CHESTER, Va. (WWBT) - Last season, Thomas Dale boys basketball stumbled to a 5-19 record. By March, the Knights had been done playing for a bit, but March of 2020 finds them as one of just 13 area teams left standing in the hunt for a state championship.
Dale has transformed into one of the most successful teams locally, entering Friday at 20-5 and taking the court in the Class 6 state quarterfinal against Massaponax. Keyode Rogers is in his first season as Knights’ head coach and it didn’t take his guys long to buy in.
“When I got here, I talked to the guys at first to see what they felt like was a major problem," Rogers said before practice on Thursday. “One of the things was playing as a team and being a team, so one of the main things we wanted to do was make sure that we created a team style of basketball, which is what I like to play anyway.”
“Everything he’s said has been true,” said senior guard Neal Phillips of his new head coach. “He’s never lied to us, he’s shown us that everything we’re going through is going to help us in the future.”
The approach the Knights have taken this season is working. It’s not often a high school team goes from five to 20 wins in one season, and now Thomas Dale finds itself just three victories away from a state championship.
So, are coaches and players surprised by the level of their success?
“Admittedly so, a little bit,” confessed Rogers. “When you play the game, you play to win, and we want to establish in these guys that they can win. We went back to basics at the beginning and let them know fundamentals win ballgames, and we’ve been successful so far.”
“I wouldn’t say surprised,” added Phillips. “We had high expectations coming into the season, but we’re just hungry. That’s what it really comes down to. We’re humbled enough to know that we’ve been better than we were last year but we’re still hungry to be better.”
The state tournament promises to be the toughest test of the Knights’ season and it starts with Massaponax on Friday night. For the players who endured being one of the area’s worst teams a season ago, winning that ultimate prize would be surreal.
“I think it would mean a lot, not just for the school, but for the community,” said Phillips. “The energy in the school is great and I can’t wait to see what happens if we pull it through.”
Thomas Dale and Massaponox tip off on Friday night at 7:30 at Cosby High School.
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