Greg Vlassopoulos (above) had 18 points and 14 rebounds as Garnet Valley downed Harriton on Tuesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Coming into this season, the biggest question for Garnet Valley was how the Jaguars were going to replace the scoring output of Brandon Starr. The 2017 graduate, a first team all-Central League selection, was beginning his college career at D-II University of the Sciences, leaving behind a sizable gap in the points department.
While current seniors Austin Laughlin and Connor O’Brien were sure to pick up some of the slack of Starr’s 19 points per game, and junior big man Cade Brennan looked ready to take a step forward Mike Brown knew that his Jaguars would need someone else to come in and get some buckets if they were to reach their highest potential.
So far, junior Greg Vlassopoulos has filled that role spectacularly -- and is also producing even more impressively in another area.
“Coaches said to me ‘be like Brandon,’” Vlassopoulos said. “I like Brandon as a player, I like the way he plays, so I try to resemble him a lot.”
The 6-foot-3 guard was part of a tremendous offensive effort on Tuesday night, as Garnet Valley traveled up to Harriton High School and flirted with triple digits in a 90-67 win.
Vlassopoulos was one of three Jaguars players in double figures, scoring 18 points. The junior guard got to the line 16 times, hitting 12, but he wasn’t just a lucky beneficiary of his teammates getting Harriton in foul trouble; Vlassopoulous was constantly attacking the bucket with or without the ball in his hands, creating his own ability to get to the foul line.
It wasn’t exactly the way Starr, a terrific 3-point shooter, traditionally got his points, but the Jaguars will take it all the same.
“I had a lot of faith in him,” said Laughlin, who contributed 21 points to the winning effort Tuesday night. “He always worked hard in the offseason, always putting in the work, practicing hard, I knew he was going to be great for us.”
Through Garnet Valley’s first 11 games of the season, Vlassopoulos is averaging 12.5 ppg, and has reached double figures in scoring in all but one of those outings.
“He’s been consistent,” Brown said. “He didn’t have a 30-point, 15-rebound game and then a six-point game. He’s consistent, we know what we’re going to get from him every night, and that’s all you can ask of a kid.”
While the scoring has been a nice addition to the Garnet Valley lineup, what Vlassopoulos has brought to the table that wasn’t so expected is his work on the glass. Brennan, a 6-5 forward and double-double threat every time he takes the court, was expected to be a vacuum on the glass -- and he has been, grabbing 10 rebounds to go along with his nine points against Harriton.
But Vlassopoulous skied for 14 rebounds to lead all players, completing his well-rounded game with four assists and three steals. He’s shown a knack for crashing the glass; Brown said typically if he’s not tied with Brennan in the rebounding column, he’s only a board or two behind.
“Rebounds are my primary focus for this team,” Vlassopoulous said. “My mindset was to help the team out, because Austin and Connor are going to be our top two scorers, they’re great players, I was just going to feed them the ball and get rebounds.”
The win over Harriton was the sixth in a row for Garnet Valley (8-3, 5-2), which dropped back-to-back league games to Lower Merion and Haverford High in December and hasn’t lost since.
O’Brien led Garnet Valley with 24 points against Harriton, hitting 10-of-13 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, with four assists and two rebounds.
As a team, GV dished out 18 assists on 30 baskets while also shooting a nifty 23-of-30 (76.7 percent) from the foul line to beat the Rams (3-6, 1-4).
Garnet Valley built up a 44-23 advantage by halftime, then withstood a Harriton switch to a full-court press as the scoring really picked up the pace during a 23-22 third quarter in the Rams’ favor. Harriton never got closer than 15 the rest of the way.
“Offense was moving, we were trying to run the ball down the court, transition as fast as possible,” Vlassopoulos said. “They threw the press on us but I thought we reacted great, running down the court and making layups.”
Last year, the Jaguars picked up their first playoff win since moving up to the state’s largest classification (first 4A, now 6A) in 2008, beating Methacton in the opening round of the District 1 6A playoffs, though falling short of the state bracket by a single win.
This year, the eye is on a potential Central League championship -- through seven league games, Garnet Valley is tied for second place with Lower Merion and Springfield (Delco.), two games behind still-unbeaten Penncrest; the Jaguars get the Lions at home next Friday night, though games against Marple Newtown and a trip to Strath Haven come first.
And Vlassopoulos is right in the mix, playing a crucial role. Even if it’s one the rest of the team wasn’t quite expecting.
“I’ve always wanted to start varsity, ever since last year,” he said. “Now I’ve been stepping up...it’s been a great time, I love these guys.”