Life after X will be exercise in patience for Liberty boys basketball
Friday, Dec. 6
Armend and Arber Krasniqi will try to lead Liberty to a sixth consecutive Evergreen District championship this season. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
It's an amazing stat that highlights how strong and stable the Liberty High boys basketball program has become.
Since the Evergreen District began play in 2008, coach Pat Frazer's Eagles have won or shared the regular season title in all five years.
Those great LHS teams always had a returning star, or two, or three. This year the future of the Liberty figures to rely on Armend and Arber Krasniqi, two brothers from Kosovo who opened eyes last year with their dynamic play at key moments.
Although they combined for about 10 points, the Krasniqis constitute practically all the returning talent left after the graduation of two-time Evergreen District Player of the Year Xavier Colbert, now playing at Central Maine Community College, standout guard Aaron Patterson, now playing at Shenandoah University, and reliable swingman C.J. Lindsey.
Faced with such steep losses, you'd think coach Frazer would be realistic.
He is: "We'll take our share of bumps and bruises," he says — but he's also buoyant in a way.
He's chosen his starting lineup and likes it. He views his newbie starters as the foundation to regional playoff wins down the road. And since the entire playoff season will come down to how the team plays in the Conference 22 tournament three months away, he's not worried yet.
Liberty's starting lineup includes a trio of fresh faces in freshman point guard C.J. Jones, sophomore forward Titus Sizemore and junior forward Dylan Ramirez. Arber Krasniqi is the forward/center, and Armend is the shooting guard.
Coming off the bench will be freshman Bailey Kestner, junior Bailey Russell, 6-foot-8 senior center Stephen Hinton, senior guard Brendan Smith, senior forward Alex Laird and bruising forward John Clanagan, and others.
The team is noticeably inexperienced and somewhat shallow at guard, so Frazer is planning to slow his team's pace of play in a remarkable change from the recent past. "We lost some people. We've got to change some, change the offense. We're looking to get a little more controlled in half court," said Frazer, indicating Liberty's preferred run-and-gun ways are on ice for now.
Liberty possesses decent size with eight players listed at 6-2 or taller, including the towering Hinton, who will attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which wants him on its hoops team largely because he is 6-8 and has some skills.
One huge question mark is how the slender 5-foot-5 freshman Jones will do at point. Jones, who came in from Osbourn High, is so small Frazer compares him to Aaron Patterson, who was remarkably young-looking as a freshman. But Frazer envisions Jones as a four-year varsity starter.
"He's the best ballhandler in practice. I don't care if he's 5 years old, he's gotta play," said Frazer.
Jones will have much responsibility against the teams that may press the Eagles ruthlessly. Armend Krasniqi can also play point and Bailey Kestner has also stood out at guard.
Starting at forward are Ramirez, the brother of past LHS standout Ryan Ramirez, and Sizemore, who Frazer said came in from Texas.
At 6-3, Ramirez is bulkier than his older brother, who was a marvelously creative inside force before graduating in 2012. "Dylan is a traditional post guy and he has a nice 15-footer. You can't leave him open," Frazer said.
Of the 6-2 Sizemore, Frazer describes him as "lean, lanky and athletic, which is a great attribute to have. He's a great kid, he's learning the game. It will take time."
Frazer says it's not a given that the one of the Krasniqis will lead the team in scoring. Sizemore scored 18 points in a scrimmage and Kestner or Ramirez may blossom.
It will be interesting to see how the Krasniqis adjust as senior veterans. Both play with confidence, and are not afraid of taking shots.
At 5-foot-10, Armend is the smaller and younger brother. A bold shooter, he projected to play the role of reliable scoring guard, with the 6-3 Arber operating as a power forward.
"They're doing well, they'll be big," Frazer said. "Their challenge is there's no Xavier or AP to attract attention. It's a big adjustment. Last year they were good, but that's because X and AP were double teamed."
A four-year varsity legend, Colbert averaged 19.8 points per game, scored more than 30 points five times, including a season-high 42 points, and became the first Liberty boy to reach the 1,000 point plateau in the school's 19-year history. Patterson was an all-district second team pick.
Colbert's teams won four district regular season titles, made four region appearances and advanced to state twice, including a trip to the semifinals.
Now the Krasniqis are pretty much the only connection to the Eagle teams of the dynasty years.
Frazer thinks it's possible the team will take some bumps and bruises in December.
"We're building. I refuse to say rebuilding. It's not fair to the team," Frazer says.
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Projected Starting Lineup
PG C.J. Jones, Fr.
SG Armend Krasniqi, Sr.
F Titus Sizemore, So.
F Dylan Ramirez, Jr.
F Arber Krasniqi, Sr.
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