Looking across the court this season, five college basketball players from Culpeper County High School will see some familiar faces - their former teammates.
Five CCHS graduates will play Division III basketball this season - marking nine collegiate players in the past 12 years coming from the Blue Devils program.
On a recent summer day, CCHS head coach James “JT” Thompson worked out with the Division III five at the Culpeper Sport and Racquet Club - attesting to their bond and their work ethic.
“We’re very proud,” Thompson said, glancing over his shoulder as his five former pupils joked around with each other.
Luther Gibbs (Christopher Newport University), Daijordan Brown (Lynchburg University), Chris Simmons (Eastern Mennonite University), Will Jameson (Randolph College) and Devin Mosley (Eastern Mennonite University) will all face off this fall - a unique experience for a school of Culpeper’s size.
It’s a testament to Culpeper’s basketball program and how they churn out high-quality players. Gibbs, Brown and Mosely were all Player of the Year for the Blue Devils.
“I’ve seen them since they were eighth and ninth graders, to see them improve year to year, is fun,” Thompson said. “It’s a testament to their hard work.
“It’s not about maintaining, it’s harder to stay there (in college),” the CCHS head coach said. “They have recruits that are trying to come take their spot. I think it’s different now, that they’re out of school, and I’m not treating them like a high school athlete. They’re seeing a different side of what it actually takes.”
It’s not just work on the basketball court - but work in bettering themselves overall. Thompson works with them on their nutrition - Jameson and Mosely are down to 3 percent body fat. But it’s
Will is down to three percent body fat.
It’s also not just about the basketball court - but the classroom. Thompson noted all five graduated high school with grade point averages over 3.0.
“It’s a celebration for the school that we’re producing a student athlete that’s ready to go to school,” Thompson said. “There’s no waiting on SAT scores. When coaches come to recruit these guys, they’re ready.”
Thompson cringes when he hears people question why the players are “only” playing at the Division III level. He said it doesn’t matter what level they play at, but the fact they are continuing their careers and using their success on the basketball court to fuel their success in the classroom.
“The hardest scholarship to get in college basketball is the guard position,” Thompson said. “The guard position is full. You really have to separate yourself to get a guard scholarship. Their parents brought them up, they listen. They listened to what the projections said.”
Luther Gibbs - Christopher Newport University, senior
Luther Gibbs is the eldest of the group - entering his senior year at Christopher Newport. Last year, the team went to the Division II Final Four, and Gibbs was a big part of that - playing guard.
Looking around at the four other younger players from Culpeper, Gibbs said he serves as an elder statesman - giving them sound advice and helping them enjoy the moment.
“It’s pretty cool to see, especially thinking back to my junior and senior year of high school because those guys were just coming up from middle school,” Gibbs said. “It’s a testament to all our hard work paying off.”
He preaches a team first mentality, and to be ready to play at a different level. He laughs thinking back to his first season - coming in thinking he was going to start and he got his “butt kicked.”
“(I tell them) It’s a long year, you’re playing from September to March, just listen to your coach and your seniors because before you know it, you’re the senior,” Gibbs said.
The political science major beams with pride when he talks about the bond the five have - having made it to the collegiate level from CCHS.
“I think it’s really just a testament to the culture of basketball that not only that JT has tried to instill in Culpeper but just Culpeper as a whole,” Gibbs said. “When I come home, I see a lot of younger kids getting exposure for basketball and school. I think it’s a really good thing for the community because what’s most important overall is that we’re getting into school first.”
He acknowledged the importance of five young African-American men going to college, of being successful and of being positive role models for young men in Culpeper.
“I think especially growing up for me, a lot of older folks I had to look up to were different you and (you) kind of had to find your own route,” Gibbs said. “I think now with all the examples we’ve been able to set, I think for the community it’s a wonderful thing. How can you not succeed when everyone you look up to is going to school, even just having a consistent job.”
This year’s CNU team is as good as last years, Gibbs said, maybe better. Yet, he’s apprehensive about going back to college.
“This is the first time I’m not ready to go back to school because it’s bittersweet,” Gibb said. ‘I just want to explore everything my school has to offer and expose the genuine relationships I have with everybody.”
