2016 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year: Shields, Falcons find consistency in year three

Brandon Shields

WOODSTOCK – If there’s been one consistency in Brandon Shields’ three seasons as head coach of Central High School’s varsity boys basketball team, it’s been change.

Adjustments, in one form or another, have marked his short tenure in many aspects. Shields has had to adjust to the still somewhat foreign role as a high school basketball head coach, a position he’d never held before coming to Woodstock in 2013. His players have had to become acclimated to his system, one that Shields admits varies from year to year depending on his players’ strengths. Graduation between years one and two erased most of Central’s varsity experience, making Shields feel like he was starting from scratch two seasons in a row.

This year it was a little bit different. When Central hit the practice court back in November it had a core of experienced varsity talent to build around and a group of six seniors, several of them about to begin their third season with Shields. The Falcons finally had some consistency, and there was no need for a feeling-out process.

When Shields looks back on the 2015-16 season, which ended with a Region 2A East tournament first-round loss last month to a more athletic and more physically gifted Robert E. Lee squad, he sees a team that reached very close to its maximum potential.

“I think we won the games we should’ve won and I think we lost to teams that just out-matched us. As a coach that’s what you want to happen,” said Shields, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2016 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, earlier this week. “You want your kids to be playing at a level where they are playing up to where they should be – win the games you’re supposed to win, don’t lose the games you’re not supposed to lose, and try and steal a couple here and there, which I think we did as well. So I was very pleased. It’s a testament to that group of kids though.

“It’s good to see good things happen to people who work hard because … they stepped it up for our program as far as where the work level is. Now we’ve by no means arrived but they’ve kind of laid a good foundation for us and the guys that come after them.”

Like any high school coach, Shields wants his team to be competitive at a state level, a task he calls a “mountain” that will surely take some time to trek. The Falcons took the necessary steps as part of that hike this past winter.

Central finished the year with a record of 15-9, the most wins for the program since 2008 and the Falcons’ first winning season in five years. The Falcons lost just two games at home all season – including one to Group 2A state semifinalist George Mason – and picked up marquee wins against talented squads from Madison County (20-5) and William Monroe, the latter of which the Falcons hadn’t beaten in 10 years according to Shields.

When Shields and his assistant coaches, Jeff Walters and Ryan Rutz, sat down in the preseason to discuss how the Falcons should operate on the court this winter, they came to the conclusion that the team needed to rely on 3-point shooting and being active in transition. The Falcons responded by averaging 61.3 points per game – led by double-digit scorers Ian Pugh (13 points per game), Luke Estep (12.2 points per game) and Varsey Bright (11 points per game) and sharpshooters Kobi Hoover (47 3-pointers) and Austin Fadely (34 3-pointers) – and setting a new school record for 3-pointers made in a season (179). In a blowout of Clarke County early in the season, the Falcons hit 17 threes.

“They executed what the image was,” Shields said. “What they were this year was the vision. That’s who we wanted them to be. That’s who we thought they needed to be. And they embraced it. Credit to them, they embraced it and kind of made it their identity.”

It’s an identity Shields said almost certainly will change again next season based on player personnel. He says its necessary to adjust, a key component of blending old-school values – hard work, togetherness, discipline, accountability – with the new-school acceptance of change.

“You either adapt or you die as a coach, as a player, as an employee, as a teacher, as anything,” Shields said. “If you don’t adapt you’re just gonna get passed up and I think that’s something I embrace and I’ve always believed in, is growing every single year. If I’m not a better coach in November than I am right now then I’m doing something wrong. I can’t ask my kids to get better as players every year if I’m not gonna get better. If I’m gonna be the exact same person then how can I look at them and say how are you the same exact person?”

Shields doesn’t want to change completely, however. A 2008 graduate of Radford University who made assistant coaching stops at Pulaski County, Eastern Montgomery and Turner Ashby high schools, Shields’ own coaching style has been a pick-and-choose of coaching philosophies he’s picked up over the years. But staying true to the type of coach he wants himself to be – a relaxed mentor whom Pugh lauded for the way he handles his players – is paramount.

“I’m not a screamer. I’m not a guy who’s really gonna make a scene. But my expectations are still known and hopefully exuded in the way my kids play and act and do things on the floor,” Shields said. “I can’t be a Jeff Walters, who is gonna be standing up and yelling. It’s just not who I am and I just feel that if I try to be something I’m not then it’s a disservice to the kids I coach and it’s a disservice to who I am.”

And yet times are still changing. Shields and his wife, Sorayda, are expecting their first child, a boy, on April 30, meaning more tweaks to Shields’ coaching experience are on the way.

“I think once he’s in our life on a daily basis and I have a son, the way that I interact and view the kids I get to coach will probably change rather drastically,” Shields said.

“We’re so excited about it, though. We can’t wait for that. And I can’t wait to see how it changes me as well.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com