In maybe its best win of the season to date, Woodside needed someone to assume command in the fourth quarter. Phoebus was throwing its helter-skelter press from baseline to baseline, which has been know to rattle the best of teams.
So the Wolverines turned to 14-year-old freshman Chris Orlina. With the Wolverines needing poise and production, he provided both. He scored 10 of his 26 points in the final 6 1/2 minutes, and Woodside ended up cruising to an 87-70 road win.
A week later, Woodside found itself in another tight game at Bethel. And again, the Wolverines turned to a freshman. This time, it was 15-year-old point guard Devante Carter. He finished with 16 points, only three fewer than Bruin scoring machine Rakeen Brown, in a 57-47 win.
Many times, the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. Not these guys.
"You've got to understand," Woodside coach Erick Mays said. "These two aren't scared of or intimidated by anyone. They do a lot of basketball traveling around the country and play different people — great, talented players. Nothing fazes them.
"They have a good respect for the (older) kids who have done big things in the league for a while. They know who they are. But at the same time, they're confident kids out to prove they belong in varsity basketball."
The senior class has the star power, both in boys and girls, but this season has seen another rise in freshman productivity. Orlina is the Peninsula District's seventh-leading scorer at 16 points a game. Carter is eight slots down at 11.8 ppg.
The Wolverines have another freshman who sees significant minutes in guard Juwan Davis. Other rookies of note around the district include Denbigh's Eric Heard and Heritage's Malik and Jermaine Marrow.
The PD girls have two rookies who have stood out this season. At Kecoughtan, which has a veteran team, guard Alexsis Grate (10.3 ppg) has provided what coach Kevin Williams said was missing. At Warwick, Adria Strothers (11.6 ppg) has coach Vanessa Starks expecting a bright future.
Listed at 6-foot-5, Orlina is creative around the basket and improving from the perimeter. In one five-game stretch (Dec. 27-Jan. 8), he averaged 24.4 points a game. But what sets him apart is his advanced court maturity.
"His basketball IQ is off charts," Mays said. "That's a real special gift he has."
It took time to develop that.
"At the beginning of the season, I was a little nervous," Orlina said earlier this month. "But I'm playing with more confidence now."
Carter is averaging 14.2 ppg in his last five games. He also has to handle the game's toughest position in a point guard heavy district that includes Hampton's Anthony Barber, Phoebus' James Daniel III and Brown.
"He's a solid player," Heritage coach Mike Gardner said. "You can tell he's either a coach's son or somebody's been working a lot with him."
Orlina and Carter both play with New Generation of the
Williams was so impressed with Grate's potential that in November, he predicted she'd be one of the best players in the district. He didn't specify whether he meant immediately or eventually, but Grate is certainly getting there.
"Having Alexsis gives us a lot of options offensively," Williams said. "In that Hampton game (a 53-40 win), we wanted the ball in her hands the last four minutes. And she wanted to be that person."
Warwick coach Vanessa Starks is impressed by Grate's development.
"I love her," she said. "She's a freshman, but she doesn't have a freshman mentality."
Starks also likes her own kid, whose last name is familiar around these parts. Adria Strothers is the daughter of Warwick boys coach Lamont Strothers, who is Christopher Newport's all-time leading scorer and played two seasons in the NBA (and several abroad).
"She has good genes and I'm sure she's been playing AAU since she could walk," Starks said. "She's grown quicker than I anticipated. We're looking for big things from her."
Bethel also has a potential rising star in guard Nyra Williams, the daughter of Bruins track coach Eddie Williams. She made a quick impact with 20 points in her fifth game.
Three years ago, the PD boys had arguably its best freshman class ever headed by Barber, Kecoughtan's Rodney Bullock and Phoebus' Troy Williams. That same season, Chelsey Romero was a rookie at Kecoughtan and Adrienne Motley was a ninth grader at
The common denominator is AAU. High school coaches don't love everything about it, but there's no denying that incoming freshmen who play year-round are more prepared for varsity basketball than those who don't.