South Lakes High School's four boys basketball captains know how it feels to lose.
Clayton O’Neill, Evan Keys, Junior Ebott and Brandon Kamga played some of their best basketball down the stretch last year and helped the Seahawks end the regular season on a five-game win streak. Then it all came to an abrupt end.
Thomas Jefferson, which won just eight regular-season games, squeezed out a 66-62 upset victory over South Lakes in the first round of the Liberty District tournament to prematurely end the Seahawks’ season. South Lakes’ players have not forgotten.
"They all got a little taste of what it’s like to lose last year,” said third-year South Lakes head coach Andrew Duggan. “Clayton [O'Neill] knows what it’s like. He was talking to our kids about last year and told them all about it. It’s a little motivation for us to work harder.”
Duggan enters his third season at South Lakes (1-2) with what he calls his youngest team to date. The Seahawks return one starter from last year’s 15-win squad and have just three seniors on this year’s roster.
“Our youth is definitely a challenge for us. We probably lost 90 percent of our offense,” Duggan said. “We’ll deal with it for the first month or so. Right now, we’re still developing some depth at every position. The kids haven’t played together a lot, but we’re working that out on a daily basis and we’re getting better at it every day.”
Despite the team’s youth, there is no shortage of talent. Six-foot-three sophomore Kamga has emerged as South Lakes’ leading scorer three games into the season. The sharp-shooting guard netted a team-high 20 points in the Seahawks’ 51-49 loss to Oakton on Nov. 29, and led the team in scoring with 13 points in South Lakes’ 65-46 win against Centreville on Nov. 30. Kamga also added 12 points in the team's 54-49 Dec. 4 loss at Osbourn Park.
Duggan remains impressed with his young point guard’s upside.
“This is new for him. We’re probably going to ask him to do scoring as well,” the coach said. “He can get himself to the lane and his shooting [ability] is improving. He’s probably our best player. We’re looking for a lot of good things out of him as he gets older and grows.”
Three-year varsity player O’Neill will fill South Lakes’ utility role. Duggan said the 6-foot-4 junior will see minutes at shooting guard and small and power forward. O’Neill averaged 15 minutes per game, with five points and five rebounds per game as a sophomore last season.
“He’s one of our stronger defenders,” said Duggan. “I look for a nice year from Clayton, as a starter, after coming off of the bench the last two years on varsity. He shoots the ball pretty well and is a good defender on the glass.”
Despite his team’s youth, Duggan said this year’s squad possesses some of the the same traits and qualities of the successful South Lakes teams in the ‘90s that won more than 10 district titles, six regional titles and earned eight berths in the AAA Virginia State Final Four.
“The more I’ve watched this team practice and play, the more it looks like the traditional South Lakes team the school has had throughout its history,” said Duggan. “We have long, athletic kids who can get up and down the floor, get to the hole and get after it a little bit.”
South Lakes travels to Stone Bridge on Friday.