PM Boys Reload

Blues Return Three Varsity Players From 19-Win Team

The Parry McCluer High School boys basketball team is in rebuilding mode this season – but that doesn’t mean that the Fighting Blues are starting from scratch.

Yes, the Blues lost eight seniors from a squad that finished 19-6 overall in 2018-19, claiming the school’s first Pioneer District tournament title in five years and advancing to the Region 1C semifinals.

But while the PM roster features just three players with previous varsity experience – juniors Will Dunlap, Ethan Moore and Talen Roberts – the Blues aren’t expecting to go back to square one.

“Absolutely, it is a rebuilding year,” said PM head coach Mike Cartolaro, the veteran high school mentor who is beginning his fourth season at his alma mater. “But we hope that there are certain things in place that allow us to not completely start over.”

One of those established trends is the success that many of the PM newcomers have had at the junior varsity level under longtime coach Rad Patterson. In addition to Patterson, the Blues’ varsity assistant coaches this year are returning coaches Tyler Kerr and John Armstrong and new assistant David Smith.

The Blues also boast their fair share of skill and size, with plenty of upside at both ends of the court. Still, Cartolaro understands that there may be some growing pains as his younger players acclimate to varsity hoops.

“We’ve got to show more patience with the team, and with their development,” said Cartolaro, who’s won four state championships as a high school coach. “We’ve got to make sure that our goals are not too far out of reach from game to game. … As always, you hope no matter how old your team is, they go out focused and ready to play hard.”

It will also help the cause that the returning trio didn’t warm the bench last season. Dunlap and Roberts were both honorable mention all-district selections, while Moore saw plenty of minutes as a sophomore last winter.

Dunlap, who enters his third year of varsity basketball, will be a major part of the Blues’ game plan this winter. The athletic 6-foot-4-inch junior can run the point or play on the wing, and he’s also developed an offensive post game.

A string of midseason injuries to last year’s senior class turned Roberts into the Blues’ sixth man a season ago. The 6-0 guard has gotten even stronger and continues to work on his jump shot, and he’ll also be counted upon to provide leadership in the backcourt.

Similarly, Moore will see minutes at the guard position, with his shooting ability and defense helping to fill the void left by some of the departed players.

The Blues’ two seniors are both new to the varsity level. The quickness and athleticism of Treveion St. Clair-Helm should allow him to crack the rotation at the guard spot, while Turkish exchange student Baris Esmeroglu, a 5-8 senior, could also see minutes in the backcourt.

PM’s roster features a total of six juniors, with three of them moving up from the junior varsity team. Durham Baker is a 6-4 forward who will provide a solid post presence at both ends of the floor and can help the Blues on the glass. Justin Wade (5-11) is a capable shooter who should see time on the wing, while Trey Secrist (5-11) will add to PM’s depth in the frontcourt.

Standing at 6-9, sophomore Spencer Hamilton should immediately help the Blues by rebounding and scoring around the rim, and his perimeter shooting ability will create matchup problems for PM’s opponents. Classmate Ryan Perry dressed with the varsity team at the tail end of last season, and the tough-minded 5-10 guard will see plenty of minutes from the get-go.

Rounding out the rotation is freshman John Snider, who saw significant action as a running back for Mark Wheeler’s varsity football squad this fall. The 6-2 Snider provides more depth in the post and has a knack for scoring down low.

Anyone who’s watched Cartolaro’s teams play will know what to expect from the Blues in 2019-20, from well-organized defense to taking care of the basketball. Regardless of how much experience is on the court, those fundamentals never change – but Cartolaro likes the composition of his roster.

“We do have some offensive skills. We’ve got shooters, we’ve got size, and I think we can score around the basket,” the PM coach said. “The key’s going to be how well we can learn in game situations.”

The Blues will look for nondistrict challenges from Riverheads – which Cartolaro rates as a Class 1 state title contender – as well as traditional rivals Rockbridge County and James River.

Within the Pioneer District, Narrows has the strongest returning contingent and could well be the favorite. Despite suffering several key losses to graduation, Covington will still be a contender, while Eastern Montgomery and Bath County are also teams to watch out for.

The district schedule will include two additional games this year, as Highland County is fielding a varsity boys’ team for the first time in several seasons.

The Blues hope to see improvement throughout the course of the 2019-20 campaign, with Dunlap, Moore and Roberts anchoring the team as the rest of the PM roster works its way up to speed. The Blues anticipate that the pieces will all fall into place by the time the postseason rolls around.

“We’re hoping by the end of the year that we’ve improved enough, so that in the tournament we can become a dangerous team,” Cartolaro said. “The district is going to be challenging, but I think we can play with any of them.”

PM will open the season with a home date against James River on Tuesday. The junior varsity contest is slated to tip off at 5:30 p.m.

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