state champion Smyrna twice, on Jan. 2 and Feb. 9.

With Williams in the fifth year of his second stint as CR’s coach, the Riders have made the state tournament three of the last four seasons.

Williams like to talk to his players about the “power of the group.” He hopes it’s an idea that will only get stronger as the season goes along.

“We’re unselfish,” said the 6-foot-6 Clark. “We all see it.”

“It’s a very good feeling,” Robinson said about CR’s 3-0 start. “We’ve just to keep getting better and improving.

“You can’t do it by yourself. It’s not only one person, it’s the whole team as one. When one fails, we all fail.”

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