This year’s high school basketball season might be in the books, but that didn’t keep a selection of seniors from putting on a dazzling show in Centreville High’s gym on Sunday. The inaugural NOVA Challenge showcased local boys basketball talent in an all-star game that pitted Fairfax County against Loudoun County.
Led by the high-wire acts of Broad Run’s Travis Fulgham and Dominion’s Tony Richardson, the Loudoun County All-Stars ran away with a 125-115 win. A 20-point deficit was trimmed to six going into the fourth 11-minute quarter, but Fulgham and company continued to burn Fairfax in a contest that was high on fast-breaks and low on defense.
All 15 Fairfax players found the score sheet Sunday, led by 13 points from Edison’s Marcus Brumsey. The collection of seniors featured mostly players from the 6A North Region, along with four from Conference 13 in the 5A North Region.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Herndon’s Kent Auslander, who finished with 12 points. “There wasn’t much defense, so you get to dunk and shoot a lot of threes. It’s just a nice accomplishment, seeing how far I’ve come over the past four years.”
West Potomac senior Demornay Pierson-El put up 12 points on an array of steals, drives and jumpers, earning him team MVP honors for Fairfax. Committed to play football at Nebraska next year, Pierson-El admitted he hadn’t touched a basketball since the Wolverines’ season-ending loss to South Lakes last month. His performance Sunday wasn’t a bad way to conclude his career on the hardwood.
“It feels wonderful,” Pierson-El said. “It capped off my basketball career completely. I’m happy I ended on a good note, and I’m just ready to focus on football.”
The NOVA Challenge also featured dunk and three-point contests. Standing barely 6 feet tall, South Lakes’ Dre Puryear wowed the crowd with a series of explosive jams, including one in which he took off from the middle of the paint to unleash a powerful one-handed stuff. That dunk earned him a perfect score of 30, but it wasn’t quite enough to vault him into the finals against Fulgham and Tuscarora’s Jordan Roach, where Roach eventually came out on top. West Potomac’s Joseph Richards emerged victorious in the three-point competition.
The idea for Sunday’s showcase came about toward the end of last summer, when a group of administrators started thinking about what the annual all-star game would become in the aftermath of this year’s VHSL reclassification. Northern Region all-star games used to split its four districts in half, putting the Concorde and Patriot Districts against the Liberty and National Districts.
Former basketball coaches like Centreville Assistant Principal Brian Doyle decided to use their relationships with peers in Loudoun to foster a friendly rivalry between the two neighboring counties in an annual all-star event. Doyle teamed with Loudoun Valley coach Kevin Weeren and Marshall assistant coach Jerry Lin to spearhead the event’s organization in recent months.
“We’re guys that have coached for a long time, and we’re just kind of basketball junkies,” Doyle said. “We just thought it would be a good time to start another all-star game, and the Loudoun/Fairfax connection provided a good opportunity.”
Doyle and company solicited four sponsors (Marlow Sports, Evolution Basketball Training, Virginia Ground Covers and the NOVA Cavaliers) and partnered with Friends of the Wounded Veterans, a local charity serving veterans home from combat. According to Doyle, the event raised over $1,000 for Friends of the Wounded Veterans.
Next year’s NOVA Challenge will be held in Loudoun, though exact location and charity are yet to be determined.
“We just want to give the kids more opportunities for exposure and more opportunities to get noticed,” said Jefferson coach Mark Gray-Mendes, a program coordinator. “A lot of people pay a lot of attention to the private school basketball that goes on in Fairfax and Northern Virginia, and we feel like this is a great opportunity for these kids who are at public schools to get noticed, especially with some college coaches in the stands.”
The NOVA Challenge wasn’t the only local all-star game held on Sunday. Oakton High hosted the 10th annual Suburban Classic, which also featured a three-point contest and all-star game. West Springfield senior Amy Berglund won the shooting competition, while the East triumphed 78-64 in the ensuing game. McLean’s Cami Prock garnered team MVP honors with 12 points and several assists for the East, while Centreville’s Jenna Green was named the West’s MVP with 13 points and multiple assists. South Lakes’ Caitlin Jensen led all scorers with 22 points, including four straight baskets (three treys) in the final 1:30 of the game in a losing cause.
The Northern Virginia Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association awarded four $500 scholarships at the end of the game to Berglund, Bailey Dufrene (Osbourn), Kayla Hix (Stonewall Jackson) and Chanel Shannon (Mount Vernon). Recipients were selected based on GPA, basketball ability, school and community involvement, coach recommendations and essay submissions.