In the 10 years Mark Fiedor has spent coaching basketball at Brookline High — the past three as varsity head coach — the Warriors had never before used a zone defense. Nothing against such standbys as the 2-3, the box-and-one or the match-up zone, but the Warriors never had a reason to deviate from old-fashioned man-to-man defense.
But this season a reason found them, in the form of Brookline senior forward/center Jeff Adrien, a.k.a. "The Reason." And that's been a good thing.
After Adrien swatted five blocks per game in leading the Warriors to a 21-2 record last season — his first as a starter — Fiedor knew opponents weren't going anywhere near Adrien this season if they could help it.
So Fiedor found a way to make sure they couldn't help it. For the first time he can remember, the Warriors are playing zone, based on a simple premise: stack defenders along the perimeter and force opponents into the paint, then wait for the ball to come right back to you courtesy of an Adrien smackdown. These are the things you can do when you have a reason to.
Or, better yet, "The Reason" to.
Thanks to Adrien, the zone was working out just fine for the Warriors this season. As of press time, Adrien was averaging 27 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks a game while leading Brookline to a 13-4 record and staking his claim as the premier public school player in the state.
"If I had to coach against him, I'd hate to have to walk into that gym," says Fiedor.
Adrien doesn't know when or why he got the nickname "The Reason," but he does know it has something to do with how well — and how often — he blocks shots. At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds (he's grown two inches and dropped five pounds over the last two years), Adrien is big, but he doesn't necessarily have the look of a prototypical shot blocker. What makes him the most imposing inside force in the city — and its best player — is instinct, the best weapon in a shot blocker's arsenal.
"I have a sense of when the ball is going up," says Adrien. "I'm long, and I can tell right when the ball is going up whether I can get it or not."
Unlike many of the nation's elite players, Adrien was pretty much an unknown until 15 months ago. He languished on the bench as a sophomore, when the Warriors made it to the state finals led by the talented quartet of Clayton Barlow-Wilcox, Tim Jones, Darryl Minnifield and Louie Williams. Adrien always felt he could make an impact on the floor — once he got onto the floor — and he proved it early and often during his junior campaign.
Adrien averaged 17 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots per game last year as Brookline advanced to the Division 1 South finals before losing to Brockton High. He followed up his breakout junior season with a long and successful summer manning the pivot for local AAU powerhouse BABC, led by Boston Celtics personnel man Leo Papile.
As a result, Adrien has been better than ever this season.
"I just played a lot more, and the game just came to me," says Adrien, who recorded a triple-double with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 12 blocks in Brookline's season-opening victory over Braintree High. "I worked hard on my dribbling and my footwork, and I just played a lot more."
Fiedor and Adrien both know that Adrien's size, a huge advantage in high school, won't be so imposing at the next level. That's why Adrien has been working hard on diversifying his game. He's played every position on the floor this season, including point guard, and when college coaches watch him play, Fiedor is sure to remind them that although they think they're looking at a center, Adrien's best position down the road could be as a swingman.
According to Fiedor, the BABC — where Adrien has gotten much of his exposure in the eyes of college scouts — has to use him at center because he's the biggest guy they have. But by upping his scoring average by 10 points per game this season while trying to play every position on the floor, Adrien has shown a knack for adaptation.
"We've had him do a little of everything," says Fiedor. "At times he's had to carry this team. It's a lot to ask, but he's pretty much done it all."
Adrien's talents are such that he can still get most of his points inside the paint without too much trouble. But he wants to become more of a complete player, which he hopes will make him more dangerous in the future.
"It's not like I want to abandon the post, but it adds more to your game when you're able to do a lot of things," says Adrien. "It's just so much better to be versatile."
Adrien, who has attracted recruiting interest from local schools like Boston College, Providence, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Fordham, is ready for college in terms of basketball. But he still needs work on the academic side, which is why he's planning on going to prep school next year.
The list of colleges courting Adrien would be much longer if they knew they could count on him this fall, but if things go well at prep school both in the classroom and in the weight room — a place Adrien has yet to see much of because he spends so much time playing — those schools will be back on his trail next year.
In the meantime, Adrien has been focused on leading the Warriors to a state title. And he's also planning to add a few jaw-dropping rejections to his resume. He says his favorite blocks are when he pins the ball against the glass, which he did to poor Framingham High on Jan. 13.
In fact, except for one tiny problem, Adrien's senior year has been smooth sailing.
"The referees call goaltending on me a lot," he says. "To me, it looks like the ball is still going up."
Much like Jeff Adrien's stock.