Blair boys’ rise in Montgomery 4A East sparked by defense

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from high school basketball games in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)
January 14, 2013

Before the basketball season, Blair Coach Damon Pigrom finally took the time to ponder a question assistant Cedric Boatman had been asking him since he took the job at the Silver Spring public school last year: “What two things do we want to be great at?”

Blair has not been great at much on the hardwood in the past decade, but the Blazers (8-4, 3-2 Montgomery 4A East) have turned their fortunes around this season thanks in large part to defense and rebounding, both Pigrom’s points of emphasis this season. Seeking its first winning season since 2001-2002, the team has hung tough in the difficult Montgomery 4A East with four wins in its past five games, including Friday’s 52-43 victory over Kennedy.

Boatman “had been in my ear all the time about simplifying,” said Pigrom, a longtime coach in the county who has also been at Poolesville, Blake and Bethesda-Chevy Chase. “Last year I was trying to be great at like seven different things. There’s not enough time in the day to be great in every single area.”

Pigrom kept his expectations modest entering the season with a group that returned just one full-time starter in junior center Raymond Burtnick, but Blair has already posted more wins this season (eight) than it did all of last season (seven). A year ago, Pigrom’s squad won just one Montgomery 4A East game and this time around, it has already posted victories over perennial county powers Springbrook and Blake at the halfway mark of division play.

The Blazers have earned their success on the defensive end, giving up just 48 points per game. Playing almost exclusively man-to-man defense, they have allowed more than 60 points just twice this season. Meantime, sophomore Danny Canary, a guard who spent all of last season on junior varsity, is currently the only Blair player averaging double-figure scoring at 10.8 points per game.

Those stats back up Pigrom’s plan for the season. The coach estimated the team spends 40 percent of its practice time focusing on defense and rebounding.

“We’re not complaining,” said senior guard Justin Kung, whom Pigrom calls “our glue guy.” “We trust our coach and we know he knows what we need to work on. There’s nobody here saying we want to shoot more in practice or anything like that.”

Blair will have a chance to back up its early success over the next three weeks when the Montgomery 4A East slate cycles through again. All six teams in the division currently have records at .500 or better overall with the Blazers tied for second in the standings behind Sherwood (8-4, 5-0), which went to the state tournament last season.

“I’m not sure if other teams underestimated us the first time, but we’re going into the second part of the schedule more confident,” Kung said. “Now we know what needs to be done to win these games.”

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