On Tuesday night it was O’Connell, the Panthers’ Northern Virginia rival in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, that struggled to keep up with the Duke signee.
Months ago, when the team got its varsity schedule, Roach saw that he would be making his return home in a game that often produces one of the best environments in local high school basketball, and a mental countdown began. As he worked through months of recovery, he used the idea of his first home game back as motivation. He didn’t think it also would be the No. 3 Panthers’ biggest rivalry matchup.
“I knew it would be crazy,” he said after the game. “First home game, everybody would want to see how it went, so I had to put on a show.”
Roach, the top-ranked local player in the Class of 2020, finished with 20 points in an 81-52 win.
He put up 11 points in the first quarter. He grabbed the opening tip and flew to the basket, giving his team a 2-0 lead in about five seconds. One possession later, he backed his man down for another easy lay-in to make it 4-0, and the home crowd roared.
After Paul VI pulled away early in the second half, Roach split his time as floor general and bench cheerleader, jumping to his feet every time a young teammate hit a shot.
The result was not necessarily surprising; Roach and his fellow seniors have lost just one home game in their high school careers. But this victory felt special.
“Yes, he brings so much to the team, but we’re just so happy that he can get back out there with his brothers, doing what he loves,” Coach Glenn Farello said. “He’s just been on , everyone had an opinion about how he should approach his senior season. There were people telling him to ask for a minutes restriction, others pushing him to come back earlier than he wanted and some saying he shouldn’t play at all.
Over the summer, as he worked to get back, Roach heard a lot of opinions about what he should do with his life and his game. Especially after he committed to Duke in May, everyone had an opinion about how he should approach his senior season. There were people telling him to ask for a minute restriction, others pushing him to come back earlier than he wanted and some saying he shouldn’t play at all.
“It’s why I keep my circle small,” the senior said.
After Tuesday’s game, as O’Connell left the floor, Roach and his teammates headed to midcourt to celebrate with the crowd. A small line formed in front of him, friends and fans who wanted to welcome him back or just silently shake his hand.
It was a hectic postgame scene, but Roach seemed comfortable in the madness, just as he had all night.
“Tonight just felt like I was back to what I do,” he said with a grin. “This is what I do.”