Over the summer, Broad Run seniors Ryan Koppel and Kirk Melvin worked out with Stone Bridge seniors Eric Pearson and J.D. Smith, lifting weights, doing speed work, shaping up for the season.
But when it came to playing pickup games after workouts, Pearson and Smith never let Koppel and Melvin play on the same team, to keep things fair.
"Any time that we played, Kirk and I had to split up," Koppel said. "Now, as we're playing against other teams, we're on the same team, building that chemistry with each other. We know where the other guy will be every second, like second nature. If we stay healthy, I think we'll be a deadly combination."
Teams do not have the luxury of splitting Koppel and Melvin this season. The two headline seven players returning from last year's team, which matched Broad Run's winningest season with 17 victories, won its first AA Dulles District title and advanced to the Region II tournament for first time in five years.
"We'll be pretty good," Coach Larry Boomer said. "We have a good nucleus coming back, and that helps with continuity into the next season as far as preparing and knowing what is expected. And it helps speed up the process as far as getting them ready."
As a result of playing against Koppel all summer and in preseason, Melvin, the team's best one-on-one defender last year, has become even more fierce on defense.
Koppel's accurate jump shot required Melvin, a 6-foot-4 small forward, to play close, opening him up to the drive but forcing him to move more quickly.
Koppel, two inches taller and 37 pounds heavier than Melvin, had the advantage whenever he tried to get physical. Melvin was sometimes overmatched but should be prepared for any opponent this season.
Guarding Koppel "helps out a lot, because he's the hardest person I've ever have to defend," Melvin said. "He has me in weight, size and he has a nice jumper, so I can't play off him.
"It's real difficult trying to guard him. There isn't anyone in the league like him or that has a versatile game like him."
Melvin's offense has gotten a boost, too, against Koppel. Any time he takes the ball to the basket, he protects it as if a block is looming from behind, instead of lazily laying it on the backboard. Melvin has added a feathery jump shot, so defenses must track him and Koppel.
"He was telling me the other day that when he goes up for a regular layup, he hooks it up and around [the rim], like he would do against me," Koppel said.
Koppel has made adjustments as a result of playing against Melvin. Last year, he averaged 21.4 points, including a 34-point outburst against Fauquier, and was fifth in scoring in Northern Virginia. Always a reliable shooter, Koppel is more capable of driving this season after dealing with Melvin's long reach for so long.
"I think we've picked up on each other weaker attributes and made those strengths in each other's game," Koppel said. "Kirk didn't have a good jumper, and I wasn't a good slasher. This year, I think it's improved each other's weaknesses."
Last year, Koppel sat out the entire preseason with a sprained left ankle and did not find his groove until well into the season. This year, he had a full summer, fall and preseason to prepare.
If defending his All-Extra Player of the Year title was not motivation enough, Koppel has high hopes. A list is taped on his bedroom door underneath a quote from the film, "A Bronx Tale:" "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent."
Koppel's goals include another district title, 20 victories and a AA tournament berth. Personally, he would like to average 25 points and 10 rebounds, score 508 points -- to give him 1,000 for his Broad Run career -- and shoot 90 percent from the free throw line. He shot 79.4 percent there last year.
"It's more about the team, because if the team does well, then you get recognition," said Koppel, who is talking to coaches from American, Harvard and Davidson, among others. "It's there just so I don't ever lose focus."