South Riding, Va. — Bruce Lee once said that you must be like water: “Be formless, shapeless—like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot”
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with basketball, specifically the Freedom High School boys basketball team. Well, the Eagles are coming off a monstrous, 74-62, win over the Potomac Falls Panthers on January 17, and they displayed a crucial skill for winning late in the season: versatility.
Freedom can win in various ways. They like to hang their hat on their defense, but in a season where their points-allowed isn’t one of the top five in the county, they’ve had to adjust.
They can win in various ways, both in defensive struggles and shootouts, bombing away from deep or banging in the paint. They can mold themselves to change to their opponent’s style, and that starts with being able to throw various lineups on the flow.
The Eagles will throw out two bigs in seniors Lance Johnson and Nick Westfall, but for large parts of the game, head coach Justin Powers will stagger the two, using the latter as the backup big man and playing a small-ball lineup that places a premium on shooting. Anish Kalyan, a 6-foot senior, often plays at forward, and his ability to switch on the perimeter and hang in the post against bigger and stronger athletes is invaluable for the Eagles’ defensive scheme.
Let’s talk about that defensive scheme. Any team playing the Potomac Falls Panthers knows instantly that the tandem of seniors Landon Hawes and Jalen Coker is absolutely lethal. Hawes has been on a tear the entire season, averaging 22.2 points and 6.6 assists per game, while Coker – one of the best athletes in the county – is averaging 15.3 points and 6.4 assists while also garnering 4 stocks (steals+blocks) per game.
They’ve been murdering other teams when they’re on the court together, and the primary way is through the Hawes-Coker pick and roll.
What a weapon it is. The ability of Hawes to shoot from anywhere, and Coker’s ability as a roll man make them a great pair. They’ve clobbered other teams so far this year with that combination on the floor.
That was at least until they ran into Freedom. The pair scored 31 points, but Hawes shot 6-of-19. Coker shot 6-of-11 but also had 5 turnovers.
How do you neutralize Hawes, the best scorer in the county? First things first, you double him every single time he catches it on the perimeter. He’s not going to get any easy three-pointers. Then, you get Robbie Kemmerer on him.
In addition to his shooting prowess, Hawes is also a powerful athlete. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, he plays like a guard but also powers through defenders. Matching up with him is hard, finding someone who has the right blend of size and quickness is nearly impossible.
Enter Kemmerer, Freedom’s 6-foot-1, 190-pound, senior guard. Kemmerer absorbs contact extremely well, and his well-built frame caused Hawes to bounce off of him. The Eagles kept bothering Hawes, pushing him and bumping him softly enough that the referees wouldn’t blow the whistle but hard enough that he felt it and felt bothered by it.
Freedom was uber-aggressive on Potomac Falls’ pick and rolls, blitzing Hawes and then rotating onto Coker. They forced the latter to become a playmaker, and he struggled a bit, as seen in the turnover numbers.
Many, including myself, thought that Freedom would have some offensive struggles coming into this year after the injury to Angelo Easter. They haven’t had many, and they’ve done it with strong guard play.
The injury to Easter and the graduation of Kyle Skinner left an opening, and Kemmerer’s done an incredible job, scoring 22 against Potomac Falls. His ability to finish through contact and hit deep threes make him a multifaceted offensive threat and elevated him to being “the guy” for the Eagles.
Freedom (4-1, 10-5) currently sits at No. 2 in the Potomac District, and there’s a lot of reasons why. Their defensive scheme is phenomenal, and they’ve found solid offensive threats. Above all else, they’re like a chameleon, shape-shifting to become whatever they need to win basketball games.
They’re turning into water.