At 3-2 going into Tuesday night’s South Coast Conference game against Dighton-Rehoboth, the Old Rochester Regional High School boys’ basketball team is still in the early stages of navigating its 2022-23 season.
“We lost our center, big Steve Morrell (to graduation in 2022),” said Sawyer Fox, who serves with Liam Geraghty as the Bulldogs’ senior cocaptains.
Old Rochester Head Coach Steve Carvalho concedes that as a team, ORR has not shot the ball too well so far. That makes rebounding essential, and minus Morrell, the Bulldogs are rebounding more by committee in 2023.
“That’s key to our game this year. In summer league, we knew we were going to be missing big Steve, we knew we had to get on the boards,” said Fox, pointing to the boost that Dylan Hartley-Matteson and John Butler have given the team this season. “When they get on that court, Butler and Hartley-Matteson, they grind for everything, and they just have a lot of heart for the game.”
Fox is averaging over six blocks per game and over nine points per game. He was a double-digits scorer last year and a SCC All-Star.
“Sawyer gets the three going, too, and he’s very tough to guard,” said Carvalho, noting Fox’s eight blocks in ORR’s victory against Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech are the most of any player during Carvalho’s coaching tenure at the Tri-Town high school.
“That’s one of my favorite things. Ever since I’ve been growing up, I’ve loved hanging with the big guys, even getting banged around,” said Fox, who used to look up at more opponents than he does now. “It’s pretty rare now, but one thing I’ve realized is everybody seems a little taller on film. Coach likes to go in big.”
Despite moving on from Morrell, ORR has more height across the floor than in recent years. Fox goes 6-foot-4.5 inches in bare feet, and sneakers prop that up past 6-5.
Fox may blend in on a squad with height, but at 175 pounds, he is unusually agile for a player of his stature. When necessary, Carvalho will take advantage of Fox’s rare ability to stay with an opponent’s smaller, quicker ballcarriers because he can disrupt their shooting confidence with his long reach.
“That’s one thing I never realized, but when somebody puts a hand up and you see it, it’s uncomfortable. With my extra few inches on my arms, I can risk getting a little closer,” said Fox. “Having a 6-7 wingspan definitely doesn’t make my arms look the biggest.”
“He can be one-through-five, he’s a rare kid,” said Carvalho, whose starting point with Fox is in the three (small-forward) position. “He’s got guard skills, he can handle the ball. … He actually does things at the high-school level that you don’t always see. … But he can play anywhere, offensively and defensively.”
In the second half of ORR’s last game against Division 1 Bridgewater-Raynham, Carvalho deployed Fox to guard B-R’s point guard.
“He was shooting a lot, and he was getting way too many open shots,” said Fox. “When you really put the focus on a player, it can really change how the entire team runs. The other kids on our team were doing really well once we handled their number-one option.”
Carvalho is not at all down on the Bulldogs, whose losses this year include a double-overtime defeat against Wareham and a tournament loss to a Division 2 Charlestown team.
The offensive game is a work in progress, but Carvalho envisions a team like the 2015 Division 3 state champion Bulldogs who won six tournament games on the shoulders of six different leading scorers. He is excited about the many shapes ORR’s offense can take with Fox acting as his chameleon.
“I run stuff to Sawyer that I only run once every three years,” said Carvalho, noting lob plays as an example. “He’s just a special athlete. … He gives me options on the court, whether it’s different defensive looks. It’s a nice place to be as a coach when you have an athlete as diverse as he is.”
Geraghty and Fox have been leading the Bulldogs in a positive way, able to hold the team accountable when needed. Fox says the game energy comes naturally, but captains are actually more involved at practice, making sure players are focused on drills related to the game plan.
“Liam, especially, he’s been really, really good (at) getting team together,” said Fox. “One day I was out and so was Jacob Smith. Liam was really good, out there making sure everyone was focused.”
The captains can also learn from their teammates, as Fox has from Braden Yeomans, his junior teammate on the ORR golf team that won the Division 2 state championship on October 25 at Maplegate Country Club in Bellingham. Noting that SCC golf schools use stroke-play scoring rather than a match-play format, Yeomans advised Fox against losing his competitive edge in medal-play situations.
“I saw how Braden carries over his mentality from basketball,” said Fox. “He always told me, ‘You don’t want to go at it like it’s a group thing. Play it like it’s a basketball matchup. Treat one hole like one play on the court.’ That kid is one of the hardest workers.”
Fox compared Yeomans’ mentality on the golf course to Carvalho’s advice during basketball games. “If we took a bad shot, we’re going to forget,” he said. “Coach says have a short-term memory on the court because you don’t want to remember your mistakes. … They’ve all been working for that.”
One of four Mattapoisett brothers including the eldest Gavin, Bennett (a 2017 SCC Basketball All-Star) and David, Sawyer Fox bookends his basketball season with golf in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. But basketball is definitely his sport, and he’s doing everything he can for the Bulldogs as a leader and at whatever position or in whatever role the game dictates.
“He certainly is a college prospect,” said Carvalho, adding that Fox is a “good student, very respected by the teachers and coaches. … He carries himself with class and character on a daily basis … he’s the full package.”
By Mick Colageo