Fauquier boys basketball season preview: Replacing Robinson
Wayne Brizzi is in his 22nd season as Fauquier's boys basketball coach. --Fauquier Times Staff File Photo/Randy Litzinger
Fauquier’s starting five played with surprisingly good chemistry during their first boys basketball scrimmage.
It appeared as though they had performed together for years when, in fact, the only two Falcons who started the past two seasons were not on the floor.
Senior point guard Travis Croson, a starter as a sophomore and junior, came off the bench Nov. 19, while senior forward Lareco Robinson sat out with a season-ending knee injury after he started the past two winters.
The Falcons somehow looked comfortable, though, without that duo in the starting lineup during a 73-54 win over Skyline in a six-period scrimmage in Warrenton. They outright dominated the opening period, 20-6, with sophomore Frankie Strano, juniors Grant Keithley and John Smith, and seniors Liam Holland and P.J. Boyle as starters.
“The first group moved the ball really well,” said Keithley, a returning starter at guard. “It just gets you more open shots.”
The Falcons’ back-cuts worked particularly well in their motion offense, which gave them open layups and, consequently, open 3-pointers as well.
“Swinging the ball and just trusting each other,” Boyle said. “Screens and [cuts]. It just gets the defense tired.”
Fauquier’s starting five also spent much of the fourth period on the floor together, helping the Falcons amass a 16-4 run.
“It seemed like they jelled,” Fauquier coach Wayne Brizzi said. “I don’t know if the other guys were trying too hard [off the bench], it just seemed like we [didn’t have the same] rhythm. But we’ll get it.”
Brizzi, in his 22nd year as Fauquier’s head coach, used many different player combinations, and he said the Falcons’ starting lineup could certainly fluctuate going forward.
Croson, naturally, figures to start, and senior foreign exchange student Jakeb Moelar seems like a potential starter as a forward. Plus, senior guard Ardeshir Tabrizi returned after starting some games last season.
“It’s just wait-and-see,” Brizzi said of his rotation. “Starting lineup, who’s that important to? Maybe [the players] a little bit and some fans, but it’s who plays [best in] the game” that’s more important.
Boyle, a 5-foot-3 point guard, arguably played best against Skyline. He finished with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal.
More important to Brizzi, Boyle took care of the basketball.
“P.J., you didn’t force anything tonight,” Brizzi told the guard after the game. “That’s the key right there. Sometimes you whack out a little bit.
Boyle’s decision-making limited him to very little playing time last season. But he focused on fixing that during the entire offseason. “I’ve improved a lot,” Boyle said. “I used to go crazy with the ball and just make bad decisions. I’m more calm and more confident.”
Boyle air-balled his first 3-pointer by about five feet against Skyline, but then he made his next three 3-point attempts.
“Good on-balance shots and open shots,” Keithley said. “He played really well.”
Nonetheless, the 6-2 Keithley arguably remains Fauquier’s best 3-point shooter. He made two against Skyline to finish with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
“A lot of us can shoot,” Boyle said, citing that as one of the Falcons’ strengths this season.
Smith added eight points, seven rebounds and three assists against Skyline. He, Boyle and Croson appear to be the Falcons’ best options for creating offense off the dribble.
“He brings a little athleticism,” Brizzi said of Smith. “He does a nice job when he goes to the hole. He’s a little elusive.”
Croson added seven points while Moelar had nine and Holland had six.
Robinson was Fauquier’s leading scorer last season, so it remains to be seen who will fill that role in 2015-16.
“I’m hoping we can just do it as a team,” Brizzi said.
“I think it will be balanced,” he said. “Our offense is set up for us sharing the ball.”
Robinson, a 6-3 forward, injured his knee after jumping for a ball during an open gym session early this fall, Brizzi said.
“You take your leading scorer, leading rebounder, MVP out of your lineup – I don’t know,” Brizzi said. “It’s a big hole. It hurts. But I think we’ve got guys that want to fill it.”
So Brizzi seemed cautious about reading too much into Fauquier’s dominance in one scrimmage. Skyline competed without eight players who still haven’t transitioned from football season, he said.
“So it’s hard to judge,” Brizzi said. “We just want to [look at] execution. If you execute, it doesn’t matter” who you play.
“We have a lot of room to get better,” he said. “If we get better every practice and every game, I know it’s a cliché, but if we do that we could be a good club.”
Fauquier looked strong defensively, frustrating Skyline’s guards with its man-to-man denial defense, but the Hawks also lacked an inside threat, which limited their offense.
“When we’re out of position we look very bad,” Brizzi said of Fauquier’s defense. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That’s the trick – being consistent.
"It’s not an easy thing, that’s for sure," he said. "Everyone strives for that.”
Even with Robinson last season, Fauquier went only 8-13. It lost in the quarterfinals of the Conference 22 tournament and hasn't qualified for a region tournament since 2011-12.
“I think we’ll still do really well,” Keithley said. The goal is to “win a conference championship.”
The Falcons last claimed a conference-level title in 2012-13. They shared the Evergreen District regular season championship with Liberty and Kettle Run due to a schedule truncated by weather cancellations.
Regardless, Fauquier hasn’t won more than 13 games in a season since Jerrelle Benimon graduated following the 2008-09 season and went on to play professional basketball.
This season appeared promising at the end of last winter because Spicer Sabruno was the only significant senior starter (part-time) the Falcons lost while Dana Rector had the biggest impact off the bench. Robinson’s subsequent loss, however, has complicated expectations.
“It definitely makes an impact,” Boyle said. “But work with what we have.”
The Falcons have some post players on the bench with stature similar to Robinson's, but they’re all relatively raw. Moelar is the most polished of the bunch, and he had six rebounds and two blocks against Skyline.
“I thought he did a good job,” Brizzi said enthusiastically. “He needs some work, but I thought he did good.”
“Rebounding, he helps a lot,” Keithley said. “Just because of his size.”
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Preseason starting lineup
PG P.J. Boyle, Sr.
G Frankie Strano, So.
G John Smith, Jr.
G Grant Keithley, Jr.*
F Liam Holland, Sr.
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