The Washington Post

Hawks start fast and stay undefeated

- BY MICHAEL ERRIGO michael.errigo@washpost.com

There is no shot clock in Virginia public school basketball, and different teams use that fact in different ways. For the patient (or cautious), it provides the freedom to hold the ball in long, timedraini­ng possession­s until the perfect look becomes available.

For Hayfield — freewheeli­ng, pass-happy and wildly athletic — the lack of structure is a perfect fit. Sure, the No. 10 Hawks can score in a standard half-court set. But they would much prefer to run past defenders, whipping the ball from scorer to scorer until somebody gets a layup or open three. They don’t seem to notice or care how long a possession takes as long as that ball goes in the basket.

On Friday night in Alexandria, the visiting Hawks further cemented their status as the Class 6 team to beat in Northern Virginia with an efficient and entertaini­ng 79-60 win at Edison.

“It all starts off the court,” senior guard Braylon Wheeler said. “We’re all really good friends, so that helps with us moving the ball. We know where each other’s going to be, and it’s a very easy, rhythmic flow.”

Hayfield reached last year’s state semifinals and returned all five starters, meaning Coach Carlos Poindexter and his staff had something delicate to protect. More than anything, they knew the quickest road to derailment for a group with this much talent would be an unwillingn­ess to share the ball.

They broached the subject in the summertime, before preseason chatter could build hype or boost egos. If everybody could share the ball, they said, the whole team would shine.

The best evidence that this advice took hold is not the team’s 11-0 record but the fact that all five Hayfield starters are averaging double figures in scoring. Against the Eagles, junior Greg Jones led the team with 21 points, Wheeler added 19 and senior Ashton Pratt finished with 18.

“There was a lot of expectatio­ns out on us, but until we started matching up, there was no way to know,” Poindexter said. “And it feels like this team has exceeded expectatio­ns, which didn’t really seem possible at first.”

They have embraced transition basketball because it provides opportunit­ies to showcase their speed and athleticis­m and also helps make up for a size disadvanta­ge. Against a team such as Edison (5-5), which started a 6-foot-7 center, Hayfield tries to impose its style early.

The Hawks did so within the first three minutes Friday, jumping out to a 10-2 lead after allowing the game’s opening points. As their lead grew, their defense intensifie­d. Each player seemed eager to get the next steal and start the next breakaway. By halftime, Hayfield’s lead was 20.

“No one really expected us to do what we did last year,” Jones said. “But once we saw how we could play together, we knew we could go out there and beat anybody.”

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