No one at Herndon was happy to see Will Ferguson bid farewell last year. The explosive senior was the area’s most electrifying scorer last season, averaging 22.4 points per game en route to Northern Region Player of the Year honors. His graduation meant the Hornets would have to find other sources of production this year.
And find those sources they did. Most teams don’t improve with the departure of their best player, but that’s exactly what Herndon has done. The Hornets are spreading the wealth this season, finding contributions all over the court to establish themselves as the region’s highest scoring team and a No. 1 state-ranking according to Virginia Preps.
“Last year if Will had an off night, we would struggle,” said Gary Hall, who coached Herndon from 1990-2007 before retaking the helm last season. “We just didn’t have enough firepower. That’s not the case this year.”
Even when Ferguson was on, Herndon wasn’t guaranteed victory last season. He was never hotter than in his final high school game, when he dropped a season-high 38 points on Woodson in the regional quarterfinals. Yet the Hornets never really had a chance in the second half, eventually losing that contest 85-74. It was a similar story in the teams’ meeting earlier in the season, when Ferguson notched 37 only to see his side lose, 63-61.
The Hornets’ first game this season was a sign that things might be different in 2014. Instead of riding behind one breakout performance, Herndon saw four players hit double figures, led by senior forward Delontae Wingfield’s 19. The result? A 73-65 win over Woodson.
Herndon’s box score that night was a premonition of the weeks ahead. Those same four players maintain double-digit scoring averages, pointing to the balance that has flummoxed opponents all winter.
Leading the charge is Dorian Johnson, a senior guard whose 20.1 points per game trails only Chantilly guard Deandre Harris’s 20.2 for tops in the region. Displaying a level of versatility possessed by few others, Johnson uses his lithe 6-foot-4 frame to break loose for rim-rattling jams, spot up from beyond the arc and send opponents’ shots into the stands. He complemented Ferguson last year in one of the area’s most potent one-two punches, but this year he’s being complemented by a carousel of reliable teammates.
“I just like our experience and our leadership,” Johnson said. “We have a whole bunch of seniors, a bunch of guys with the same goal. We always get on each other and we’re always helping each other out and looking to get better. We’ve had a lot of people step up.”
Chief among the supporting cast is Kent Auslander, a 6-foot-5 swingman who needed to elevate his game in the wake of Ferguson’s departure. So far Auslander has answered the call, averaging 16.2 points per outing while serving as a steady presence on the boards.
“I just worked hard over the summer trying to improve my all-around game, especially finishing around the rim,” Auslander said. “I knew I was going to be taking on a bigger role with Will leaving. I just try to embrace it and do the best I can.”
According to Hall, the epitome of this year’s Herndon squad is DeAndre Thomas, the fourth senior averaging double figures. A talented senior who would likely lead most other teams in scoring, Thomas is more concerned with racking up wins than personal accolades.
“It’s one thing for a player to accept a role, but it’s another to embrace it,” Hall said. “They’re going to accept it because the coach gives it to them. It’s more important that they embrace it. And it is such a comfort knowing that I have him on the bench. He changes the complexion of the game every time he comes in.”
The Hornets’ scoring balance combines with a breakneck style that has Herndon constantly getting out in transition. A deep roster allows Hall to cycle through his bench and wear opponents down as the game drags on. Herndon (14-3, 5-1) averaged 82 points a night in a recent 10-game win streak.
That streak was snapped Tuesday night in a 82-67 loss at Robinson (14-3, 5-1), the Hornets’ first defeat against a regional opponent this season. Herndon beat Robinson 71-64 two weeks earlier but couldn’t get anything going in a second half that saw them put up just 26 points.
Though Robinson coach Brian Nelson concedes Herndon is the more athletic unit, he believes people tend to underestimate his own team’s ability to play in play in transition.
“I think we’re one of the better defensive teams around,” Nelson said. “I’m not afraid to play Herndon in an up-tempo game. When you have the ability to run, I don’t want to slow the game down and feed into their aggressive pressure. I want to attack their pressure.”
Tuesday’s result left Herndon and Robinson tied atop the Conference 5 standings. The regular season’s final four games should be intriguing, particularly with Herndon potentially adding a highly touted transfer to its roster. Brandon Alston, a 6-foot-5 wing who played his freshman season at Paul VI, enrolled at Herndon on Tuesday after transferring from Life Center Academy in New Jersey.
Alston reclassified from the Class of 2015 to the Class of 2014 after announcing his commitment to play basketball at Lehigh University, where he was intrigued by the prospect of immediate playing time next season. He recently moved back down to his native Northern Virginia and asked Hall if he could join his basketball team after declaring his intention to attend Herndon.
Hall remains uncertain about the status of Alston, whose paperwork and physical are still being processed by the VHSL. If he ends up joining the team, Herndon might have a fifth double-figure scoring guy in the lineup.