Paul VI’s record is deceiving

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For a little while earlier this season, the boys' varsity basketball team at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax may just have had been the best basketball team with a losing record in all of high school athletics.

The defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champions entered a critical four-game, five-day stretch against league opponents Jan. 28 with an unimpressive overall 8-10 record.

But take a closer look. The record hardly suggests a sharp fall from prominence for a program that won WCAC titles in 2012 and 2014, while ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation last year.

Many of the Panthers' losses came against the likes of national powerhouses - Mater Dei and Bishop O'Dowd in California, for example - that head coach Glenn Farello scheduled to help "toughen us up."

"We put together a national schedule and it's really important," Farello said. "This year, we didn't get the victories, but we completed. I think we've been battle-tested."

Absent from this year's roster are key contributors who either graduated or transferred elsewhere, leaving Farello to start anew with a roster hardly recognizable.

Enter VJ King. As a sophomore last year, he was among the top small forwards in the country, playing at the same Ohio school that produced LeBron James. But last spring, he stunned Ohio basketball observers and decided to move east and play for Farello.

Explaining the decision, he said he wanted to play with, and against, the best high school talent there is.

"This league is the best league in the country," King said. "It's a test for you as an individual to come here, so it's a good challenge for me.

"Earlier in the year, I struggled a bit, but that was to be expected," King added. "I feel like I'm finding my way. I feel like we're going to make a good run down the stretch."

While King drew comparisons to James because they played at the same schools, perhaps a more fitting comparison to describe King's style of play is that of NBA Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler. He's fast, can slash to the basket or pull up for a jumper and he's virtually unstoppable in transition.

King is hardly the only talent, however. Syracuse-bound senior guard Frank Howard is averaging 15 points a game; junior forward Corey Manigault averages about 12 points per game.

Among several underclassmen getting significant minutes, Aaron Thompson is averaging eight points a game. Against St. John's College High School in Washington, Farello was more impressed with Thompson's energy, 11 assists and six steals.

St. John's had handed the Panthers their first home loss of the year, 60-55. But on Feb. 1, King scored 32 points, and visiting Paul VI won 75-55 in a game that never really was close.

Though it didn't show up in the box score, Thompson played tough defense on St. John's standout Anthony Cowan, who scored 19 points while no other teammate scored more than eight points.

"I think the difference between this game and last game is that we had a little bit more of a chip on our shoulder," Thompson said. "Last game, they out-toughed us."

The win against St. Johns', 17-6 overall, marked the Panthers' fourth game in five days, which began with a 55-31 win on the road Jan. 28 against Bishop Ireton. Between the two blowout wins: a 64-62 win over Bishop O'Connell and a 74-72 overtime loss against Gonzaga.

The 3-1 league record over the four games put Paul VI at 8-4 in the conference and 11-11 overall.

"The win-loss record never matters to us," Farello said after the St. John's win. "It's about the journey. Over the last four games, as we've been back into conference play, we're getting to where we need to be."

There's no doubt it's a very different team from last year's nationally ranked squad, but Farello said he likes the Panthers' chances. As Paul VI proved against St. John's, records can be deceiving.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015