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Posted On: 03/15/18 9:31 AM
Class 3 has been one of the more polarizing classifications in the VHSL, and it stems mostly from a geography standpoint. The schools that comprise Class 3 range from inner city schools in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and Richmond, but also range to county schools across the state, including the ones surrounding Charlottesville, Roanoke, Fredericksburg and Lynchburg.
This year was no different, as John Marshall from Richmond faced off with Western Albemarle from Crozet, just outside of Charlottesville. The demographics of the school couldn’t be any different, making it an interesting matchup going into things.
However, the matchup didn’t play out quite as well on the court. JM, which sports about six or seven scholarship level talents, jumped out early on Western Albemarle, and refused to let their foot off the gas. Using their athleticism, length and depth, the Justices pressured Western, which has good length but lacks ball handlers, and turned them over giving them easy baskets in transition. At halftime, they led 37-17, forcing eight turnovers and holding them to 4-of-20 shooting from the field.
To their credit, Western settled down and played much better in the second half. While they still struggled taking care of the ball, they were much better from the floor, shooting 10-for-20 from the field, but the hole they dug was too deep to get out of. John Marshall ended up hanging on to win 63-42, winning their second state title since the VHSL changed to a six class format, winning one back in 2014 as well.
Here’s a look at some of the takeaways from the state championship game.
John Marshall Bench Steps Up in a Big Way
It’s a great day to decide to have one of your best games of the season, and for the first two guys off of John Marshall’s bench they did just that. Juniors Jarious Ashlock and Aubrey “Pooh Bear” Meritt stepped up big time for JM, giving them a huge boost to help them. Two guys that bring completely different things to the team, they were both efficient and productive off the bench, and that was the talk of the press conference after.
“Both of these guys would start for almost any other team in the state, but they have sacrificed for this group to be a part of something special, and it has helped us in a big way throughout the season,” Head Coach Ty White said.
Ashlock, a 6’2” stocky shooting guard, is a guy who can fill it up in bunches, and he did just that in his sixth man role. He came off the bench to score 13 points on 10 shots in 18 minutes, scoring nine of them in just 10 minutes in the first half.
Meritt is more of a do-it-all point guard, who makes others better and makes plays on both ends of the floor. He showed all of that, as he only took two shots and scored four points, but he dished out six assists and had four steals in 19 minutes, all while just turning the basketball over one time. That’s great feel and IQ from a ball handler.
Isaiah Todd isn’t the Only Stud Sophomore on JM
Isaiah Todd is regarded as a top three sophomore in the country (he’s number one in our 2020 rankings), but he isn’t the only sophomore on John Marshall that can play. 5’10” guard Elijah Seward came out on fire for the Justices, showing that he has a bright future as well moving forward. The lefty finished with a game high 15 points, hitting three three-pointers and showing some impressive athleticism around the rim.
Chris McGharren Shows Grit for Western
Playing out of position, the District Player of the year for Western Albemarle didn’t have the best game of the season, but he showed toughness as he played hard throughout the game. On a team without a true ball handler, the shooter was forced to play the point guard role throughout the season, and made the best of it, leading them to the state championship. While they struggled, he finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.
JM Size is “Like a College Team”
One of the most memorable quotes of the day came from Western Albemarle Head Coach Darren Maynard when describing how tough it was to match up with John Marshall.
“It was a lot like playing a college team,” Maynard said. “With their length, athleticism and speed, it was like trying to break a press by a college team.”
He was also asked whether or not a team that wasn’t from the inner city would ever win a state championship in the current Class 3 format, to which he answered “Probably not.”
Justices Return Top Seven Next Year
The scariest thing about this John Marshall group, is that if they all return they will return their top seven players in their rotation. With four juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, all of whom are receiving serious attention from colleges, they have a very good chance of repeating as state champions if everyone returns to the group.