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H.S. basketball notebook: Paul VI takes ‘business trip’ to Hawaii; Damascus relieved just to play

The Paul VI Panthers finished as runners-up at the 'Iolani Prep Classic in Hawaii. (Courtesy photo)
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This month, the Paul VI boys’ basketball team spent a week in paradise. More specifically, the Panthers took part for the first time in the ‘Iolani Prep Classic, a national tournament held in Honolulu.

“It was a business trip for us, as we often say in basketball,” Coach Glenn Farello said. “But it was also just a lot of fun.”

The Panthers finished in second place in the 14-team bracket, falling to California power Sierra Canyon on Wednesday in the nationally televised championship game. Farello said he was happy to see his team continue to develop on the court but that the time the players spent together off it might be just as valuable. The team did several group activities on the islands, including a visit to Pearl Harbor and a hike to a volcano.

“That’s another way to develop and a big piece of this whole experience,” Farello said. “Just being able to spend time together and see a different way of life, it’s so valuable.”

The first of the team’s two wins in Hawaii was a milestone victory for Farello, the 500th of his career. The longtime Panthers coach spent many years at Eleanor Roosevelt before coming to Northern Virginia, and in the aftermath of No. 500 he called former Raiders principal Gerald Boarman to thank him for hiring him for that first job.

“It makes you think about all of those people who helped you along the way, all the players and the coaches,” Farello said. “It’s just a special moment, and it wouldn’t have happened without them.”

— Michael Errigo

Damascus relieved to get a game in

First, the Damascus girls’ team learned its game against Poolesville on Dec. 14 would be postponed. Three days later, Coach Ryan Hudy determined a few hours before tip-off that his team’s game against Wootton also wouldn’t occur.

Damascus entered last week facing the possibility of not playing for 25 days. One game that week, against Magruder on Wednesday, had been postponed, and Montgomery County suspended contests from this past Thursday to this coming Sunday to try to halt coronavirus spikes.

The Swarmin’ Hornets’ last hope was a home game against Kennedy on Dec. 20. Hudy felt relieved when the ball was tipped that night. In its only game since Dec. 10, Damascus won, 49-28.

“That would have been crippling for us,” Hudy said about another postponement. “It was mentally huge for us to play. It would have been a long month off.”

Damascus (2-1) is one of many Maryland teams sidelined during winter break, joining counterparts from Howard, Prince George’s and other counties. The Hornets opened the season in early December with back-to-back games before the outbreaks began.

The Damascus roster mainly consists of underclassmen whose first high school experience came this winter after last season was canceled. The Hornets can practice over the break with their next scheduled game against Watkins Mill set for Jan. 4.

“You try to game-prep for someone on a Monday that you play on a Thursday, and you’re just like, ‘Should we work on us, or should we work on our opponent?’ Because it could easily come Thursday morning that we’re not playing,” Hudy said. “It was kind of a weird situation.”

— Kyle Melnick

Three teams to watch in D.C.

As area public schools return for the second half of the season following a coronavirus/holiday pause, here are three boys’ teams that could be cutting down the nets in a couple months.

Wilson (10-1)

While first-year coach Tee Johnson’s calm courtside demeanor is a stark contrast to that of predecessor, Angelo Hernandez, the Tigers continue to stand tall atop the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association. With Robert Dockery (17.3 points per game), Darren Buchanan Jr. (15.9) and Marvin Brimage (12.8) as consistent threats, Wilson has already knocked off four private schools as well as crosstown rival Coolidge.

Coolidge (7-4)

As usual, the Colts frontloaded their schedule with tough nonconference opponents such as DeMatha, Rock Creek Christian and St. Frances Academy. Despite losing all three of those games, the Colts looked up to the task. Seniors Kyle Gaskins (18.5 points per game) and Stephaun Walker (16) are the standouts, but the Colts’ depth is what makes them dangerous. Coolidge has seven players averaging at least five points per game.

Theodore Roosevelt (8-1)

After losing a majority of the roster that captured the most recent DCIAA championship in 2020, the Rough Riders remain near the top of the standings because of their depth and 32-minutes-of-havoc style. Roosevelt has 10 players averaging at least five points, led by seniors Dawit Negash (18 points per game), Youssef Simpson (17) and Ashon Andrews (12.6). The Rough Riders’ full-court press wasn’t enough to knock off Coolidge a few weeks ago but could pose trouble for Wilson when they play Jan. 12.

— Tramel Raggs

Oakton’s underdog label short-lived

The Oakton girls’ team is used to entering gymnasiums as an intimidating bunch, given its reputation — 17 district championships and eight state title appearances in the past 25 years. At the season’s onset, though, the Cougars found themselves with just one returning starter and a new identity: underdogs.

“I think everyone on our team really badly wanted to prove everyone else wrong,” said senior Sophia Zinzi, the returning starter.

Despite its ability to motivate the team, the underdog label probably won’t stick much longer. Eight games into the season, the Cougars own an undefeated record they attribute to wise coaching and rejuvenated team chemistry — now that they can see one another outside of practice.

Zinzi said the Cougars’ camaraderie was fueled by the resurrection of their annual team-building tradition: a sleep­over followed by a toilet-papering of their coach’s house to launch the new season. (Coach Fred Priester is well aware of the ritual and contacts neighbors and police ahead of time.)

Oakton also overhauled its scheme on both ends of the court, playing zippy offense and energetic defense.

“We went from always finding post players to always having to be on the go,” junior Caitlin Crump said. “That’s just a really big change.”

The Cougars concluded their slate of preholiday games Dec. 20 with a 44-43 comeback win over Lake Braddock, punctuated by the tenets of their new style: steals in the third quarter, communication in the fourth and a final give-and-go that Crump converted for the game-winning bucket.

— Spencer Nusbaum