Team Website: pvihoops.com
Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA)
Classification: VISAA Division I
2017-18 Record: 33-4. WCAC regular season and VISAA Division I state champions
Ranked #11 in MaxPreps Preseason Top 25 High School Basketball Rankings
Making my way to the gym on the school grounds, I had much anticipation to get an early close-up look at the renowned program. Who could blame me? The Panthers are coming off of a remarkable season that saw them win the VISAA Division I state crown. It most likely came with a feeling of increased satisfaction, considering they suffered a loss to Trinity Episcopal in the 2017 state title game. Stepping into the gym, I quickly sensed an atmosphere/energy much greater than a typical high school preseason session. The team looks far from complacent about their recent success.
Aside from all of the talent, the professionalism of the Panthers’ program arguably jumps out as most impressive. Head coach Glenn Farello and his staff have done a great job in implementing a mature approach to the game within each player who comes into the program. It took no time to discern Farello’s emphasis on communication, encouragement, and attention to detail. After a warm-up shooting drill, I liked how he gathered the group at half-court to ensure they would big up each other. He then went around the circle asking each player a certain question (I couldn’t determine what was asked). When competitive drills took place between teams, Farello would demand players on the sideline to uplift their teammates if the energy ever started to lack. Evidently, I could see the team knows how to have fun, without question, but they also understand the need to be fully locked in.
What’s on the Agenda for Today?
With only 100 minutes of gym time to get better, the coaching staff had a structured plan for the players. Observing the pace and instruction by all three coaches present definitely reminded me of a college hoops setting. Several goal-oriented shooting drills took place within the first 1/3 of the session; I enjoyed watching the players go toe-to-toe in a drill of who could make the most three-pointers within five minutes. After getting up a plethora of shots, the coaches then divided the players into two groups, each on a different side of the court for stations. Farello explained how he tends to do this pretty much every time the team takes the court; there’s an emphasis on a different aspect each day. During my visit, the day centered on defense, something that the team usually focuses on more than anything else. The two stations again had goal-oriented drills, this time in a more competitive way. My favorite drill probably had to be the one challenging a player to get three defensive stops in a row going 1v1. During my college playing days, we would refer to three consecutive stops as “kills.” It translates into one gaining a greater pride of defense. The team ended their session with a ‘120 drill’ and ten-minute full-court scrimmage. Considering how well they ran it, the ‘120 drill’ looks like a daily occurrence for the Panthers. With ten minutes on the clock, they would have to score 120 points off of layups, jumpers, and/or put-backs, all in constant back-and-forth transition.
The biggest thing I can see separating Paul VI from other programs pertains to how they play at a different speed. They get it and GO. It was neck-breaking to try and keep up with how they pushed the ball up and down the court during a mere scrimmage to finish off the day. Personally, I’ve always found this type of fast-paced basketball as the most enjoyable to watch. Veteran guards Jeremy Roach ’20 and Anthony Harris ’19 set the tempo for the Panthers’ offensive style. An ESPN five-star prospect and first-team WCAC selection this past season, Roach looks more than ready to take over as an upperclassman. He pushes the ball up the floor at an extraordinary rate and can make plays for others, as well as himself. We soon may see him taking home WCAC player of the year honors at some point during his second half of high school. Harris, a senior scoring guard and ESPN 4-star prospect, seems to have put on some muscle and shows an all-time high confidence. His recent commitment to Virginia Tech may serve as an indicator of the latter notion. He has great patience as a three-level scorer and always knows which right decision to make. Expect him to finish the season as one of the best guards in the WCAC again. Fans will always find excitement in watching freshman Knasir “Dug” McDaniel ’22, an incredibly quick point guard that has an IQ and feel for the game well beyond his age. He’s already picked up offers from George Washington and Mount St. Mary’s before his high school career has even officially started.
