Junior year Highlight Tape: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRc_muRmNwQ
Personally, I felt this past 2018-19 winter season resulted as a successful one for high school basketball within the Northern Virginia (NOVA) region. Pretty much every NOVA team I covered, both girls and boys, left me impressed; especially earlier on back in December when the 63rd annual ‘Sleepy Thompson Basketball Tournament’ tipped off at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School (Alexandria, VA). Near the end of the season, approximately seven NOVA private school programs earned a berth to the 2019 Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) state tournament. In all, teams finished with solid programs and players either picked up college scholarships or greater interest. Those two outcomes should always come with satisfaction. One guy who I felt had a quality, if underrated, junior season last year would have to be Jack Fitzpatrick ’20 out of Episcopal High School (Alexandria, VA). He took on an important starting role for one of the most entertaining varsity squads I had the pleasure of watching.
After transferring to Episcopal in the midst of his sophomore campaign, 2018-19 finished up as Fitzpatrick’s first full year on the school grounds. On the basketball side of things, the boys’ varsity group used their talent and collective strategy well to erupt as one of the best fast-paced teams within the VISAA Division I classification last season. 6’1” guard Xavier Johnson ’19, a current freshman member of the George Mason University men’s hoops roster, attracted some of the most buzz and earned first-team all-state honors. His younger brother, Darius ’21, had a breakout year at the scoring guard spot to land second-team all-state recognition and pick up Division I college offers. A lot of eyes stayed focused on the brother duo’s dynamic scoring abilities but Fitzpatrick also played a strong part in dictating the pace as a 5’10” lead guard. He has good strength and ball skills to operate as a playmaker for others, along with showing a nice shooting stroke. In seeing the Maroons play about five times total last winter, I thought one of Fitzpatrick’s best all-around showings happened in a first-round state tournament contest. He helped his team to a dominant 70-38 win over Norfolk Academy (Norfolk, VA) and made my game standout list, as I had this to say:
“The 5’10” guard helped Episcopal get off to their hot start by scoring eight out of the team’s first ten points, all in a row. Fitzpatrick not only has a good-looking form in his shot but controls facilitating well in his team’s offense to get other shooters, like the Johnson brothers, open. He also stood out in starting the Maroons’ fast breaks; I remember him throwing a full-court haul to Tymu Chenery ’20 one time for a transition bucket. Fitzpatrick has confidence with the ball and additional strength that helps him overpower smaller guards who try to neutralize him. His way of thinking the game and making good decisions plays another key component in Episcopal’s success. You always want a guy like that on the team.” – (2/26).
Three days later in that same week, Fitzpatrick and his teammates took on local Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powerhouse, Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA) in the state semifinals, held at Virginia State University (Petersburg, VA). I can recall being in attendance during that weekend of games (3/1 – 3/2) and, after a pretty slow team start, witnessing Fitzpatrick go on a personal tear to provide a boost for Episcopal’s offense. He knocked down four consecutive three-pointers…all of which happened in less than two minutes. It was one of the quickest shooting displays I saw all year and appeared to fully motivate the Maroons after they ended up taking a three-point lead heading into the halftime break. Episcopal ended up staying hot throughout the second half to ultimately defeat the Paul VI Panthers, 63-59, and make a championship appearance the very next day versus St. Stephen’s St. Agnes. The state title game would result as the fifth season game between the two NOVA teams. Episcopal gave it their all in a dogfight but St. Stephen’s St. Agnes’ bench depth, size advantage, and slightly more efficient shooting would all fuse to help them take home a 67-58 win and the gold.
As this 2019-20 season soon forms, there’s good news for Episcopal in that they have many pieces coming back after five seniors graduated. Being a returning senior, Fitzpatrick realizes that he’ll now be considered a veteran by both the coaching staff and his peers; a notion that comes with high expectations. The departure of Xavier Johnson may lead to the team requiring even more offense from Fitzpatrick; he could potentially emerge as a greater scoring option. Regardless, the humble leader assures he’ll continue to put in the proper preparation for whatever’s called of him. He has good excitement for what possibly lies ahead and I had the chance to catch up with him to discuss more details of what’s cooking up both on and off the court.
How’s the experience of attending Episcopal? I’m sure it’s a different type of atmosphere than other surrounding high schools.
“So, I actually came from another school called Episcopal Academy (Newtown Square, PA) in 2018. It was closer to the end of my sophomore season and the transfer move didn’t allow me to play competitively. Still, it was great being there to guard some of the area’s best ball-handlers and older players. Not long afterward, I knew that I had made the right decision.”
School-wise, how are the academic demands of Episcopal?
