At 6-foot-2 inches, McLean High senior Phil Bouchard has good height for your average secondary school student. For a high school basketball player who plays the center position for the Highlanders, well, perhaps he is a little on the smaller side.
Bouchard, though, is used to going up against taller players, such as 6-6 Austin Kriz of cross-town rival Langley – whom the Highlanders will host this Friday night in a Liberty District meeting. Although undersized as a basketball pivot player, Bouchard has more than held his own and emerged into one of the better players in the district. Game in and game out, the athletic Bouchard has found a way to average 16.5 points and eight rebounds per game for the streaky 6-8 Highlanders.
“Consistently, Phil has played above and beyond what I thought he would,” said McLean coach Kevin Roller. “He’s been phenomenal on a night-in and night-out basis.”
Bouchard, a second year starter for the Highlanders, has improved in all areas of his game. He is an intense, gritty defensive player against his bigger opponents. He digs in and grabs rebounds with the best of them. And offensively, Bouchard uses his quickness to bolt past frontcourt opponents to get off high percentage shots. He also runs the court well in transition and has improved his outside shooting from last year.
“He’s very athletic,” said Roller. “He jumps well and is quick on his second jumps [for tap in chances or rebounds].”
Over the holidays, Bouchard earned tournament MVP honors at the Patriot Holiday Christmas Classic, hosted by Wooton High School (Rockville). There, the Highlanders defeated Rockville High in their first game and host school Wooton in the finals of the four-team tourney. Bouchard tallied 31 and 25 points, respectively. Teammate Gordon Rogo, a sophomore guard, averaged 16 points over the two wins to also earn All-Tournament Team honors.
Rogo, who began the season as the team’s primary point guard before being utilized more at the off guard position as the season moved on, is the Highlanders’ second top scorer this winter at 12.8 points per game.
“He excels in the full court game,” said Roller, of Rogo. “He’s developed a better jump shot. He’s always been a confident player. He played point guard [exclusively] for a couple weeks, but it’s not his natural position. As other players stepped up, he moved to shooting guard.”
When Roller felt that Sango Amolo, another sophomore guard, was ready to step in and play the point position, he moved Rogo to shooting guard. Rogo actually sees playing time at both the point and offguard positions during games, depending on McLean’s line-up at a particular time of the game.
<b>OVERALL</b>, it has been a roller coaster season for McLean, a team that began the schedule in December with little varsity experience.
“At the beginning of the season we knew we’d be playing a lot of underclassmen,” said Roller. “But at some point in time you’re a varsity basketball player.”
Early in the New Year, McLean won consecutive district games – defeating Jefferson, 64-54, at home on Jan. 6, then besting host Madison, 47-32, on Jan. 7. Bouchard and Rogo both scored 21 points in the win over Jefferson.
But the Highlanders lost their following three games thereafter - two of those contests being district setbacks to South Lakes and Stone Bridge.
Roller said his team has been hurt in games by opponent scoring spurts that put the Highlanders behind and change the momentum.
“At some time in a game we struggle with a team making a real big run somewhere,” said the coach.
In McLean’s 70-60 district home loss to Stone Bridge last Friday night, the contest was tied at 17 early in the second quarter before the Bulldogs outscored the hosts 19-8 to carry a 36-25 lead into halftime. That stretch of play in the second quarter ended up being the difference in the game.
Other such runs by opponents occurred in losses to Marshall, Langley and South Lakes.
“We’ve got to avoid those major runs,” said Roller. “There’s one stretch where a team reels off a bunch of points. In the second half [of the district schedule] we have to do a better job of stopping those runs.”
The coach said playing with more patience on offense could go a long way to keeping teams from going off on scoring runs.
“We need to recognize when a team has scored two or three [consecutive] baskets that we don’t have to try to match their last basket quickly,” said Roller. “We need to be more patient because we really need to score a basket on that next possession. If [we shoot quickly] suddenly they’re out and running again. We need to recognize when we’re in a critical possession and we don’t [necessarily] have to take the first good shot. [Instead] maybe we need to make four more passes and get off a real good shot.”
McLean has been hurt by an injury loss to senior guard Origa Amolo, the older brother of point guard Sango Amolo. Origa, one of the team’s better athletes, injured his foot (stress fracture) before the holidays and has missed numerous, middle of the season games. His best game came on Dec. 8 when he scored 15 points in McLean’s home win over Falls Church. He is likely to miss at least a couple more weeks, according to Roller.
In action this week, McLean was scheduled to play a district game at Fairfax on Tuesday, Jan. 19. And this Friday, the Highlanders will host local rival Langley, which went into the week unbeaten in district play.