Anyone who has followed the Foxes boys basketball program while it has been under the leadership of head coach Zach Skrinjar has witnessed his signature style that wins games – strong, physical defenses at both ends of the court. It’s something that every young aspiring Fox Chapel Area player, from the youth program on up, knows they need to master and is an expectation for personal and team success.
Senior guard Thomas Patterson, who met coach Skrinjar when he was in middle school and through the high school-sponsored Little Dribbler camps, says, “As soon as I met coach Skrinjar, I was able to pick up on the fact that defense was his No. 1 priority. I remember vividly all the drills that we did stressed the defensive effort and technique. At the time, I was unaware of just how much he and the rest of the coaching staff stressed defense, but I quickly learned. I remember there was one game in eighth grade where I had gone a perfect nine-for-nine from the three-point range and coach Skrinjar happened to be in attendance. I was super stoked to hear his thoughts on my shooting, but I was humbled by the response that I needed to work on two things: defense and rebounding.”
Thomas is having a breakout season this year, and that is one reason why the team has clinched a spot in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.
“Thomas has really embraced his role and turned into a very good defensive player,” says coach Skrinjar. “He’s made the most of his opportunities. Our entire defense has been spectacular all season; I give them a lot of credit. Defense is our trademark, and that just carries over each year. It’s a staple of our games.”
Senior forward Will Siegel, the team’s top rebounder and scorer, has grit that sparks the team and sets an example for his younger teammates.
“I’d say we spend about 50% of our practice devoted to defense, more specifically the type of defense we will be using against the team we will be playing,” Will says. “But regardless of how much time we spend on it, it’s always the thing we stress the most.”
Unproductive trips to the basket are something coach Skrinjar acknowledges needs to be improved.
“When we have turnovers, we have to eliminate the empty trips to the basket to take care of business,” he says. “We’re looking for finishers.”
The coaching staff has done that by playing around with the starting lineups and leaving no stone unturned. There have been double-digit different starting lineups utilized so far this season, and the head coach views that as a positive.
“We have a lot of interchangeable parts,” notes coach Skrinjar, now in his 15th year with the program. “A lot of guys got the opportunity to play more than they or we thought they would, and they are doing a good job for us.”
Senior Jefferson (Boogie) Moorefield-Brown is known for some of his flashy defensive plays that can be game-changers. He leads the team in steals and, according to coach Skrinjar, “All Boogie needs to do is let his ability shine through.”
After coming off a wrist injury that kept him out of early season play, the Foxes are also benefitting from junior Caden Kaiser’s 6’3” frame, as well as his rebounding and shooting abilities. Another junior, Asher White, is an experienced two-year starter. He has become a more consistent rebounder this season, as well as a positive influence. The guard/forward has stepped in to take charges that changed games, and he has the confidence to take big shots. He leads the team in 3-pointers. Junior Isaac Moser is also getting a lot of court minutes and has taken advantage of opportunities. His talents and defensive skills have been on full display, beginning at winter break tournament games. He’s continued to knock down open shots and is now a consistent shooter.
Sophomores are getting in their share of opportunities and minutes, too.
Max Melocchi, a physical multisport athlete who is a quarterback for the Foxes football team, has earned a place in the starting lineup. The coaches have praised him for making great strides as a sophomore.
Anderson Dockey is mentioned by coach Skrinjar as someone who is contributing to the team’s strong presence in the section. He says, “Anderson has been a clawing presence on offense when he enters the game, and he has made a lot of big impact plays by drawing charges and getting timely steals.”
Also, guard Alex Betancourt-Jones has brought energy to the floor and has been a great contributor when he’s on the court.
Coach Skrinjar is confident that if the team takes what it did in the first half of the season, applies it to the remaining games, and plays consistently, it will be ready for the challenge ahead.
Thomas believes the team is well-prepared as the postseason nears.
“I’d say our team is best described as hardened, focused, and prepared,” he says. “We have a group of guys who have been tested and trained to thrive in difficult situations and expect what teams throw at us. We are willing to cancel out any noise that gets in the way of us doing what we do on both ends of the court, most importantly on the defensive side.”
“We just want to refine our success moving forward,” comments Will. “We need to consistently do the little things right. We need to box out for rebounds, make good passes, take smart shots, and continue to defend. Focusing on taking care of the ball is the next step to our team leveling up. If we can consistently start focusing on little details in every game, we are an extremely difficult team for other teams to beat.”