The conclusion of Monday’s practice included confusion, frustration and a conditioning penalty for the Mount Vernon boys basketball team. Head coach Alfonso Smith watched quietly as players griped, ran out of position and missed an occasional layup.
Sound like a team in disarray? Don’t worry, Mount Vernon fans. Smith is still the reigning co-Northern Region Coach of the Year and the Majors are still considered a front runner to repeat as National District champion. The adversity was all part of a learning experience as the team went through the "Liberty" layup drill for the first time this season.
The drill involves players passing and weaving their way to layups at each end of the court. Smith’s goal for the Majors was 52 layups in 5 minutes. At first, the uncertainty of some led to the voicing of displeasure by others. But as time went by, the Majors started to work things out and the drill started to flow.
For the most part, Smith stood back and let his players work out their problems . In the end, the team fell eight layups short of its goal, and had to run eight baselines. But in long term, some additional cardio would be a small price to pay for improved communication skills.
Mount Vernon is a talented group. If the Majors can maintain their composure and not beat themselves, there’s no telling how far they could go.
"WHAT WE TRY to do is put them in a situation sometimes where we know that they’re going to struggle a little bit," Smith said. "I try to give as little guidance [as possible] because I want some of our leaders to [step up]. … [I] just let them work through it [and] allow the frustration to happen. As a coach, part of you wants to stop the drill when you notice that they’re a little frustrated. But the reality is we’re going to be in battles throughout the season where there’s going to be frustration and we’re going to have to work through it as a team."
Junior guard Jesse Konadu (5-foot-9) realizes the benefit of players working through their on-court troubles.
"Once game time starts, the coach is not going to be there to walk us through step by step," he said. "It was good to get [the experience] through practice."
Konadu, a two-year starter, teams up with senior Robert Smith (5-10), a three-year starter, to give the Majors an experienced backcourt. Each received honorable mention all-district accolades last season. Mount Vernon also returns National District Player of the Year Skylar Jones, a 6-4 forward who earlier this month signed with Division I Niagara.
"We’re the three that have to lead this team," Smith said, "because we have the most experience on this team. [Our teammates are] going to look to us for help during the game."
NOW THE MAJORS have to establish where everyone else fits into the mix.
"Having your starting backcourt returning, as a coach, you feel good about that," Smith said. "Having a Division I player like Skylar Jones, you feel good about that. The key for us is really going to be how well some of the guys step into their roles."
Senior Dylan Bischoff (6-4) will start at center for the Majors during his first varsity season. Smith said Bischoff focused on playing soccer last season. Junior Logan Beougher (6-2) and his solid, 230-pound frame will provide the Majors with additional size inside.
Senior forward Sean Stewart (6-2) and senior guard Stann Hazlewood (5-9) will have increased roles this season.
While several Majors will make an impact, how Jones, the district Defensive Player of the Year last season, handles a new set of circumstances could have a lot to do with how well the Majors fare this season.
"He has to lead in a much bigger way than he’s had to in the past," Smith said of the Jones. "The guys on the team are watching what he does. A lot of people in the region know [him] … on a first-name basis, so the expectations are going to be pretty high. He’s going to get a lot of attention that he didn’t get last year, where teams are going to gameplan for him. So he really [needs] to enlarge his teammates around him to make sure if teams key on him that we have so many other parts that can step up and do what needs to be done."
Mount Vernon went undefeated in district play last season and will likely get every opponent’s toughest effort. Also, Hayfield, which knocked the Majors out of the regional tournament on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, joined the National District this season and figures to challenge Mount Vernon for the title.
"In my four years playing on the varsity, we’ve never beat Hayfield," Jones said. "Now that they’re in our district, it’s even more motivation to go out there and beat them."
Mount Vernon opens its season Dec. 2 against Paul VI at Woodson. The Majors’ home opener is Dec. 5 against West Potomac.