With only six games left in the regular season, the Fairmont Boys’ Varsity Basketball team has already sealed a winning season and currently owns the best record in the GWOC, with 14 wins and only 2 losses.
But the boys don’t appear to be ready to settle for a winning record. They hope to make a deep run in the state tournament.
The Firebirds began the season with eight straight victories, before losing two straight, to Centerville and Wayne. Since then, the Firebirds have won six in a row.
“I certainly think that we’ve made some real progress,” said Blair Albright, head coach of the Boys’ Varsity team. “We started the year 8-0 and I think we had some real good wins within that stretch.”
The Birds won key a game Jan. 16 against then 8-1 Greenville to kick off Flyin’ to the Hoop, 67-61. Senior forward Kei’vante Tanner led the team in scoring with 31 points, while also adding 13 rebounds, which led the team as well.
“Kei’vante has had a very special year, both inside and out. “We’ve done a really good job of allowing him to be the focal point of our offense and that’s allowed other guys to score,” Albright said.
Despite those two disappointing losses, Fairmont has proven they can play with anyone. On Feb. 3, the Birds had a big matchup against then 13-2 Xenia, which was on an 11-game win streak. Led by senior forward Jacob Maloney with 23 points, the Birds knocked off Xenia, 68-65, after being down for most of the game.
In the GWOC, Tanner ranks No. 1 in points per game, averaging 22.2, and in rebounds per game, averaging 12.2. He is also ranked among the best in field goal percentage, shooting an efficient 60.4 percent from the field and ranking 4th among GWOC participants.
Overall this year, the Birds have been very strong offensively, with three players averaging double figures in points per game. Albright says offensive balance has been a strong point of Birds so far.
“We are scoring a lot of points,” Albright said. “We’ve got a number of different guys that can score.”
The three leading scorers are Tanner, averaging 22.2 ppg (points per game), Maloney, with 12.2 ppg, and senior guard Garrett Sexton, averaging 11.5 ppg. Senior guard Antonio Atria has also been a big contributor, averaging 8.9 ppg along with 3.8 assists per game, 9th in the GWOC. Atria also ranks 5th in steals per game, averaging 2.6 takeaways per game, just ahead of Tanner, who averages 2.4 steals per game.
The Birds are averaging 71.4 points per game, which puts Fairmont No. 2 among all GWOC teams. Fairmont is also first in 3-point shots made, with 119 shots from downtown. Another strength of the team is rebounding, as Fairmont ranks second in total rebounds with 564 boards, just trailing behind Wayne with 565 rebounds.
Junior 3-point specialist Brayden Mattimore credits their success to rebounding. “We really rebound well for how small we are,” Mattimore said.
Tanner agrees with Albright and Mattimore. “Shooting and rebounding,” Tanner said. “It’s just what we usually do.”
Maloney says team unity has been a strong point this year.
“Everyone’s trying to work together and we’re all trying to get better as a unit,” Maloney said. “We’ve really shown some strides this year as far as our record.”
While the Birds have been very strong on offense, Albright said they have room to improve on defense.
“We’ve got to get a lot better defensively,” Albright said. “We’ve really started to lack in that area, especially against better opponents.”
Mattimore agrees with Albright. “Sometimes we don’t play together or communicate so we really need to work on that,” he said.
Albright also says turnovers have really hurt the Birds this year.
“We’ve also got to do a much better job of taking care of the basketball,” Albright said. “When we’ve turned the basketball over, we’ve given teams too many easy baskets and too many extra possessions. When you do that against good teams, you’re going to struggle.”
While considering himself somewhat more laid back as a teacher, Albright says he is completely different once he steps foot onto the basketball court.
“On the sidelines, I tend to be pretty intense,” Albright said. “I get into the games. I am very passionate about it.”
Albright also describes himself as very prepared. “I’m someone who really prides myself on being very well-prepared, I want my players to be very prepared.” Albright said.
Overall, the Birds seem to be thriving under the guidance of the second-year coach.
“He’s very intense,” Mattimore said of Albright. “He’s probably one of the smartest basketball minds I’ve met.”
Maloney agrees. “Coach Albright is a fantastic coach,” he said. “He just has this deep focus and intensity that really spreads throughout the entire team and that’s really helped us.”
Sitting at 14-2, there are some high expectations.
“We expect to end up with no more than 5 losses,” Mattimore said. “We hope to make a state title run.”
Maloney is also very confident. “We’re looking to win the GWOC Central Title,” Maloney said.
Albright encourages the student body come out and support this team.
“I really appreciate the support of the school,” Albright said. “We do take a tremendous amount of pride in trying to build a program that the students can be proud of. I want to thank the students who have come out to support us and just really want to invite everyone else to come out and be a part of the atmosphere in Trent Arena.”