basketball

A high school reunion at the Final Four

NEW ORLEANS – Brandon Slater, a senior forward at Villanova, is in the Final Four with one goal: to win a national championship.

And if achieving that goal means beating some of his former high school colleagues, then so be it.

Slater is one of four players in the Final Four who are high school teammates in St. Louis. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly, Va. and Duke Guard Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels. Together they won a state championship.

The group will stay in touch via SMS during the season to support each other, Slater said, but with a trip to the National Championship on the line, things may not be so friendly this week.

“We keep each other positive all year long, and if we play each other so much during the year, we are not so much after friends,” said the 6-foot-7 slater, who averaged 8.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Game ass. for Villanova, said in a telephone interview this week.

Paul VI’s players – “PVI” as the school is abbreviated – are not the only former team-mates to reunite in the national semi-finals. North Carolina Sophomore Guard RJ Davis and Duke Freshman Forward AJ Griffin won a New York State Championship together in 2018 at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. The Duke Junior Wingell Moore Jr. and North Carolina Senior Forward Leaky Black played together at Cox Mill High School in Concord, NC

Slater and Villanova will face Kansas in the first game on Saturday, while Duke and North Carolina will play in the second game. It is the first time that two teams from the same state in the same conference will meet in the Final Four.

Back in Chantilly, Glenn Farello, Paul VI’s head basketball coach, plans to watch the national semi-finals on his couch with his one-year-old daughter Zadie while wearing a navy Duke T-shirt under a Villanova sweater. Since Harris will not play this season while recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, Farello is free to root for his other former players to meet on Monday in a Duke-Villanova National Championship match.

“When we have a Duke-Villanova finale, I root for all three of my guys to be great, and we celebrate with that one and embrace the other,” Farello said in a phone interview.

He added of his previous players: “What’s great about all these guys is their competitiveness. They’re all guys who are great teammates. It’s so nice to see your guys continue to play with teams that have a winning culture and contribute. and do what it takes to help the teams because that’s what they did with us here.

During the 2017-18 season, Slater tried to serve as a role model for his young teammates – Roach is a sophomore at Duke, Keels a freshman. Slater himself had learned the ropes from Aaron Thompson, his longtime friend, who had been with Paul VI for a year before him and who had just completed a five-year career at Butler, where he is the Career Assistant Program leader.

“He and I are very close – we talk almost every day when we can, or every week when we can,” said Slater of Thompson. “He definitely taught me how to lead, and when he left, he knew we still had time to come and that some players were coming. We had a young Jeremy Roach, we had a young Trevor Keels, Anthony Harris. And he told me it’s our time now.

During that 2017-18 season, the Panthers went 18-0 through the robust schedule of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, considered the best private school prep basketball league in the nation. But that February, Slater broke a bone in his shooting hand, his left, and sidelined him for the WCAC playoffs, where Paul VI lost to rival Gonzaga College High School.

He returned with his hand “all padded,” Farello said, and “could not shoot outside 12 feet.” But he played an important defensive role as the Panthers won the state championship over Bishop O’Connell by 18 points.

Slater then knew that Harris, Roach and Keels were destined for bigger and better things.

“You can just tell how talented these guys will be,” Slater said. “Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels are going up in big moments.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright likes to have Slater fill out the sheet. After Slater multiple rebounds, claws, and blocks in a game that Wright watched, he offered Slater a scholarship. When it came time to choose a college, Slater volunteered for Villanova because he liked the university approach.

“It was so similar to preaching about teamwork and family,” Slater said. “At Villanova, the biggest thing we have is our family.”

After Slater, High-Major coaches continued to recruit Paul VI’s players. Roy Williams, the former North Carolina coach, came through school for Harris, who committed to Tar Heels after initially opting for Virginia Tech. He changed course after coach Buzz Williams left Texas A&M.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff also visited Paul VI to recruit Roach, who is committed to playing for the Blue Devils in May 2019. by Fame Trainer. Farello knew that the Duke was Keels’ dream school.

“He came in and he was big-eyed,” Farello recalled. “And when he came out, I turned to Coach K and I said, ‘I just wanted to make sure you knew who he was, because at some point, I think you want to retire with this.’ And sure enough, they did it.

Keels finally hired the Duke in April 2021 and is now one of three Duke Freshmen – along with Griffin and Paolo Banchero – expected to be selected in the first round of this summer’s NBA Draft.

Keels, who is built like an NFL linebacker at 6 feet 5 inches and 221 pounds, averages 11.3 points and 3.5 rebounds, while Roach averages 8.6 points and 3.1 assists.

Roach knew they were part of something special with their high school team, and he realized bigger things were ahead.

“Four years later, to keep everyone here in the Final Four, you can not be happier than that,” Roach said Friday. “This shows you just how good PVI is.”

Now they are looking to win a championship on a bigger stage.

Keels said in February that the current Blue Devils have “better talent” and “better depth” than the 2015 team that won the national championship, and that this year’s team “definitely” has the nets in Krzyzewski’s last year with the program can cut off.

Farello, meanwhile, said he hears every week from several NBA scouts who not only control Keels, but also Slater.

Even though Paul VI players are now focused on their own teams, Slater said that, on the road, the group will hopefully learn to appreciate his performances this season.

“If all this is said and done, we will definitely sit back and talk about it forever,” he said.

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