Heathwood Hall went 23-6 last season, won a region championship and advanced to the SCISA Class 3A state championship game before falling to imperious Pinewood Prep.
The Highlanders took a bit of a graduation hit with the loss of three starters, including Mac and Morgan Whalen, but the Hall figures to be a strong outfit again this season with the return of quality guards Corey Littlejohn and Joseph James a potential rising star in 6-4 sophomore Shelton Whittaker.
Littlejohn, a returning all-state player, is the team leader. He averaged 20.6 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, and recently signed a letter of intent to play at UNC-Asheville.
“Corey has worked very hard over the summer to improve his strength, ball handling and outside shooting,” said Highlanders coach Jeff Whalen. “He should be one of the better players in SCISA, if not the best.”
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James averaged 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season, and Whalen expects all the numbers to go up this year.
“Joseph has grown and gotten stronger in the off season and he has really shown in practice that he will be a force for our team,” said the veteran coach. “He’s a player that has a very good chance at playing collegiately.”
Chase Ryan, another 6-4 sophomore, is the other newcomer with the potential to step in and contribute immediately.
Seniors Alec Gregg and Carter Genova and junior Drew Pirie are the others in the mix for regular playing time.
“We must develop a tough mindset and learn to play defense at all times,” said Whalen, who is entering his 13th season at Heathwood Hall and his 20th as a head basketball coach.
“Transition defense has been a concern in practice along with a lack of physical play underneath the boards. We must take care of the basketball and learn to play unselfishly.”
The Highlanders have a tough opener on tap Tuesday in Sumter against traditional SCISA power Wilson Hall.