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Dec. 22, 2004

Varsity Blazers fire blanks in fourth straight loss

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor

On Monday, the boys' Varsity basketball team traveled nearly an hour to face highly regarded Damascus, and while it lost, the game gave the team much to build on in terms of effort. But while tonight's ugly defeat left Blazer head coach Orlando Larracuente far from speechless, it left many scratching their heads.

The Magruder Colonels (4-1) scored 19 second (or third, in some cases) chance points to sink the Blazers (1-5), 56-40, the fourth straight loss for a Blair team that looked sluggish from the get go.

Keenan Myers was one of the few bright spots for the team tonight, drawing 10 shooting fouls and going 8-for-18 from the foul line. He wound up with 17 points and seven rebounds, good numbers for an inside threat. The only difference is that Myers is a shooting guard, far from a natural post player.

The lack of any natural height or dominance hurt the team dearly, as they saw Colonel big men snag crucial rebounds that led to devastating Magruder points. Elvis Ellis had the Blazers all shook up tonight with 11 rebounds, six of which were on the offensive end.

Larracuente spoke to his team behind closed doors for 35 minutes after the game, and his words had a visible impact on the psyche of the team afterwards. As the players filed out of the locker room, they were almost all silent, apparently digesting the first year coach's harsh criticism regarding their inability to play as a singular unit.

"He was telling us that we have got to fill our roles and start playing together as a team,” said senior swingman Jacob Wade, who was clearly dejected and exhausted after the game.

Larracuente and assistant Shareef Hashim talked with Silver Chips for an additional 45 minutes, where he praised the call-up of JV standout Mark Clarke, while adding that tonight's game could lead to more players from the junior squad getting an early taste of the next level.

"As a coach,” Larracuente said, "I coach from instinct, and watching Mark out there and then watching others, we just don't have it together. The JV team is actually taller than varsity.” He added that the team "has so many areas to work on, we're rebuilding. Right now, we need to rebuild for the future.”

His candor was engaging, but it was also obvious that he was frustrated with the team, but chalked a lot of that to turnover in the roster and coaching staff. He is the third head coach in as many years, and Myers is the only player on the roster who played a full year on varsity last season.

The coach discussed the habits that have hurt the team. "We need to break bad habits; [the players] really have got to work together” on the floor.

Larracuente was most upset about rebounding and lack of attention that the team paid on the defensive end. "Usually, when you score, you get excited, you want to go stop them on the other end, but these guys were just,” he said, proceeding to make a face of someone daydreaming.

He also discussed their lack of a major inside presence outside of Myers, who isn't a true low post player. "We don't have a dominating inside force, and that is killing us,” he said. "That's selfish, for a team to make a [small forward] play center…we don't have a work horse other than Keenan. We have got to find rebounders. I feel for all the guys on the team.”

Still, Larracuente seemed to be disappointed with the team's lack of intensity, which resulted in just four first quarter points. Blair didn't make its first field goal until Maakonen Brown made a lay up as time expired in the first quarter of play.

"I want someone who listens, and gives all his honest effort. When you put on the uniform, you represent Blair. I really like effort,” Larracuente said, using an anecdote from his first coaching job in California, running an eighth grade team. "I remember driving home after the last game, we went 1-6, but I was so happy, because they had tried, and we had built something there.” His squad went on to win the city title the next two seasons.

Myers drew 10 shooting fouls tonight, and went to the foul line 18 times, making eight from the charity stripe. The rest of the team shot a total of three free throws; Brown had two, Brandon Curry shot one.

The coaching staff plans on using the long break to play a Christmas tournament and to reassess its game plan. "I'm going to sit with them all,” Larracuente said, "and talk to them all one-on-one. I can live if everyone gives their whole effort; I want people who paid money to leave, win or lose, saying 'we just saw one [heck] of a ball game.'”

As the final players filed out of the locker room, they all went up to Larracuente to shake his hand, where they exchanged encouraging words. Brown sat by himself at his locker for at least 15 minutes after everyone else had filed out, before he got up, put his authentic Allen Iverson jersey on, shook Larracuente's hand and left.

Larracuente backed his shooting guard, saying that Brown's shooting troubles were, in part, the fault of the coaching. "I take the blame for Maakonen for moving him to [shooting guard]. Yes, he took some questionable shots, but I like that, because he's learning and sharing, too. He used to take every shot fade away, but he's improving. I don't question his effort or desire.”

Brown had 14 points tonight, but after him and Myers, the stat sheet for the Blazers was nearly empty. Curry had four points and Ross Williams snagged six rebounds. But the team struggled to score, getting only 12 points in the first half.

The Colonels were helped by almost everyone on the team, with Ellis scoring 13 points to go with his 11 boards. Matt Boyd had nine points and nine rebounds, while Kaliem Smith, a 5'9” guard, had eight boards and 10 points tonight.

Hashim noted that the Blair's only win came against Bethesda-Chevy Chase, who, in his words, "might have been the best team we played all year.” Both coaches agreed that the team has a base on which they can build, and that each player has their own qualities that contribute to the squad as a whole.

"But,” Larracuente added, "the key is to get all the players, and all this talent to play together as a team. That's what we've got to get them to do.”

The Blazers have 10 days or so to reassess their early season lull and figure out what to do. Last year at this point, under coach Dale Miller, the team was 4-1; they won four more games all year.

"Aside from Christmas and New Year's Day, we're going to be here every day [over break],” Larracuente vowed.

Larracuente was hopeful in saying that "we have got to keep working, and hopefully what I'm saying will set in.”

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  • unknown (View Email) on December 23, 2004 at 7:21 PM
    hey blazers u know u can do it right?
  • dg on December 25, 2004 at 9:31 AM
    thanks mike, you're my homeboy
  • you are a moron on January 4, 2005 at 9:51 AM
    you are blatantly wrong
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