By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
After three days of practice and tryouts, the Episcopal boys basketball team returned to the court November 19 for a scrimmage with Sidwell Friends to get up to speed ahead of the regular season, before the school’s Thanksgiving break.
The task of getting ready for the regular season quickly is made more difficult by the boarding school’s schedule, in which students take a full week off for Thanksgiving. It means the Maroon’s early schedule is truncated, and the team will not return to the court until December 1 with a trip to Georgetown Day School.
“I certainly don’t want to sound like a complainer, but for our schedule as a boarding school, I find that early in the season it’s probably one of the most challenging things I’ve experienced as a coach,” said Episcopal head coach Jim Fitzpatrick. “There are a lot of gaps in our season in November and December, but we try and turn that into a positive. We say, ‘Well I hope that our kids’ legs are fresh in January and February,’ and that’s the time you’re really competing for championships in many ways.”
The exhibition against Sidwell, while competitive and intense, had a different feel from any other game either side will play this year. The scores were reset at the end of each eight-minute quarter, allowing players to rotate in and out without having to focus on the result at the final buzzer, and so there were different priorities for Fitzpatrick and his colleagues compared to regular season contests.
“I look for effort, energy, playing hard defensively, trying to find the right movement and matchups on the defensive end,” he said. “Then offensively, you just look to establish flow. You want to see the kids share the ball, move the ball and start to create some cohesiveness offensively. The main thing is the competitive level was there, the effort was there, the desire to be good teammates, so that’s really my main goals in the scrimmage.”
In the first two quarters, the Maroon defense looked impressive as it prevented the Quakers from scoring for long periods and allowed for some impressive margins on the offensive end. The hosts stormed to the end of the first quarter with a 13-0 run, then started the second period 9-0, as their offense moved the ball well and made some tough baskets. Things did not go as smoothly in the second half, as Sidwell upped the ante on both sides of the ball, but the Maroon still came away in the lead at the end of each quarter.
“A lot of positive things came out of that scrimmage, [but] I think we need to clean up our game both offensively and defensively so that it looks smoother and a little bit more under control at times,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I do like the way they competed, [and that] they played hard.
“We’re trying to push the ball in transition and speed the tempo up. I felt positive about the scrimmage and it was good to finally practice against somebody else other than playing against ourselves like we have the past few days.”
And while it is still early days for Episcopal as the coaches look to find the right combinations on the floor, Fitzpatrick is pleased to have some continuity from last year’s roster. The Maroon lost five seniors to graduation, but had four starters against Sidwell that logged significant minutes last season.
“We’ve got a lot of veterans back and a lot of scoring punch, and we’ve combined that with a few new kids,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s exciting, it’s a nice mix of returning kids who have a great presence and can score and have played at that varsity level, and a nice mix of new players that can offer both offensive and defensive presence as well.”
Episcopal arrives this season on the back of a great deal of success last year, having won the Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship with a 56-54 victory over Bullis. And while the Maroon was defeated 68-66 by Fork Union Military Academy in the first round of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association League, they will be viewed as a team to beat across the region. Those expectations don’t faze Fitzpatrick and his players, they said.
“When you do what you’re supposed to do in terms of competition, in terms of coachability, in terms of cohesiveness among your team, I think we have the players who have the ability to play for championships,” he said. “I think we just need to make sure we have a team that can play for championships. And that’s the fun part. I don’t feel pressure because, if we all do what we’re supposed to do for the next couple of months, it’ll put our team in a good position.”