After starting the season 7-2, the Blake High School boys’ basketball team ended their second season under coach Dondrell Whitmore with a loss against Watkins Mill High School in the playoffs on February 28. The Bengals ended their season 9-14.
Following a 16-9 record in Coach Whitmore’s first year, there was a lot of excitement around the school for the beginning of the 2016-17 season. The Bengals started out the season with a tough 76-55 loss to Georgetown Prep. They went on to win their next five, led by the starting five consisting of seniors Kobe Colston, Shane Ramsey, Da’Quan Staley, and Gabe Wilson, and junior Donnell Whitmore.
January began with a win at Poolesville, but once conference play began on Jan. 6, the Bengals really began to struggle. They dropped four in a row, including a heartbreaking loss on Jan. 13 in the final seconds to arch rival Paint Branch High School, in front of a loud, capacity crowd.
“It was a great atmosphere, a lot of students came out and then it was a good game up until the end when we came out of the wrong side of the outcome,” senior guard Kobe Colston said, who led the Bengals in scoring average (22.6) and assists (93) during the season.
The Bengals eventually ended the season with a 2-9 record in conference play. Their only conference wins came at Northwood High School on Jan. 19 and at Sherwood High School on Jan. 25.
“[I] think that we hit a lot of bumps and bruises after Christmas break,” Whitmore said. “We started playing in our conference play which is probably a little bit harder than we were expecting.
The season ended with a nonconference loss at Seneca Valley on Feb. 10 and a tight game at Clarksburg High School on Feb. 17 that ended with a 62-60 loss.
The team entered the playoffs hoping for a fresh start in the postseason at home against Watkins Mill. They began the game trailing 17-0, but fought hard to end the half with a 31-30 lead. They ended up losing the game 83-72.
“This showed me that the guys were just holding in and then that they didn’t want to quit,” Whitmore said.
With the season over, the team was left to reflect on their season and what went right and what went wrong.
“We could shoot pretty well,” junior guard Donnell Whitmore said. “We are a fast team because we had many guards.”
Colston pointed to their ability to run the floor.
“We like to get out and run,” Colston said. “A lot of our games where we got out and ran those were a lot of the games where we were competing.”
Coach Whitmore pointed to their work ethic and effort as a strength as well.
“In every game, every guy, everyone played hard and even though we didn’t do well record wise, I believe that everyone got better,” Whitmore said.
When the team was asked about their struggles their responses referred to their size. Sophomore forward, Cheick Toure noted they didn’t have many big men. The majority of the players identified as guards. The tallest people on the team were starting senior forward Gabe Wilson and reserve senior forward Orbell Keshishi, both at 6-foot-3.
“[The] biggest weakness this season was rebounding and every team that had more size over us, that is how they won the game,” Colston explained.
With eight seniors leaving, including Colston and leading rebounder Shane Ramsey, the team will have to look for new young talent to rebuild for the future.
“We had a very good JV team this year and a lot of guys that have been playing together even before they got here,” Whitmore said. …”I’m moving up a few freshman and a few sophomores, so I’m going to [make the team] young so I can try to develop and build up the program for several years”
Colston said two players to watch for next year are rising junior David Hill and rising sophomore Raef Hetherington. The hope is that with these two experienced players and the younger players moving up, Coach Whitmore hopes that these two players and the younger players moving up will move the team toward his ultimate goal of bringing a banner and a trophy to Blake High School.
Feature image courtesy of Blake Athletics.