TSA Boys Basketball Working the Numbers Well

  • The Sharon Academy's Sam Knoerlein (14) takes a shot on Jan. 11, 2018, during a game between Sharon and Blue Mountain Union School in Sharon, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Blue Mountain Union School's Ryan Farquharon (24) tries to keep the ball away from Sharon Academy's Austin Gaudette (2) before Gaudette steals the ball from him on Jan. 11, 2017, during a game between Sharon and Blue Mountain in Sharon, Vt. Sharon won, 53-33. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Blake Fabrikant, head coach for the Sharon Academy varsity boys basketball team, rallies his team on Jan. 11, 2017, before the fourth period of a game between Sharon and Blue Mountain Union School in Sharon, Vt. "Play like you have something to lose," Fabrikant told his team before Sharon went on to score 20 points in the last four minutes of the fourth quarter to win the game 53-33. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sharon — With only nine players, the Sharon Academy boys basketball team is the smallest Phoenix squad in recent memory, in terms of numbers. Thanks to wide-ranging contributions, this year’s edition is also one of its most complete.

Sharon is 7-0 and outscoring opponents by a more-than-double average score of 66-32. More importantly, all five starters have reached double figures in at least one game, with four averaging at least 9 points per game.

Better chemistry and ball distribution has led to more consistently reliable scoring options than last year’s 14-8 squad that was ousted in the VPA Division IV quarterfinals by eventual state runner-up Twinfield. Just two players scored better than 8 ppg on that squad.

“This is really a close-knit group. Never have the pieces fit together so perfectly,” said ninth-year Phoenix coach Blake Fabrikant, whose program has no junior varsity team for the first time since he had seven total players during his first year with the team. “Every player is very familiar with their position, so they’re able to complement each other really well.”

Sharon has been fueled by the addition of senior Hartford High transfer Austin Gaudette, who’d spent the previous two years in the varsity lineup of the D-II Hurricanes. Gaudette is scoring 14.3 points per game, helping make up for the graduation loss of Harvey Kelley (14.8 ppg in 2016-17).

Gaudette’s scoring is second on the team to senior power forward Sam Knoerlein (16.7), his AAU teammate with the Hartford Hitmen, coached by Gaudette’s father, Mike.

“A lot of people thought, ‘Austin’s coming from D-II; he’s going to come in here and dominate and score 25 points per game,’ but that’s really not what his game is all about,” Fabrikant said. “What he brings to the table is his basketball IQ, where he sees the floor probably better than anybody and plays with great passion, great defense and leadership.”

Also exhibiting strong leadership is Knoerlein, as highlighted against Blue Mountain on Thursday after the Bucks and Phoenix were tied 31-31 midway through the fourth quarter. With Gaudette having fouled out and Sharon needing a spark, Knoerlein drilled a 3-pointer to ignite a 20-point burst over the final four minutes of a 53-33 win. Knoerlein finished with a game-high 18 points.

“I think I’ve always been able to lead by example, but the emotional side (of leadership) is something I have a little bit of a better understanding of at this point,” Knoerlein said. “It’s something I’m still working on. But this team is lucky because we have a lot of guys who can be a leader on a given night.”

That includes senior point guard Cole Ward (6.0 ppg), who’s coming off his first season as a full-time starter, and senior small forward Josh Amodeo (9.0 ppg). Junior center Fisher Kelley is averaging 13.4 points per game, and sophomore Olly Skeet-Browning is a big-man option off the bench.

“There have been seasons when we were overall more athletic and talented than this year, like three years ago when we went to the final,” said Fabrikant. “Last year, we had four forwards and had to kind of play to those strengths.

“This year, the difference is that we have the ability to match any opponent’s tempo. If you want to try to slow it down and take away the perimeter, we have bigs who can score down low. If you want to run, we have players who love to run and can score on the break. So if you come out with a game plan against us, we can do what you do, but do it better.”

Strength of schedule is a concern for the Phoenix. Counting winless West Rutland twice to match the number of times the Phoenix has faced the Golden Horde (0-8), Sharon’s opponents were a combined 5-30 entering the weekend.

Part of the problem is playing in the weak Central Vermont League, but even non-league games against the Marble Valley League’s West Rutland — 13-7 and a No. 8 seed a year ago — and relative newcomer Long Trail (3-2) haven’t provided significant tests.

Sharon is hoping to be challenged with upcoming games against D-III Rivendell and Twinfield, traditional small-school MVL power Arlington and area CVL rivals such as Whitcomb-Rochester and South Royalton, lest they enter the D-IV tournament without being sufficiently battle-tested.

Sharon won’t need to contend with Twinfield, which moved to D-III this season, but looming are potential playoff matchups with first-place Danville, defending champion Proctor and Poultney (5-1).

“We might try to schedule a couple of scrimmages against some harder opponents, just to get us ready,” Fabrikant said. “Williamstown isn’t in the CVL anymore; that used to be a way where you knew you were going to be tested at least twice a year.

“A big key for us is just not to get ahead of ourselves, work on improvements every game and not take any (opponent) for granted.”

Sharon’s lack of depth could also conceivably cause problems, but having its core five on the floor for the vast majority of each game can also benefit continuity — so long as players find the stamina to persevere.

“(A short bench) could definitely hurt us against a team that can throw five guys off the bench at us,” said Ward. “But having us all on the floor a lot will help us get to know each other better game by game, so we’re not having to flip a (mental) switch all the time, going to the bench. The only problem with that is (keeping from) getting tired, but we haven’t gotten tired yet.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.