Give him the ball

he'll do the rest

Boys basketball: Never one to back down, Fallston's Phil Vornadore is coming up with a big junior season.

High Schools

January 11, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

It was the final act of a season that served as one big coming-out party, and Fallston's Phil Vornadore wasn't going down without a fight.

The Cougars had little margin for error in the Class 3A regional semifinal last year against Randallstown, one of the state's most successful basketball programs, and just about everything was going wrong for them.

Some of his teammates looked intimidated and overwhelmed, but there was Vornadore, just a sophomore, banging and hustling his way to 22 points in Fallston's 90-50 loss to the Rams.

"That showed me that he is for real," said Fallston second-year coach Matt Jergensen. "In Randallstown, you're talking about a team that was ranked No. 1, whose best player [Levi Stukes] is at Georgia right now, and Phil just walked in their gym like it was just another night.

"That was a tough atmosphere, but when we ran the offense, we were able to get him the ball and he was scoring."

That has been the mantra this season for the Cougars (7-2): Get Vornadore the ball and watch him go to work.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior forward hasn't disappointed. Entering Fallston's loss to Aberdeen on Friday night, Vornadore led Harford County in scoring (22.7 ppg.), rebounding (16.0 rpg.) and field-goal percentage (.610).

He has scored 20 points or more in seven of nine games and was the Most Valuable Player of the North Carroll holiday tournament, which the Cougars won. In the lopsided loss to Aberdeen, Vornadore had perhaps his worst game of the season and still ended up with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

"This past summer, I concentrated on just basketball," said Vornadore, 17, who also plays baseball for Fallston. "I've always liked [basketball] a little more, and I thought if I put more time into it, it would really pay off."

Vornadore didn't just put more time into basketball. He ate, slept and breathed it for the past six months.

For almost an hour and a half each night, Vornadore would go to his driveway and practice, often going over post moves he picked up from watching San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan.

Sometimes, Vornadore would stay outside until he made 700 shots - yes, he counts each one.

"I know that's true because there are times I'd call over there and his mom would tell me, `Well, he's outside shooting right now,'" Jergensen said.

Added teammate Brian Cannon: "He works harder than anybody I've ever played with."

And the Bel Air Athletic Club, where Vornadore works out six days a week, nearly two hours a day, might as well be Vornadore's second home. He bench-presses 270 pounds and just this season, he has added another 10-plus pounds of muscle to his already impressive physique.

"I play a lot harder than I used to," said Vornadore, whose goal is to play Division I basketball. "If I'm not getting the ball as much, I just hit the glass harder, get rebounds and put them back."

The numbers have skyrocketed for the third-year varsity player who emerged last season - he averaged 15.6 points and 12.4 rebounds - to become a first-time All-County selection and the county's premier post threat.

Vornadore has five moves in the low post - his favorite is a baseline spin - and he has a soft touch on his mid-range jumper. Vornadore swears he could be a productive three-point shooter, but with his size, he's not exactly encouraged by Jergensen to venture to the perimeter.

Especially when other county teams have struggled to stop him inside. Often, they just send him to the free-throw line, where Vornadore shoots 70 percent.

"We didn't want them to get it in the post because we knew we couldn't stop Phil Vornadore," said Bel Air's Brandon Rodick, whose team beat the Cougars, 70-56, on Tuesday despite Vornadore's 26 points on 12-for-17 shooting, 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Teammates are also impressed with Vornadore's mental approach. Five minutes before a game, it is a safe bet that Vornadore will be cracking some sort of joke on a teammate. But by tip-off, Vornadore is ready to play.

And whether he is having a career day or a frustrating one, his expression rarely changes.

"You can play dirty with him, but he won't react," said Cannon, a senior. "He goofs around a little, but when it's game time, it's a different Phil."

And as his performance last year against Randallstown suggests, Vornadore doesn't get intimidated. In summer Amateur Athletic Union tournaments, Vornadore has played against some of the area's top players, including Archbishop Spalding's Rudy Gay, who is bound for the University of Connecticut.

"I've always played against good competition, so that's not going to faze me," Vornadore said. "I respect everybody I play against, but when I'm on the court, I think I'm as good as anybody out there."

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