South Riding, Va. — The Freedom High School gym was nearly empty. The game had ended about half an hour ago, and the second after the final buzzer sounded, fans of both teams had left en masse.
Now, there were few left, almost none in the stands, but the remaining were the most dedicated. You see, the only people left in that gym were those who were members of the VHSL Region 5C Champions: the Potomac Falls boys basketball team. Not just the players, but their parents, and of course, the renown coaching staff.
It was an intimate ceremony. Everyone stood in a circle, parents with their phones out taking videos as Potomac Falls head coach Jeff Hawes stood triumphantly, calling members of the team one by one. After their coach called their name, the player embraced their coach, their fearless leader, who then gave them a small medallion and had a very short set of remarks for each player.
This was how the Panthers celebrated their first region championship in a long time, captured with wins over two special opponents. They had to vanquish Wakefield on the road, a team that had eliminated them the last three years, and then traveled to Freedom to take on the team that ended their chance at an undefeated season just over a week ago. How did they take down the mighty Freedom Eagles, 68-62 on February 22? Let’s take a look in this jam-packed, region championship edition of Varun’s Verdict.
Ian Anderson: The 6-foot-7 Forward Center Guard
The 6-foot-7 Christopher Newport-commit can play like a guard. There’s no better way to describe Ian Anderson than that, because it lets you know exactly what makes him so special. There is quite frankly no player in Loudoun County like him. He doesn’t merely block other player’s shots, he swallows them, engulfing them in the paint with his condor-like arms that block out the sun and, more importantly, the hoop.
That’s just on defense; on offense, he’s an absolute wrecking ball. He can play in the low post if you want him to, battling with his back to the basket. If you put him there, he can catch the ball and then power through defenders for dunks like this one:
Dunks like that elicit reactions like this.
Boys Basketball Region 5C Championship: IAN ANDERSON DUNKS ALL OVER MADDEN MOORE AND LANCE JOHNSON OH MY GOODNESS WHAT A DUNK. PUT THAT THING ON A DAMN POSTER MY GOD @LoCoSports
— Varun Shankar (@ByVarunShankar) February 23, 2019
He can also play in the high post, facing up and hitting jumpers over smaller, hapless defenders. Want him out at the three-point line handling the ball? Sure! Want him in the pick and roll? Of course, where do you want him, as the roller or the ball-handler? He can do either one. You want Anderson to get a rebound and then go coast-to-coast and lay it in? D.O.N.E. He scored 14 points in this game, but his impact on the offensive and defensive glass and as a rim protector made him the best player on the floor by a mile.
Landon Hawes can score from anywhere
Anderson wasn’t the leading scorer in the game solely because Landon Hawes exists. Hawes dropped a game-high 18, and he did so with a guard’s game from a forward’s body.
Landon is tall, 6-foot-4, and he uses that height. He’s a mismatch no matter who you put on him.
If you have a smaller guard on him, Hawes is just going to post him up and then score or get fouled. Put a big guy on him? Hawes will blow right past him and get to the middle of the defense.
Once he’s there, he has two options:
- He’s either going to use one of his two hands – both of which are adept around the rim – to finish a layup.
- The other option is to pass the ball to another one of the skilled players on his team for beautiful drop passes or kick-outs.
In other words? Get the ball to Hawes, and he’s going to find a way to get the biscuit in the basket.
Zach Hoenig is a freaking marksman
This game wouldn’t have been close if it wasn’t for Hoenig’s heroics. (If you can’t tell, I’m a huge fan of alliteration.) The Freedom guard scored no points in the first half but in the second, he made four shots, all three-pointers, that made this game as close as it was.
There isn’t much else to say about Hoenig, a very solid player who’s made a name for himself as a sharpshooter and a human starter engine for a Freedom offense that has the propensity to go startlingly cold at times.
Damien Harrison will run right past you
Every time I see someone close out on Damien Harrison, I cringe. Why? Why would you do that to yourself? He’s not going to shoot the ball but if you close out on him, he will absolutely blow right past you.
Let. Him. Shoot. The. Jumper. Don’t let him blow right by you and get to the rim, where he is one of the best finishers in the Potomac District.
The Hawes Family Energy
This makes me smile every time I see it. Jeff Hawes is the human equivalent of a 5-hour energy who just drank six Red Bulls. Let us please find a way to bottle this man’s energy up and sell it to the poor college students trying to finish up term papers.
He jumps up and down, he screams, he gestures at the crowd, he does everything. And his son Hayden has the same infectious energy. While Landon is a bit more soft-spoken, Hayden Hawes is a ball of energy. He scored all five of his points in the third quarter and after doing so, he basically did this on the court.
— mlb (@mom2mno) February 16, 2019
The Hawes family is Loudoun County basketball royalty, and this last week was another crowning achievement for them: their first region championship in three years. Both Potomac Falls and Freedom advance to the VHSL 5A State tournament which tips off on March 1.