Basketball preview: Explosive guard Mackey leads young West Potomac squad

West Potomac players

West Potomac coach David Houston III, center, talks to his team during Tuesday’s opener against Centreville (Jon Roetman image)

West Potomac guard Daryl Mackey Jr. soared through the air, snagged an alley-oop pass from Duran Etheredge and threw down a two-handed dunk just seconds into Tuesday’s season opener against Centreville.

Mackey’s display of athleticism sent the Wolverines bench into a frenzy and offered onlookers a glimpse of the team’s potential. Unfortunately for West Potomac, the team’s lack of experience came to light down the stretch and the Wolverines opened the campaign with a 50-47 home loss.

After back-to-back conference championships and trips to the state tournament, the 2017-18 West Potomac boys’ basketball team features the size and athleticism to make another postseason run. However, the Wolverines lost four of five starters to graduation, meaning West Potomac might have to take its lumps early in the year.

Facing a Centreville program that won the Concorde Conference last season, West Potomac jumped out to an early advantage and led by one at halftime. The Wolverines kept the game close in the fourth quarter but failed to grab some much-needed rebounds when trailing.

While the loss left head coach David Houston III visibly frustrated, he said he was pleased with the way the Wolverines battled.

“I would like to say that a more experienced group might [have been able to rebound better in the fourth quarter],” said Houston, who enters his 14th season as West Potomac head coach, “and as we continue to experience these things we will get better at realizing the importance of rebounding all game, but specifically when you have to have it. … We’re young and we made young mistakes.”

One Wolverine who isn’t lacking experience is 6-foot junior Mackey, who enters his third season as a key contributor at the varsity level. Mackey’s talents were evident during his freshman season, when he scored 17 points during West Potomac’s victory over West Springfield in the Conference 7 championship game. Last year, Mackey averaged more than 19 points per game while helping the Wolverines return to the state tournament.

This year, however, Mackey will have to shoulder the load offensively with standouts such as Khalil Williams Diggins, Idaresit Ekpuk and the Bellfield brothers having graduated. On Tuesday, Mackey was the only Wolverine to score in double figures. He finished with 18 points, including a trio of 3-pointers and a pair of dunks.

“[Mackey is] probably the most experienced player in the region,” Houston said. “… We’re looking for him to make plays — he made some plays tonight. We’re looking for him to pick his teammates up and play multiple positions.”

While Mackey will be looked upon to carry the Wolverines offensively, Houston wants No. 10 to transition into a leadership role, as well.

“He had seniors who carried him,” Houston said about Mackey’s first two seasons on the varsity. “While he’s not a senior, his job is kind of to do what they did and show the toughness that the younger guys need [and] make the plays at the end of the game we need him to make.”

Mackey was the only Wolverine to record a field goal in Tuesday’s fourth quarter. He knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, including one with less than a second remaining.

“This year, I have to be more of a leader,” Mackey said. “I have to guide guys and I have to show it on the court, too. … [Varsity experience] helps, but [being a leader is] still all new for me, too. I’m still learning how to become that leader that I need to be.”

While Mackey develops as a leader, his supporting cast includes plenty of size and ability.

Senior guard Etheredge (6-2), junior forward Shannon Harrigan (6-5), sophomore forward Colby Dessaure (6-4) and sophomore guard Ethan Payne (5-9) joined Mackey in Tuesday’s starting lineup. Dessaure finished with seven points.

Sophomore guard Jack Fricka (6-2) scored eight points off the bench.

Another Wolverine who came off the bench and has the potential to be an impact player is 7-foot junior Jonas Munson. He finished with four points against Centreville, including a putback that tied the score at 37 near the end of the third quarter.

“He needs to be a shot blocker,” Houston said, “he needs to be a rim protector and a rebound gatherer.”

West Potomac is back in action Friday with a 7:30 p.m. home game against Washington-Lee. Houston, who was named conference and region Coach of the Year last season, expects a better performance from the Wolverines.

“I expect us on Friday to bounce back from this game, to execute our stuff better,” Houston said, “… and protect our home court next time we play.”

Mackey wasn’t discouraged by Tuesday’s season-opening loss.

“I would say this is all part of the process,” Mackey said. “We’re all still growing.”