The Blue Devils stayed within single digits of JM for a little more than two-and-a-half quarters, but the Justices threw down the gavel in the third to secure their ninth state title and third since 2014, winning 75-57.
JM outscored Gate City 21-6 in the third quarter thanks to an inspired defense that came out trapping after being up only one point at halftime.
Gate City senior guard Bradley Dean scored a game-high 32 points in his final high school contest and nearly single-handedly kept the Devils in the game late.
Dean finished his outstanding high school career with 2,230 points, which is good enough for 22nd all-time in VHSL history, and his 862 single-season points ranks 10th all-time.
During the game, he passed former Cave Spring and Duke standout J.J. Redick.
Thursday afternoon’s game was also the final contested basketball championship game of the weekend. That was in reaction to the constantly changing landscape of the novel coronavirus that resulted in the VHSL calling off the Class 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 championship games for both boys and girls. All the teams were declared co-champions.
“I thought it was a very physical game and we wanted it to be that way,” Gate City coach Scott Vermillion said. “In the third quarter, it got a little bit away from us and they turned up the pressure on defense. They got a couple of turnovers from the pressure and made some easy buckets. Those guys individually are just super talented basketball players and probably play with either Team Loaded or whatever AAU affiliate they’re with more basketball than a lot of players get to play.
“I’ll take my kids from Scott County and we’ll play them or anybody else anytime, anywhere.”
The Justices (24-2) got 21 points from Region 2A player of the year and crafty guard Jason Nelson along with 17 from Elijah Steward.
Steward hit some key 3-pointers off turnovers in the third quarter that pushed the game almost out of reach. Six-foot-10 Roosevelt Wheeler had a good offensive impact on the game, finishing with 11 points, but his defensive presence gave Gate City headaches.
He finished with nine rebounds and three blocked shots, but he influenced countless other shots that Gate City passed on down low in the paint.
Dennis Parker also chipped in 11 for the Justices.
JM won a lopsided rebounding battle 43-26, but Gate City was rebounding the ball well in the early going and had a six-point lead early in the game.
“They have a lot more skill depth than we do,” Vermillion said. “A lot of them shoot it as well as Brad shoots it. It was a task that we were up for and I wasn’t surprised that we were ahead.”
“To God be the glory for this wonderful opportunity,” JM head coach Ty White said. “I’m excited for this team and I’m extremely proud of this group of young men and coaches. … (Gate City) is a respected program and it’s not by accident that you have three straight 2,000-point scorers. Hats off to those guys and Bradley Dean was on all game.”
“The TSSAA has done something about this whole Anfernee Hardaway type thing, and that’s what is going on here with John Marshall,” Vermillion said, referring to the situation current University of Memphis coach Penny Hardaway dealt with during his time at Memphis East.
James Wiseman — a former Tiger and projected top NBA draft choice — played for Team Penny, which was founded by Hardaway, and at Memphis East, where Hardaway coached for a season. Wiseman transferred from Ensworth to East and was ruled ineligible by the TSSAA due to an “athletic coaching link” to Hardaway.
Wiseman committed to Memphis and played two games before being ruled ineligible by the NCAA.
Wiseman announced his departure from the team in December.
“I don’t care what division they’re in, and I’d like to see where those guys were born and where they were raised. I’m certain not all of them live in the John Marshall attendance area, and you can print that if you want,” Vermillion said. “I’m super proud of the fight that our guys gave. I’ve been told by two or three different folks that are in this area that they haven’t seen anyone push them the way that we did.
“I’m not speaking bad of John Marshall’s players. They are excellent, but they are just a different level of player. Nobody else in (Class 2) has a team like that. … The coronavirus was one day late for us, I guess.”
White is also the head coach of Team Loaded Virginia — an AAU team that regularly does well in national youth tournaments around the country that even former Gate City stars like Mac McClung and Zac Ervin played for.
“Everybody is afraid to say it. … Team Loaded is a great organization and it’s also very attractive. You get them in and they become part of your student body and I don’t understand it,” Vermillion said. “If someone wants to show me that those guys grew up in that area and went through their feeder schools and became a John Marshall freshman, I’ll shut my mouth. Somebody has got to tell the truth about it. I don’t care to tell the truth about it because I’ve been here long enough.”
“There is nothing unfair about John Marshall’s relationship with Team Loaded,” White said. “We are fortunate enough to have young men that are able to play on that team. We have 100 Team Loaded teams everywhere, and if you look on the bench at any basketball court, there will probably be a Team Loaded kid somewhere.”
FOR THE SENIORS
The six seniors on Gate City’s team have been responsible for 103 wins and two state championship game appearances. Only the 2007-08 senior class can say that it appeared in the state title game twice.
“This group of seniors stretched it and probably did some things that I’ve never had a group do,” Vermillion said. “In our league, we were picked second in the conference. We don’t talk about and we could probably care less who picks who in the conference. … We live in a special community and we’re hated by a bunch of folks down our way, but we don’t care.”
Jon Compton finished with eight points and 553 for his career while Andrew Hensley finished out his standout year with 287 season points — the third-most on the team.
“Our kids are loved deeply in our community and if you’re a part of us, you understand. If not, you probably don’t get it. Our kids want to stay here,” Vermillion said.
“This run has been just as special as 2018 was. Jon and I grew up shooting in his driveway talking about playing for a state championship as seniors,” Dean said. “It’s been expected for a very long time, and I wouldn’t want to do it for any other community.”