By Gwen Peace
January is an exciting time for high school basketball – and Alexandria has an abundance of promising teams.
“To have four, just really great schools and really great athletic programs in such a short distance with each other is just tremendous and I think it’s really positive,” Episcopal High School boys varsity basketball head coach Jim Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a really exciting time for boys’ basketball in Alexandria.”
Here is how the boys’ basketball teams at each of Alexandria’s four high schools are doing:
The Episcopal High School boys’ basketball team (5-4, 0-0 Interstate Athletic Conference) hasn’t gotten off to the start that they wanted in the early part of the season. A combination of factors – including a young roster and multiple, lengthy breaks with no practice – have contributed to this rocky beginning. But Fitzpatrick believes that this rough patch will ultimately strengthen the team.
“This December was a time for us to build our new identity and to really allow the new players to mesh with the returning players,” Fitzpatrick said.
After a historic 2021-22 season, in which Episcopal was co-champion of IAC – along with Alexandria rival St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School – for the first time since 2013, the team found itself without the core group of players who had led them to victory. The graduated seniors left a scoring hole in the team that has proved difficult to fill.
To counteract this loss, Fitzpatrick has emphasized fostering a healthy competitive nature within the younger contingent of his team.
“Our primary goal is to compete,” he said. “We really feel like if we can compete in a positive way with all of our opponents and put ourselves in the position to be successful and win games and play for championships, then we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Fitzpatrick views the season as split into two phases – before and after winter break. Because Episcopal is a boarding school, players go home during the holidays and practice ceases for two weeks. This creates a significant break in continuity, but Fitzpatrick also sees it as a way to re-energize the team. By viewing the two halves of the season as separate, it allows a fresh start that he hopes will lead to more wins down the road and an eventual championship run.
Episcopal is not the only young team in Alexandria – the Bishop Ireton boys’ basketball team (7-5, 0-2 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) is also composed of multiple underclassmen, which has resulted in a tumultuous start. “It’s been a little bit of an up and down,” head coach Dwayne Bryant said of the season so far.
But Bryant believes in the talent of his players and their ability to perform at a high level throughout the rest of the season. He says that with a young team comes an opportunity for growth and to develop the team as one cohesive unit; the growing pains of the untested group are accompanied by a chance for the players to bond and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Our younger guys are growing up,” Bryant said. “We have five freshmen on varsity and they’re getting to play and they’re growing up quickly.”
In order to foster this growth, Bryant has been making sure to give his players freedom. He emphasized the importance of allowing his players – especially the inexperienced ones – to take chances and make mistakes, as it will make them better players in the long run.
Furthermore, he praised the job that the team has been doing on the defensive end, calling it the “catalyst for the success we’ve had so far.” He thinks that this defensive prowess bodes well for the team’s future matchups, as its offensive efforts will steadily improve with the confidence of the developing players.
Bryant holds that this is something that will help them fight and succeed throughout the rest of the regular season and also into the postseason.
“We know what kind of team we have and what kind of talent we have,” he said. “I believe we have the talent and the ability to [fight for the WCAC championship.]”
St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes
The St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes boys’ varsity basketball team (6-4, 1-0 Interstate Athletic Conference) graduated multiple players last year, leaving the remaining younger players with big shoes to fill.
After tough early losses to Bishop Ireton and Shabach Christian Academy, the Saints have been focusing on fostering unity and working together, which is something that first-year head coach Andre Hunter hopes to accomplish with them.
“[We’re] not exactly where we thought we would be, but I think progress is being made is going to be a fight, day in and day out.”
However, he believes that many of the young players have stepped up to the plate and are beginning to perform at a high level, which he views as a significant marker of progress for the developing team. When asked about positive takeaways from the games the team has played so far, he said players are beginning to flourish in their new leadership roles.
In order to take the next step, Hunter is focused on remaining patient with his new players and giving them the space to grow. He also preaches accountability to his team, which aids in increasing each player’s commitment to the game and improving their attitude toward basketball.
The rest of the season will be a hard challenge for the Saints, with a tough gauntlet of conference matches on the horizon, but Hunter believes that with an open mindset the team will ultimately be able to triumph.
“There’s always going to be things that need to improve – there’s never going to be a perfect game,” he said.
But the ability to continue to grow will also allow the performance threshold of the team to continue to rise.
Alexandria City High School
The season has gotten off to a storming start for the Alexandria City High School boys varsity basketball team (8-2, 2-1 Patriot District, Virginia High School League). This is largely due to standout performances by junior and senior leaders of the team, and a strong sense of camaraderie among the players.
“I think the most important thing [in our success] is the guys liking each other,” head coach Tyrone Sally said. “I think great things [are] ahead of us.”
Last season was tough for the Titans, as they finished with a losing record of 10-11. However, according to Sally it brought the boys together and gave them the fight and drive to perform at a higher level this season.
“I feel like we’re figuring each other ou
t as a team,” senior power forward Finn O’Brian said. “We’re learning a lot.”
Additionally, the team has gained an x-factor in the Robinson brothers, who have been topping the stat sheets at both the offensive and defensive ends. Junior guard Kye Robinson averages more than 23 points per game and leads the team in assists. His brother, senior Kullen Robinson, boasts a 57% shooting accuracy and averages around six rebounds per game. The combination has led to a much more productive team on both ends of the court.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, the team is making an effort to not let up. The players want to finish on the same high that they started on, which requires one thing in Sally’s eyes: “main goal execution.”
And that goal? To stay focused during close games and keep winning.
“I think we finish games strong, and I think for the most part we do a good job sticking to the game plan,” Kullen Robinson said.
The Titans look to continue to execute this game plan in their remaining games.