Breaking down Charles Henderson’s state title opponent: Valley

Published 10:19 am Friday, March 3, 2023

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The Valley Rams, much like the Charles Henderson Trojans, are on the verge of history as the Class 5A State Championship draws near. Noah Patheja has covered the Rams all season for the Valley Times-News and helped The Messenger break down the team’s unprecedented success.

Like Charles Henderson, Valley High has never won a state championship in boys’ basketball but the Rams have been one of the top teams in the state all season. In fact, Valley comes into this final weekend of the season as the only team in the state that remains undefeated, regardless of classification.

“They’re kind of like Charles Henderson in a way that they play fast and they want you to play their game,” Patheja said of Valley. “They beat teams in so many ways. Valley is a team that goes up and down the court so fast and their defense plays fast. They mix up their defense, so it makes it really tough on other teams. They do pretty much every thing well.”

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Valley is led by junior forward Cam Dooley, who averages 18.2 points, nine rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Junior center Brandon Thomas averages 11.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. Dooley and Thomas bring size that could give the smaller Trojans problems inside.

“They have some size, Cam Dooley is a 6-foot-4-inch combo guard. He’s very physical but he can also shoot really well,” Patheja said. “Center Brandon Thomas is 6-foot-6-inches and gives Valley that size they need. He has a really long wingspan and is really good at getting rebounds. He’s not that physical of a guy in the paint but he’s also not scared to shoot the three if he’s open.”

Valley’s starting lineup is rounded out by senior point guard Jemarious Martin, averaging 11.4 points, 2.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists, while junior Jay Harper averages 6.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Denali Dooley is a senior guard averaging 10.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Denali Dooley is the older brother of Cam Dooley and Jay Harper is the son of Valley coach Marshon Harper. The Dooley brothers’ father was also a member of Valley’s last Final Four team in 2001.

“Jemarious Martin is a really good ball handler, a solid defensive player and at one point he was leading the state in assists. He’s not afraid to shoot either,” Patheja said. “Jay Harper is hard to describe. He doesn’t show up on the stat page all the time but he’s a contributor on that team and will make a key pass when he needs to and he’ll make a lot of steals. He just helps the team a lot.

“Denali Dooley lately has exploded offensively. Against Scottsboro, he did a great job getting offensive rebounds and second chance points.”

Valley is beating teams by an average of 27.3 points in the postseason, including a 19-point win in the Final Four against Scottsboro.

“They don’t play down to their competition,” Patheja emphasized. “They won almost every game by at least 12-15 points this season. They didn’t have the toughest schedule but even in the playoffs they’ve been beating teams by 20 points.”

Charles Henderson coach Tim Fayson and Valley coach Marshon Harper are both leading their alma-maters into a state championship but Harper is in his 20th year at the helm of his alma-mater, while Fayson is in his second year as the head coach for CHHS.

The Rams have also rallied around their school, which very well could be in its last year of existence. Valley High School and nearby LaFayette High will likely be consolidating before the beginning of next school year, which has offered some added motivation for the team.

“Harper has been saying all year that he wants them to go out with a state championship and this is probably the best team they’ve ever had,” Patheja said. “Valley has sort of embraced that this is the school’s last season and it has put a chip on their shoulder.”

With all of the success on the court – plus the added motivation – Patheja said it would be tough for anyone to beat the Rams.

“It’s tough to me because I think Charles Henderson has had a tougher road to the championship,” he continued. “It’s tough to make a prediction but if Charles Henderson is able to take a lot of charges, that is something Valley might struggle with early on. Valley is a very malleable team, they really adjust to anything the other team is doing and they’ll beat it.

“I haven’t seen anyone outplay them. With this being Valley’s last season potentially, and them being undefeated, I think they’re going to come out on fire in the beginning. I’m sure Charles Henderson will adjust the same way Valley does, but I think there is so much at stake for Valley this season that it would be tough for any team to beat them. It’s not impossible but it’s going to be really tough.”