New Team, Same Goals
I took my annual pre-season trip to Paul VI, one of the top high school programs in the country, to watch their work out and catch up with the team. The focus of the work out was the same as it always is, all about defense—Coach Farello’s main principle. This team approaches every drill with a unique competitiveness and energy that isn’t usually palpable at a high school workout. But with this team, you feel it the minute you enter the gym.
This Panthers team has very big leadership shoes to fill, as the torch was passed down from Aaron Thompson (Butler) to Brandon Slater (Villanova) last year. This year there is not a clear, vocal leader everyone is waiting for to speak. Those who are not as familiar with the Panthers may suggest this will be a challenge for them. I don’t agree. The lack of one leader who is always the one to speak up requires each player on the team to take responsibility, be accountable and raise issues when the team can do better, work harder, condition more intensely or slide on defense faster in a drill. And, that is what I saw happening throughout the entire session. Senior guard Anthony Harris, who according to his teammates is the “biggest jokester” on the team, was vocal when his teammates weren’t fully locked in while Coach Farello was talking. Junior guard Jeremy Roach, who is usually regarded as a quieter teammate, has seized his time as a leader and was vocally holding his teammates accountable on both ends. When he felt his teammates were being too quiet during a drill, Will Paige yelled “Baseline” to encourage them to cheer on their teammates. Swingman Josiah Freeman was vocal on defense all night while communicating with teammate Josh Oduro, and after some miscommunications, they came together and got a few stops to close out the practice and win the scrimmage. Not having one guy that everyone is looking to forces the team to communicate and respect each other more, which I think will help them later down the road.
My second point of emphasis after watching the workout is that Paul VI is going to play fast this year, very fast. Outside of big man Josh Oduro, the roster is filled with athletic guards who can all push the ball in transition and shoot from three. There’s no doubt this year’s team will be very competitive and entertaining to watch. They clearly have a chance to be one of the best teams in the country and to win it all. Last season was full of records and wins, but the WCAC Championship did elude them. They are back for more this year and the Panthers have all of the pieces to get there.
Here are some of the players to keep an eye out for this season:
Roach is fresh off an unbelievable summer in which he secured a gold medal with Team USA, a Peach Jam championship with Team Takeover and offers from the blue bloods (Duke, Villanova, Kentucky and North Carolina). The improvement in Roach’s game is visible after watching him for 20 minutes. He looks much more comfortable pulling up for his jumper and was even more consistent from deep. I think Roach has the chance to be the best player in the WCAC this year, and if he continues to stroke it like he did at the session I attended, there’s no limit on his game.
When Paul VI needs a bucket, they’ll call on Anthony Harris. The four star prospect is a pure scorer—he can do it at all three levels and is able to finish while taking contact. Harris also showed off some of his athleticism today with an absolute poster dunk in transition, sadly there’s no video. He will also be the go-to defender for the Panthers and will be relied on every single night to guard the other team’s best player.
After a very productive Freshman campaign, look for Trevor Keels to make a big jump this year. He is built like a college player and still has the ability to get past his defender with a dribble move and finish at the rim with power and finesse. The Panthers will also rely on Keels to be active on the boards as they are undersized as a team. He is a do-it-all swingman that should have a very big impact on the success of this team.
The senior sharpshooter will be relied on to space the floor and knock down threes at a high clip. Every player on the team crowned him the team’s “Best Shooter” and they are extremely confident he’ll knock it down when he gets a look from deep.
Paul VI’s lone big man will be relied on to hold down the paint. Oduro came into his own last season and improved every game. This season, he’s coming off a Peach Jam championship with Team Takeover and recently committed to George Mason. He has a newfound confidence and it’s visible as soon as he walks in the gym. Oduro’s improved post touch and ability to consistently knock down the mid range jumper will make him a difficult matchup for big men.
Although he’s just a freshman, McDaniel took control during the open gym. His vision is well-beyond his years. I only remember him committing one turnover the entire session, and I lost count of the assists. The point guard also showcased his ability to get a bucket by knocking down off balanced mid-range jumpers, finishing with finesse at the rim and a very consistent floater. He is the kind of guy everyone wants to play with and continues to prove he can play at this level. I look forward to watching what he does for the Panthers over the next four years.
The Junior swingman brings an elite versatility with his size, athleticism and scoring ability. He is a microwave scorer who can catch fire in an instant. Freeman can shoot the ball from all three levels and is a threat wherever he is on the floor. I think he has the ability to really surprise people with the production he is capable of.
The silky smooth freshman was also very impressive last night. May has a great stroke from deep and shoots the ball with a lot of confidence. His teammates added that he has some of the bounce on the team. Despite only being freshman, I think both May and McDaniel could make an impact for the Panthers this year.
Although the junior guard was injured and couldn’t participate in the contact drills, he still made his presence felt. Paige won almost every single sprint and continually encouraged his teammates. When he returns, the Panthers will be getting a lockdown defender and competitor with an extremely high work ethic.
After an undefeated regular season last year, the team came up short in the semifinals against Gonzaga. The Panthers have some unfinished business. There are some new faces, and some familiar ones, but they are all on the same page. Coach Farello and his Panthers want to finish what they believe should have been done last year. This team has their sights on the WCAC championship, and they will be in the gym working towards that, and Farello-approved defense, every day.