Take any preconceived notions you might have about the Langley boys basketball team and toss them out the window.
Travis Hess’ squad has been tormenting the Northern Region for years with a sequence of scrappy, guard-filled teams who tried to stalk opponents man-to-man and scored with a slash-to-the-basket-and-dish offense.
Not this year, though.
Thanks to a pair of big, athletic seniors — Brad Dotson (6-foot-6) and Justin Galiani (6-4) — the Saxons have a retooled look, and already netted a signature win, 60-46, on the road against Woodson last Friday. They opened Liberty District play with a 67-37 win at Thomas Jefferson on Tuesday night, showcasing a suffocating zone defense and an efficient offense with three players in double figures.
Sitting at 5-0 ahead of tonight’s home opener against South Lakes, the Saxons are an early season surprise and seem primed to get back into the region’s final four this spring. Last season ended with a regional quarterfinal loss to Edison.
Hess is no stranger to innovation. In the preseason last year, he openly talked about scrapping a handful of pet plays that weren’t working after a summer’s worth of video study. With three key contributors 6-4 or taller, it was plain to see his team’s size would be its strength. The result is a 2-3 zone defense and a post-focused offense.
“I don’t think we really expected to go 5-0. We’re ecstatic,” said Hess, who missed the end of last season dealing with his young daughter Gianna’s cancer treatments. “Everything is new. Playing zone defense is new. This ‘three-around-two’ system is new; we’ve been four and five guards the last two years. So we didn’t really know what we had and if it would be successful against good teams. But it’s proven to be successful and we like where we’re at.”
The Saxons still embody the characteristics of a Hess-coached team: they’re smart, good in transition, drain the open three and look to make an extra pass. An added bonus? They can just shove the ball down smaller teams’ throats when they want to.
“We’re a pretty big team, and we can pack all those bodies in the middle,” said Dotson. “We move pretty well, too.”
On Tuesday, junior guard Garrett Collier scored five of his game-high 14 points during a 7-2 run late in the first quarter to give Langley a 16-8 lead. Andrew Haymans banked in a 3-pointer to open the second quarter and Dotson followed with an inside move to make it 21-8.The teams essentially were even the rest of the half, but Dotson — who will be going to Bucknell as a long-stick lacrosse defender next year — took advantage of multiple entry passes from Galiani in the third quarter, scoring eight of his 13 points in the frame. Another 3-pointer by Haymans late in the quarter made it 51-24 and prompted Hess to empty his bench early in the fourth quarter.
Junior Ross Callaghan, at 5-10, is the prototypical point guard, but Galiani was impressive with his ability to move the ball down the floor in transition and find Dotson for easy points.
“Last year we had a completely different offense, and to get time on the floor and earn a starting spot, I had to be a guard,” said Galiani, who will be playing soccer at Bucknell next year — which accounts for his impressive speed for his size. “So that helped develop my guard skills for this year, and I’m seeing the benefits right now.”
Although it’s early in the season and the Saxons are only just getting into a groove, they’re halfway through a five-game stretch against four teams that made the regional tournament last year. Two games against Westfield and Fairfax next week ahead of a holiday tournament at Wakefield later this month should reveal any weaknesses. But in the meantime, the Saxons are planning to build on their win against Woodson, a team they might face again in the regional tournament.
“That was our first major test. Going to Woodson, Friday night, big crowd, one of the most hyped-up teams in the region,” said Galiani. “We were not expected to beat them and I don’t know when the last time we beat them was. … But now we’re not going to sneak up on anyone. People are going to be ready for us now and we’re going to have to play at an even higher level.”