The coaching staff of the Mount Vernon boys basketball team throughout the season has pestered 6-foot-4 Juwan Bullard about using his physical talents at the offensive end — especially if an opponent is focused on stopping first-team All-Region guard Jesse Konadu.
"We’ve been on our hands and knees begging to [him] shoot the ball through much of the season," head coach Alfonso Smith said, "and he’s reluctantly done so."
On Monday, with Mount Vernon’s season on the line, Bullard rid himself of rim-attacking reluctance. He scored a career-high 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and the Majors defeated Fairfax 77-63 during the opening round of the Northern Region tournament at Mount Vernon High School. Bullard scored 12 points in the first quarter, 21 in the first half and helped the Majors secure a quarterfinal matchup with Annandale.
"It’s the playoffs," Bullard said, "so I knew had to step my game up and help my team move on to the next round. We know it’s one [loss] and done."
Fairfax pulled to within one with 3 minutes to go in the second quarter. Mount Vernon’s Michael Lewis responded with a basket before Bullard outscored Fairfax 7-2 during the final 2 minutes, 12 seconds of the half, giving the Majors a 38-30 lead at halftime. Mount Vernon led by at least eight for the rest of the game.
"We’ve seen the potential in him," Smith said. "We’ve been waiting for the potential — that light going off. When we’re seeing those junk defenses [aimed at stopping Konadu], it’s important that other guys step up. We have a lot of confidence that somebody can, it’s just a matter of whom."
Lewis scored 10 points for Mount Vernon and Smith praised the junior’s defensive play. The coach also said senior Justin Miser played well.
While the supporting cast had some strong performances, Konadu, the National District Player of the Year, also had a big night, scoring 22 points.
Three days earlier, Mount Vernon defeated Falls Church 81-49 to win the program’s third consecutive National District championship.
"I think our program," Smith said, "is one now where people expect some excellent things from us."