Defense and post play have emerged as vital areas of focus for the George Mason High School boys varsity basketball team going into the second half of the season. Seven seniors and four starters have returned to the Mustangs this season, including a core group of players that have played together since junior high school. But the team is also attempting to replace four seniors from last season’s roster. Among these replacements is Dmitri Venets, a 6-foot-2 senior forward who has stepped into the starting role vacated by Brandon Alexander, a 6-foot-4 stand-out forward who graduated after last season.
Venets was a small forward until this season, when necessity initiated his conversion into a post player. His post play with senior forward Nate Ogle has produced mixed results so far this season.
“Venets is learning [the post],” said head coach Chris Capannola. “Because he’s gotten bigger and stronger, he’s been able to jump in and play the post for us.”
Both he and Ogle contributed five points to a 49-41 victory over the Marshall Statesmen on Dec. 27 in the first round of the Joe Cascio Holiday Classic. While Venets committed four fouls in the game – including one foul that put Marshall in position to take the lead late in the game – the Statesmen could not capitalize on the opportunity before Capannola called a timeout and switched from man-to-man defense.
“We went zone and we made them shoot from the outside,” Capannola said. “And they were reluctant to do so.”
Philippe Griffiths and Noel Obusan were not reluctant to shoot from beyond the arc, though. Griffiths, a senior guard/forward, sank four 3-pointers, including a shot in the last seconds of the third quarter that increased the Mustang lead from one to four points. Obusan overcame eight turnovers to help lead the team to victory.
Obusan, a senior guard, hit a 3-pointer to put the Mustangs up 42-39 right after Venets’ foul and before Capannola’s timeout; he scored 17 points in total and the last ten Mustang points.
“I had to pick myself up, since I’m a senior and I really wanted to get [the win].” Obusan said. He hesitated, then added “I just needed to step it up and focus.”
After the game, Capannola stressed his team’s room for improvement on defense going into the rest of the holiday tournament and rest of the season.
“It’s the way teams are scoring. They are getting to the rim when they have guys that aren’t real good shooters. That stuff is just mental, I think. We’re not playing defense as a team the way we need to play it. That’s probably just nitpicking,” he said. “But these are things that are going to cost [us] close ballgames.”
The Mustangs went on to play the Yorktown Patriots in the second round of the Joe Cascio Classic on Dec. 28, but results of the game were not available at press time. The Classic continues Dec. 29, and the Mustangs will start the New Year with a game at Strasburg High School Jan. 3.