Likewise to the backcourt, the Panthers’ perimeter players operate productively in both transition and half-court play as well. After missing some time last season to injury, Josiah Freeman ’20 looks healthy and enthusiastic the entire time he’s on the floor. His three-level scoring has improved dramatically, along with his rebounding and vocal leadership on defense. The 6’4” junior can heat up quickly from beyond the arc; I saw him make over 10+ NBA-range three-pointers in a row during shooting drills and carried it over into the scrimmage. With consistency, Freeman has the potential to emerge as a WCAC All-League player. Following a standout first season, in which he earned spot on the WCAC third team, Trevor Keels ’21 returns looking to build upon that for an ever bigger sophomore campaign. It’s easy to forget he’s still only a sophomore when analyzing his already-college size. Keels plays in a similar way to Freeman in how he can score at all three levels. With his imposing physical tools, the young 6’4” wing can bully his way to the rim and forcefully go after rebounds. Keels’ vision also stood out whenever he would initiate the fast-break. Already having been offered by Wake Forest, South Carolina, and George Washington, the Clinton, MD native looks primed to have a dominant remaining three years.
Recent George Mason commit, Josh Oduro ’19, will lead the inside presence for the team as a senior returning starter. His development from his first game within the program last season all the way to today has proved perhaps greater than any of his peers. Oduro looks ready… more than ready. The 6’8” forward’s footwork and ability to finish over either shoulder makes him a menacing presence in the paint, along with his effort on the offensive glass. I also noticed him appearing more comfortable in putting the ball on the floor to slash towards the rim from the wing. He seems to have shredded a couple of pounds since the conclusion of his junior year and runs the floor much better. Defensively is where he may shine even greater. Tyler Coleman ’21 comes in as a new face for the Panthers and will help give greater depth. The young forward stands around 6’7” and can do many things similar to Oduro. Coleman seems really comfortable in looking for his shot already from the outside; he may come into his own as a dangerous pick-and-pop guy. His 1v1 defense will need to keep improving for him to make greater strides. While he did not make an appearance during my visit, Avery Ford ’21 rounds out the tall group. He’s currently playing as a 6’6” wide receiver on the Panthers’ football team (yes, opponents have trouble covering that). Ford played a significant role as a freshman reserve last season, especially when I saw the team in the VISAA state tournament. He can defend, rebound, finish, and has been working to expand his all-around offensive game. The coaching staff has strong praise and expectations for the sophomore forward to continue that production this season.
After going 12-4 against teams in the top national rankings last season, Paul VI will again embark on a heavy schedule. The second game of the season pits them against St. Frances Academy (MD) on December 1st, at DeMatha Catholic High School. A week later, the Panthers will return to DeMatha for the annual ‘ARS Washington DC HoopFest.’ During their two day stay, they will play nationally-ranked Montverde Academy (FL) and Nicolet High School (WI), on December 8th and 9th, respectively. Later that same month, the team then has to pack their bags for the ‘City of Palms Classic’ in Fort Myers, FL. Less than a week afterwards, they take on Liberty High School (NV) in the ‘Slam Dunk to the Beach’ tournament up north in Delaware. Finally, in the midst of WCAC play, the Panthers will make an appearance in the Spalding Hoophall Classic to face Shadow Mountain (AZ). The rest of the official schedule can be found on the team’s website (see above).
While the departure of WCAC first-teamer Brandon Slater, who now suits up for the Villanova Wildcats, will certainly be a loss, the Panthers return so much firepower that they should have little trouble in filling in holes. The versatile wings Keels and Freeman should combine nicely to replace the role Slater had as a scorer. Roach and Harris combine to make up one of the most dangerous back-courts in the country while the frontcourt has enough skill and toughness to establish their own assertiveness. As I touched upon earlier, the Panthers will greatly hurt teams with their speed. They play fast and have a clear chemistry with each other. Whenever they come close to your town, make sure to mark the date!
The Panthers look primed for another outstanding season! I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sitting at the top of the national rankings when it’s all said and done.