By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Head coach Mike Jones expects the St. Stephens and St. Agnes School’s varsity boys basketball team to build on its 18-10 record from last season.
If the Saints’ three game sweep in the Sleepy Thompson Boys Basketball Tournament last weekend is any indication, the team is well on its way. SSSAS earned the top spot in the tournament for the first time in 10 years.
SSSAS followed up a competitive 68-57 season-opening loss to powerhouse Woodrow Wilson High School – which has five Division I-signed players – with three big wins over T.C. Williams High School, Benedictine College Preparatory and Episcopal High School in the Sleepy Thompson.
The Saints capped off their tournament run, which included wins against two of the three other Alexandria high schools, with a decisive 89-58 victory over Episcopal in the championship round.
As the 2018-2019 season gets into full swing, Jones is confident that there are big things in store for the Saints this year.
“This year we’re setting a high goal,” Jones said. “We’re trying to win everything we play in. We’re looking to set the bar extremely high and work towards that goal.”
Jones, who previously worked on staff for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, took over head coaching duties last year after serving as assistant coach to Ronal Ginyard during the 2016-2017 season. The Saints came out of last season determined to build on that 18-10 record.
With only two seniors, the team was relatively young. This year the team is full of experienced players – six seniors and eight juniors – who understand the fast-paced Saints style of basketball and are ready to execute on it.
“We should have a lot of leadership this year,” Jones said. “The guys understand the system very well and they’re excited about playing and doing big things this year.”
SSSAS’ starting roster remains largely unchanged with the exception of the now-matriculated captain Domenick Bailey. Three new captains now share that responsibility, all of them seniors and all of them experienced SSSAS players: point guard Ephraim Reed, power forward and center Charles Thompson and shooting guard Christian DePollar.
With three captains, SSSAS has a strong core foundation. Responsibility and the burden of both success and struggle is now shared between three players, which the captains hope will help the team operate as a unit.
“Because there’s three of us, the load is carried by all of us,” said Thompson, who has played for SSSAS since he was a freshman. “So if I’m having a bad day, the other two captains can pick me up and we can keep going to work.”
According to DePollar, sharing responsibility both on and off the court will be key to SSSAS’ success this season. The Saints are focusing their efforts on team play over individual stardom and, with more experienced players occupying the roster this year, they are able to dig deeper into their bench.
“We also have a lot of bodies this year,” said DePollar. “Everyone on our team can play. Everyone on our team is going to play.”
The coaching staff and roster haven’t changed significantly from last season; instead the team is using its experience to refine, not redefine, its core style of play.
“We’re really a good team when we can get out and run the fast break,” DePollar said. “We’re really good in transition. That’s going to be key for us.”
The team’s focus on evolution over innovation is already paying off in major ways.
The Sleepy Thompson was the Saints’ first big challenge in a season that promises to be full of them. Jones and the captains admit that this season’s schedule is one of the toughest in years, but, contrary to the team’s fastbreak style of play, they’re taking the season in stride.
“Our strategy is one game at a time,” said Thompson. “We can’t look past any opponent. We want to dominate every team that we play against.”
From Coach Jones to the captains, everybody is talking about “big things” on the horizon this season. Given the tough schedule that will test the team’s experience and strategies, it’s still unclear whether the Saints will execute on their sky-high goals. However, for the three senior captains, this is more than just another season of basketball. It’s a chance to leave behind a legacy.
“I just want to be able to leave the school and have people talk about this 20182019 team,” DePollar said, echoing sentiments from the other captains. “I want people to know and remember who we are and what we did.”