4A State Finals: I.C. Norcom brings history, muscle against Handley
WINCHESTER — Jason Toton didn’t go so far as to call I.C. Norcom the best team the Handley boys’ basketball team will play this season, but he didn’t sugarcoat it either.
“They’re very big and very athletic,” said the Handley first-year coach. “Of the five they start they don’t have a kid under 6-1. When you look at them they look like a college team on the floor.”
If Handley (21-2) hopes to win the first boys’ basketball state title in school history — the Judges face I.C. Norcom in the Group 4A state championship game Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center — it’s going to have to do so against a Greyhounds (22-5) team that knows a thing or two about finishing on top.
This will be the third state finals appearance in the past five years for Norcom, located in Portsmouth, which won Group AAA titles in 2010 and 2011.
Those teams were led by phenom Dorian Finney-Smith, who played a year at Virginia Tech before transferring to Florida, where he is currently averaging 9.4 points off the bench for the top-ranked Gators.
But even though this year’s group of Greyhounds may not have a high-profile Division 1 commit, as Toton noted they have plenty of sizable talent.
They’re led by 6-foot-3 senior forward Troy Locke, who averages a team-best 20.4 points per game and was the Conference 17 and 4A South Region Player of the Year.
Joining Locke in the backcourt is fellow 6-foot-3 senior Antonio Parker, who averages 12 points per game, and 5-foot-8 sophomore Travis Fields, who returned from a thumb injury that kept him out 10 games to pile up 11 points, seven assists and seven steals in Norcom’s 64-53 win over George Washington-Danville in the Group 4A state semifinals Saturday.
“They run a lot of stuff through their perimeter players,” Toton said. “Locke is a really good player, he’s very tough, and so are Parker and Fields. They’re going to get after you, they’ll press you fullcourt, do some trapping. They’re the type of team that wants to have their defense create their offense.”
Like almost every team the Judges have faced this season, the Greyhounds have nobody who can match up physically with 6-foot-8 senior Cameron Jackson, but they have plenty of beef to throw at him.
Norcom starts 6-foot-5 senior Marques Harvey, who weighs in at 280 pounds, alongside 6-foot-2 freshman Travis Ingram, who finished with 10 points and grabbed six rebounds against GW-Danville Saturday.
And then there’s juniors Kenneth Duke (6-5), Terrell Camp (6-4) and Robert Farmer (6-3), giving longtime coach Leon Goolsby, who did not return multiple phone calls, plenty of big options to work with.
“They play seven or eight guys and from the people I’ve talked to it sounds like their inside players are football players playing basketball,” Toton said. “They’ve got some bruisers.”
They’ve also got plenty of talent.
Of Norcom’s five losses on the season, two came against a Maury team that reached the Group 5A state semifinals, one against a Landstown team that is playing in the Group 6A state finals at VCU on Friday and another against Norfolk Collegiate, a private school that advanced to the VISAA Division 2 state quarterfinals.
The Greyhounds, who last lost on Feb. 4, are riding a 10-game winning streak and have shown they can persevere in both high-scoring (74-60 over Churchland) and low-scoring (40-30 over King’s Fork) contests.
In Saturday’s win over GW-Danville, Norcom led by just one at halftime before using a 17-8 run in the third quarter to pull away for good.
“They’re actually a lot like GW-Danville, they can shoot it from the outside but they’re usually going to try and attack the basket and get to the rim,” Toton said. “They run a lot of set plays for their star players and try to create a lot of shots.”
The Judges led by as much as 16 against GW-Danville before the Eagles rallied back to make it a close game in the second half and used a late 10-0 run to beat Glen Allen 64-51 Saturday, a team the Greyhounds held off 52-48 in the 4A South Region finals.
But Toton knows common opponents rarely tell the whole story, and he expects one of Handley’s toughest tests on Thursday.
“They’re very good, they wouldn’t have gotten this far if they weren’t,” Toton said. “We don’t want to get in a running game with them and we have to crash the boards and make sure we limit them to one shot and done. We have to stick to our game plan and play our style.”
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1