The ongoing group text message shared by every player on the Potomac (Va.) boys’ basketball roster took on a dour tone Monday morning when Tariq Felder posted game footage of the No. 4 Panthers’ 70-66 loss to Wakefield in last Saturday’s Virginia 5A North region final.
“I don’t even want to look at that [stuff],” one player replied.
But far from a pity party, the correspondence morphed into a rallying cry. There was the jarring realization that their 26-game win streak was kaput, but also that their biggest goal — a state title — was still on the table. No one doled out blame or pointed a finger, except at himself.
“My role on our team is to stop the other team’s best guard,” said Xavier Laws, a typically soft-spoken guard who averages just fewer than five points per game. “I felt really bad when we lost to Wakefield, because their guards scored a lot [39 points], and I felt like it was mostly my fault. I just wanted to make sure they knew what page I was on” with the texts.
The Panthers (26-1) will look to get their title aspirations back on track on Saturday when they face 5A South region champion Maury in a state semifinal at Old Dominion University.
On Wednesday back in Dumfries, the Panthers — well-rested after a pair of snow days — capped a breakneck workout with situational basketball. The scoreboard still displayed 69-27, the final score from Potomac’s lopsided win against Halifax in last week’s region semifinal. The starters ran five-on-five against a scout team comprised of bench players and coaches, including 1998 All-Met honorable mention Sherman Rivers.
When Potomac’s soccer and lacrosse teams started filing into the gym for their allotted practice slots, Coach Keith Honore dialed up one final situation: down by one with the clock inside five seconds.
George Mason recruit Trey Porter pierced into the lane, caught the inbound pass cleanly and pulled up. Porter’s shot was true and appeared on target as the buzzer sounded. The ball did a full 360 before rimming out.
Porter and the rest of the starting five have played together in one form or another since middle school, and in some cases earlier. Honore coached an age 10/11 AAU team called the Prince William Pacers, which also featured senior forward Randy Haynes and shooting guard Torrey Dixon.
While Felder spent most of his long weekend revisiting footage on Hudl from the Wakefield game, Dixon suggested a different kind of film study.
“Fellas, go watch Coach Carter or Glory Road,” he contributed to the group chat. “It’ll make you want that ring even more.”
Potomac’s top three scorers are the 6-foot-10 Porter (15.8 points per game), Haynes (17.8), and Felder (8.5). But junior guard Keijon Honore, the coach’s son, has been a consistent contributor, leading the squad with 37 three-pointers.
Potomac’s recipe for its 26-game win streak can be broken down into equal parts size up front and leadership. It starts at the top with its coach, who said he’s lost sleep on several nights since the Wakefield loss and on Wednesday found himself plotting strategy and sending texts of his own to assistant coaches around 3:30 a.m.
“I was more hurt for our guys,” Honore said. “I really wanted them to win a regional championship. . . . The reality of it was it just wasn’t our night. After watching the tape several times, it dawned on me that we didn’t have a chance to defend because we were in such foul trouble early on, and it took away a lot of our aggressiveness.”
That same aggressive streak resurfaced in Felder on Sunday morning, when he drove to the Dale City Rec Center and put up shot after shot, from midrange jumpers to layups — in solitude. Later, as the first snowflakes began to fall, he jogged the two-mile loop down Blue Pool Drive, around River Oaks Elementary and back home. Twice.
“I felt like we were out of shape at the end of the [Wakefield] game,” he said. “We made a lot of little mistakes that we could’ve instead capitalized on.”
By 3:45 p.m. Monday, junior guard Jaren Johnson had seen enough texting.
“Say no more,” he wrote. “We know what we have to do.”