Fountain Valley's Jackson Gatlin is guarded by Aliso Niguel's Connor Duff (12) and Kyle Molnar during a recent game in the O.C. North/South Challenge at El Toro High School.

Fountain Valley shifts into fast lane


FOUNTAIN VALLEY – Off Fountain Valley goes.

It begins with point guard Josh Armstrong driving for a layup. The next possession sees the Barons grab an offensive rebound before forward Joey Petersen makes a layup. Center Jackson Gatlin knocks down a jumper on the next trip down, and guard Danny Chamaa follows with a 3-pointer.

Four possessions, four field goals, four scorers.

Armstrong and Petersen make consecutive jumpers on the next two possessions, turning the Barons' four-point deficit into a nine-point lead. It was the first of three instances in which they scored on six consecutive possessions, each spurt spanning less than a bathroom break.

"It was just an avalanche," Fountain Valley coach Roger Holmes said of a recent 97-39 victory against Northwood.

It was just how the Barons practice it. Every day they run a 5-on-0, full-court drill during which everyone sprints up and down the court five times, with a different player taking each shot.

"You make five trips and get five shots in under 28 seconds," Holmes said.

While the exercise might seem on the surface fun and free-flowing, it's far from fruitless. Known as "the cycle," the drill develops passing, conditioning, offensive rebounding, running in lanes and playing in transition. The Barons have been practicing it for the past few years. Now it's the foundation for their base offense.

"That's how you'd play if you were playing a pickup game," said Holmes, instituting the run-and-gun attack before this season to exploit his team's athleticism and height — four starters are at least 6-foot-2. "It's a players' offense. We don't micromanage our guys very much. We kind of let them go and trust them.

"As many possessions as we can get, as many open looks as we can get. The faster, almost out of control, the better."

So far, so good.

Fountain Valley began the season winning 11 of its first 13 games, its best start in years, before losing its opening-round game in the Surf and Slam Hoop Classic in San Diego on Thursday. The Barons entered the week averaging 74.3 points per game, trailing only Mission Viejo and Mater Dei, the county's top two ranked teams. All five of the Barons' senior starters are averaging double figures.

The offense calls for one of the guards to push the ball upcourt and everyone else to sprint through their lanes, with the first open shot of the possession being the best one. The Barons dribble little, pass a lot and are free to shoot 3-pointers in transition when they have numbers.

"Run, get easy shots, set the tone and run the (opposing) team to the ground," is how Armstrong described it. "Sixty percent of our offense comes from beating the other team down the court."

The key for the Barons, aside from how well they shoot, is how well they rebound, particularly on offense. Their goal is to recover about 40 percent of their missed shots each game.

"It's huge," Holmes said. "If you're going to run and shoot, you have to offensive rebound."

Fountain Valley's offense, an offshoot of the fast break system once employed by Loyola Marymount, is the latest example of the resourceful Holmes finding new ways to win.

"I think it's the best chance we have with the group that we have," Holmes said. "If we were to slow it down and be really structured, it's not what this group is really good at."

Just a few years ago while coaching Marina, Holmes was all about the 3-pointer. He attended a basketball clinic one offseason led by Grinnell College's David Arseneault, whose Iowa team made headlines recently when one of its players, Jack Taylor, scored an NCAA record 138 points.

With a rotation full of shooters and void of height (no one was taller than 6-2), Holmes ran Arseneault's system verbatim and watched as Marina made 437 3-pointers in 2006-07, obliterating the state record by about 50.

Holmes briefly retired in 2010 to follow his son Brendan's college basketball career at Dominican University in San Rafael. But when the Pacific West Conference amended its schedule, it opened the door for Holmes to coach at his alma mater, Fountain Valley, a job he said he never pursued during his 16 years at Marina.

"If there's ever the time, now's the time," Holmes told himself when the Barons job opened shortly after he left Marina. "It was a crazy coincidence."

Fountain Valley's early success is not. The Barons are coming off consecutive playoff appearances after finishing last in league in three of four seasons before Holmes took over. One week before league play begins, the Barons, who haven't won a league title since 1995, have the look of a contender.

They feel like one too.

"I think we can beat anybody in the county," Gatlin said. "It depends on how we come out. If our shooters are shooting well, I don't think anybody can beat us."

In losses this season to El Toro and Aliso Niguel, Fountain Valley met its match in terms of size, struggled on defense and too often was forced to run halfcourt sets on offense while its opponents limited penetration. The Barons expect Sunset League foes to try to exploit similar areas to slow them down.

They plan to counter that by ... playing faster.

"We just got to fast break more," Gatlin said. "We got to push the tempo more. It wears the other team down. By the end of the second quarter, you can just see it. When they come in from halftime they're (still) tired. I don't think anyone runs as much as us."

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