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Thursday, March 7, 2013
BUENA VISTA — The players took their positions for the inbounds pass: seven guys on defense, five on offense.
“Four seconds left!” Parry McCluer coach Nelson Fox said Tuesday evening, handing the ball to a player on the baseline to begin the drill. “Down by two!”
There was a pause. And before the drill could begin, two players spoke the same question at the same time, a question that Timesland’s winningest active coach was pleased to know had entered their minds: “Do we have any timeouts?”
That’s what it’s about for this Parry McCluer boys basketball team, because that’s what it has to be about. Just across the interstate from Rockbridge County High, where Andrew Rowsey has been a nightly show-stopper with his huge scoring outputs, they’ve quietly built a different kind of winner here.
There are no 30-point scorers at Parry McCluer, no obvious college prospects. But there is a group that broke the school record with 16 wins in a row, a group that has advanced further than any Fighting Blues squad since 1995, a group that will face West Point at 5 p.m. today in the VHSL Group A Division 2 semifinals in Richmond.
“We talk about synergism all the time,” said Fox, in his 34th year as Parry McCluer’s coach. “The sum is greater than the parts. Some teams might be more talented than we are. They may run a little faster, jump a little higher. But you shouldn’t be defeated in your heart and how you’re going to compete in that particular game.”
That’s the mindset the Fighting Blues will take today when they face one of the most athletic opponents they’ve seen all year.
The film shows that West Point likes to press all game long; hence, the 7-on-5 drills to give offensive players the sense of flying hands and omnipresent defenders they’ll see when bringing the ball upcourt.
They ran those drills Tuesday in a gym that had five state championship banners hanging from the rafters — all for football, captured from 1977-87 under the late Bob Williams. Fox has been a consistent winner in his own right (only six active coaches in Virginia have more than his 538 victories), but he’s still chasing the big prize in hoops.
“We’ve been lucky enough to keep him as long as we have,” said junior co-captain Josh Perry, a 6-2 post player. “I love coach Fox. It’s not all about the court with him. It’s the classroom, mental part. We go to the classroom every day [to study video], pretty much. He wants a team. He doesn’t want an ‘I.’ ”
And that’s what these Fighting Blues have given him: an unselfish, chameleon of a squad capable of playing any style required to win.
Love to run? They’ll slow it down on you. Have some heavy-footed big men who struggle to run the floor? They’ll hit the gas and wear you out.
“We look at it basically like a baseball pitcher,” Fox said. “If all you have is fastballs, somebody’s going to hit that out of the ballpark. So you’ve got to have a curve here, a slider here, a change-up. We play a lot of styles.”
Perhaps the most emblematic player on this team is senior co-captain Charlie Fitzgerald. At 5-foot-9, 135 pounds, he doesn’t frighten anybody stepping off the bus. Yet he took Pioneer District player of the year honors this winter after showing the ability to attack the rim and pile up steals on defense.
Other pieces have fallen snugly into place. Perry and 6-4 center Christian Camden both shoot better than 50 percent from the field. Sam Armstrong is a 42 percent marksman from 3-point range. Sophomore Ryheem Dawson, the running back on the football team, grabbed 15 rebounds in a district tournament game.
“We aren’t really looking to go to one person,” said co-captain Brandon Caputo, a four-year varsity player. “But if somebody’s having a good night, we’ll look to go to them. We just try to move the ball as much as we can at first and see who’s on.”
Against Castlewood in the state quarterfinals, Tanner Fix was one of those guys. He scored 11 points off the bench to help Parry McCluer win 53-34, bouncing back from a loss to Bland County in the regional final that had snapped the 16-game winning streak.
Who will it be today? They don’t know yet, and they don’t really care. They’ll try to execute seven or eight passes before shooting in the half-court set.
“It’s just something we have to feel out,” Fitzgerald said.
The West Point trap, though? They have a plan for that. They have a plan for almost everything. If they’re trailing by two with four seconds left, they’ll know exactly which play they want to run.
And how many timeouts they have left, too.
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