Valley boys basketball gets healthy, remains cautious

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 | 12:18 AM


Deonte Ross spent the first five weeks of basketball season at the end of Valley's bench, sometimes in agony not from the cracked tibia that kept him on the sidelines but from the knowledge he couldn't help his teammates.

“It was rough,” the junior said. “Sitting there and watching my team play, it made me want to go on the court and play then. When we played Indiana and we were losing, I was mad because I couldn't play and help my team.”

Ross can now do that, as he made his long-anticipated return in Valley's Section 1-4A victory over Derry last week, the Vikings' fifth win in a row. And the Vikings should get healthier in the next week or two when junior sharpshooting guard Alex Ward returns from a leg injury, which has kept him out all season.

Valley, though, is approaching its good injury fortune and strong play with caution. The Vikings (7-2, 4-1) know better than many teams that good times don't always last forever.

“We're not trying to get too hyped because of a five-game winning streak,” senior Darius Johnson said. “Last year, we made it to the playoffs, but it just got bad.”

Last season remains part of Valley's identity. The Vikings made the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2011 and led McGuffey by 10 points in the fourth quarter, only to see the Highlanders rally for the victory.

The Vikings talked about that game as motivation in the summer and the preseason, and they're not forgetting it now. Hence their one-game-at-a-time mentality, which the injuries only added to.

“With the guys that we've had out, we're trying to constantly prepare for their return and focus on the moment,” Valley coach Mark Faulx said. “I feel we're still looking to pick up our rhythm. It hasn't seemed like it's been smooth, and we're playing consistently and we're having this great win streak. I feel we're still really looking for improvement and consistent play.”

For the many improvements Valley has made communicating defensively and sharing the basketball, the Vikings also have had lapses in shot selection and on defense. They took control of their game against Derry with a 17-3 run in the first half only to see Derry rally to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Although the Vikings rallied and won, the game highlighted inconsistencies.

Johnson said some players think too much about the bad plays, himself included, but they're trying to work through it.

“When we're all on the same page and doing the same things, then nobody's down,” Johnson said.

The absences of Ross and Ward helped Valley find roles for juniors Roman Flenory and Javon Wade-Shaw and freshmen Adisun Jackson and Elijhah Murray. Guards Dru Stokes, a senior, and Nyjewel Carter, a junior, provided much of the scoring, while Johnson brings defense and hustle.

Ross' return added toughness on the boards and down low, while Ward's impending comeback will give Valley another floor-stretcher.

“We're constantly trying to define each player's role. We're trying to sell for the guys to star in their role, and we're looking for consistent performance playing the way we think we need to play to be at our best,” Faulx said. “We're trying to be as good as we can in the moment but also prepare for the moment when new players who have been injured arrive.”

Now that he made his season debut, something he was “itching” to do, Ross has something else to look forward to. Valley faces key section games Friday at Freeport (6-4, 2-2) and Jan. 23 against Indiana (8-1, 4-0).

“I just want to get to playoffs, get that No. 1 seed and go from there,” Ross said. “Make our way to the Pete.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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