Chris Simmons - Eastern Mennonite University, Sophomore
Simmons said one of those “genuine” relationships he has is with Thompson.
“He’s helped me tremendously, he’s helped me become the player I am today,” Simmons said. “I don’t think without JT I’d be anywhere close to the player I am now. When I joined him sophomore year, he just totally flipped a switch in me.”
The son of Aaron Simmons and Taiya Hondras, the EMU sophomore said that he had the skills coming into high school - but not the confidence. That’s where Thompson came in, giving him that boost that he needed.
He also helped shape him into the team player he is now.
“When I was playing, I knew I wasn’t going to be the star, but my mentality was what can I do to help the team win,” Simmons said. “It’s just knowing your role and embracing it.”
Devin Mosely - Eastern Mennonite University, freshman
It’s fitting Mosely will be joining Simmons at EMU, as he too needed a confidence boost coming into CCHS.
“The thing it (high school basketball) taught me the most was confidence,” Mosely said. “JT taught me to believe in myself.”
Mosely turned the confidence into becoming a Player of the Year as a guard and then into a college scholarship at EMU.
“It was a great fit for me, I walked on campus and just felt like this was home,” Mosely said.
He said he’s been dreaming of playing college ball since he was 7, and it didn’t matter at what level - he just wanted the opportunity to prove himself.
Now he has it, all the while going to school for elementary education.
“There’s not a lot of male teachers, and a lot of kids today are growing up without fathers,” Mosely said. “I feel like if I get them early, I’ll always be that person for them.”
The son of Deena Hitt and Devin Mosely said it’s special to be playing college ball in close proximity to four former teammates.
“We always talk trash to each other in practice, so now we get to do it for real,” Mosely said.
Daijordan Brown - Lynchburg University, sophomore
One thing Brown didn’t need was confidence.
He always felt he was the most talented player on the court - he learned how to control that at CCHS.
“I learned a lot at (CCHS),” Brown said. “Coming in, I was a lot better than kids my age but he (Thompson) really humbled me and taught me that if you don’t work hard your talent doesn’t matter at all.”
Brown smiles when he thinks of his old coach.
“He’s taught me so much off the court about being a man,” Brown said. “I needed discipline. He supported my belief that I was the best player on the court. He always said, ``You're the best player on the court, act like it.’ Without him I might not be where I am today.”
The son of Irene and Paul Brown, he said going to college basketball was an eye-opener. Seventy-five percent of his day is basketball and he says you have to be “dedicated to the grind.”
“Everybody is good in college,” Brown said. “It’s everybody’s best player from their county, their region.”
Majoring in sports management, with a minor in business, Brown is the first member of his family to go to college.
He started to get choked up just talking about.
“It’s emotional, but it’s a happy emotional,” Brown said. “I was going to college and my family couldn’t tell me because they hadn’t gone. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. There’s been a lot of homesickness.”
Yet, his mom has made every game and helped he realize he was right where he needs to be.
“She’s my No. 1 fan,” Brown said.
Now, he has four other Culpeper players to share the experience with.
“All of these guys, it’s deeper than basketball,” Brown said. “Anybody knows me though, once I’m on the court - I don’t have any friends. If you’re on the other side of me, you better bring your best because I’m bringing mine.
“In basketball, if you’re not a shark, you get eaten.”
Will Jameson - freshman, Randolph College
For a new program at Randolph, Jameson is hoping to be a part of many firsts.
“There’s a chance to break a record every single game,” Jameson said.
A forward at CCHS and now in college, he credits Thompson with becoming a better person and taking responsibility and being accountable. He grew up watching CCHS games, keeping close tabs on Thompson and dreamed of one day playing for him. Now, he’s another Blue Devil success story.
Again, confidence is the attribute he credits his coach with instilling in him.
“Without confidence, you can’t do anything, you have to believe in yourself,” Jameson said.
“It’s just a blessing because a lot of people can’t make it in college.”
The son of Theresa and Will Jameson, he credits his family with supporting him every step of the way.
“That was a big reason I picked Randolph so I could come home on weekends and my parents could come watch me play, they’ve never missed a game,” Jameson said.