“The academics are a bit rigorous and took some time to get used to. But the administration was great in helping me become acclimated right away. It’s definitely a pretty tough academic school though.”
Talking about basketball a bit, I’ve noticed that your uncle, Jim Fitzpatrick, leads the varsity team as head coach. How is it playing under someone in the family?
“It’s really beneficial. Being unable to play my sophomore year actually helped me a lot in building that coach-player connection. We’ve always been close and had to make sure we understood each other on the court before I could even start playing. So, in my junior year it went well. On the court, it’s a player-coach business. Off of the court, it’s just another uncle and nephew. I’d say we take it very seriously when practice/games begin.”
Last February, heading into early March, did you feel that everything started to click for the team in making that notable state tournament run?
“Absolutely. We knew that our focus had to be at its best for February; that’s something our team started to realize for the last two years. Every season, we want to win a championship. Obviously, we lost to a really good St. Stephen’s St. Agnes team. Credit to them, because we play a little different as a smaller, run-and-gun group, while they’re bigger and efficient. I don’t think it took away from the fact that we had a lot of quality wins. I think beating Flint Hill (Oakton, VA) and Paul VI back-to-back in the playoffs showed the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area how good we truly were.”
Going into the 2019-20 season these next few months, do you think coming up short up a bit short in the state championship game will still be fresh in the minds of the Episcopal returners?
“100%. We want to focus on this season but we still know what happened last season too. Losing to the same team five times in a row, which made up more than half of our total losses, is something that we’ll need to change. The other guys know that too. We’re coming into this season with a goal of winning every single game.”
Do you feel there’s anything in particular that Episcopal will need to improve on this year, compared to the past?
“Defensive rebounding. We struggled in that area last year because we were small. Two of our biggest guys played on the wing. So, I think that’ll be one of the biggest focuses of ours, as well as moving the ball a bit better.”
How did this past spring and summer go for you?
“It went good. I played with New World 17u in the beginning of the travel season but then, once July started, I began to concentrate more on attending college elite camps. That led to me not playing AAU for the month of July. I think the summer went well overall though for me to showcase how I can create as a pure point guard.”
Did you find yourself making any specific improvements to your game during that time?
“Definitely. I’d say building up my strength and quickness. It helped being in the weight room constantly. I think combining those improvements with basketball skills should establish myself as more of a physical threat.”
With a couple of guys having graduated from the Episcopal program, do you perhaps see your role making a change this upcoming senior year?
“I feel the team, in general, is definitely going to go up next season. We have players both returning and coming in as new arrivals. For me, as a point guard, yes, I feel my position will see more importance with Xavier (Johnson) gone. I’m trying to just make sure I’ll be that needed lead guard for everyone else.”
Any personal goals for your senior season?
“I guess, personally, I want to take pride in being that lock-down guy for our team. That, and making sure I get others involved as much as possible. I have confidence that I’ll get enough shots up for myself but we’ll need to have a good balance within the offense.”
How’s your college recruitment going at the moment?
“It’s going well. I’ve narrowed down the list of specific schools who have been recruiting me: Franklin & Marshall College, University of Mary Washington, Randolph-Macon, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Roanoke College. Those are the five main ones but I’m also considering the option of walking onto another school’s team. I’m just trying to see how things play out.”
What’s something you feel you could immediately bring to a next-level program?
“A lot of coaches have actually asked me that same question in the past; I know I could bring a winner’s mentality. As a point guard, that duty involves getting guys the ball, creating for myself when necessary, and never taking a play off on defense.”
Is there any specific type of college atmosphere you’re looking for (size, fields of study, location)?
“Well, it kind of just depends. Growing up, I wanted more of a city-type of setting but, once my recruitment started, I realized a lot of schools aren’t in those types of areas. Location isn’t really a factor at this point anymore, however, it’s more about my best chances of succeeding in academics and basketball. I want to be a coach after I graduate and have an interest in studying business. Maybe that and psychology…those two majors interest me the most.
Hobbies outside of ball?
“Umm…well, I have a big family and I spend a lot of time with them if I’m not in school. But, living at a boarding school, you’re around your friends and teammates every day, so we always spend a lot of time hanging out if we’re not on the court.”
Where does Jack Fitzpatrick see himself in ten years?
“I definitely want to coach at the college level. Wherever that takes me, starting out as a graduate assistant or regular assistant for a smaller school, that’s just how it is. At the end of the day, I just want to go as high up the totem pole as possible.”
Considering his on-floor smarts, I could see Fitzpatrick coaching up some young adult players quite nicely in the future. Expect for him and the Maroons to be on a mission this year!