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A High School Reunion on the Final 4

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NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Slater, a senior forward at Villanova, is on the Final 4 with one goal: winning a national championship.

And if accomplishing that goal means beating a few of his former highschool teammates, then so be it.

Slater is one in all 4 players within the Final 4 who were highschool teammates at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly, Va. When Slater was a senior throughout the 2017-18 season, Paul VI also featured the North Carolina guard Anthony Harris and the Duke guards Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels. Together, they won a state championship.

The group stays in contact via text message throughout the season to support each other, Slater said, but with a visit to the national championship game on the road, things may not be as friendly this week.

“We keep one another positive all year long, and if we so occur to play one another throughout the 12 months, we’re not as much close buddies,” the 6-foot-7 Slater, who averages 8.3 points and three.6 rebounds per game for Villanova, said this week in a phone interview.

The Paul VI players — “PVI” as the college is abbreviated — aren’t the one former teammates who will reunite within the national semifinals. The North Carolina sophomore guard R.J. Davis and the Duke freshman forward A.J. Griffin won a Recent York state championship together in 2018 at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. The Duke junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. and the North Carolina senior forward Leaky Black played together at Cox Mill High School in Concord, N.C.

Slater and Villanova will face Kansas in the primary game on Saturday, while Duke and North Carolina will play within the second game. It’s the primary time two teams from the identical state and the identical conference will meet within the Final 4.

Back in Chantilly, Glenn Farello, the pinnacle basketball coach at Paul VI, plans to look at the national semifinals on his couch along with his 1-year-old daughter Zadie while wearing a navy blue Duke T-shirt under a Villanova pullover. Because Harris just isn’t playing this season while he recovers from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, Farello is free to root for his other former players to satisfy in a Duke-Villanova national championship game on Monday.

“If we have now a Duke-Villanova final, I’m rooting for all three of my guys to be great, and we’ll have a good time with the one and hug up on the others,” Farello said in a phone interview.

He added of his former players: “What’s great about all of those guys is their competitiveness. They’re all guys which are great teammates. It’s so nice to see your guys go on to play with teams which have a winning culture and contribute to it, and do whatever it takes to assist the teams because that’s what they did with us here.”

Throughout the 2017-18 season, Slater tried to function a task model to his younger teammates — Roach is a sophomore at Duke, Keels a freshman. Slater himself had learned the ropes from Aaron Thompson, his longtime friend who was a 12 months ahead of him at Paul VI and who just accomplished a five-year profession at Butler, where he’s this system’s profession assists leader.

“Me and him are very close — we talk almost day-after-day if we will, or every week if we will,” Slater said of Thompson. “He definitely taught me methods to lead, and when he left, he knew that we still had time to return and had some players coming. We had a young Jeremy Roach, we had a young Trevor Keels, Anthony Harris. And he told me that it’s our time now.”

During that 2017-18 season, the Panthers went 18-0 through the rugged schedule of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, considered the nation’s best private school prep basketball league. But that February, Slater broke a bone in his shooting hand, his left, sidelining him for the W.C.A.C. playoffs, where Paul VI lost to rival Gonzaga College High School.

He returned along with his hand “all padded up,” Farello said, and “couldn’t shoot outside 12 feet.” But he played a key defensive role because the Panthers won the state championship over Bishop O’Connell by 18 points.

Slater knew then that Harris, Roach and Keels were destined for greater and higher things.

“You possibly can just tell how talented those guys were going to be,” Slater said. “Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels stepped up in big moments.”

Villanova Coach Jay Wright liked that Slater could fill the stat sheet. After Slater notched multiple rebounds, steals and blocks in a game Wright watched, he offered Slater a scholarship. When it got here time to decide on a school, Slater committed to Villanova because he liked the university’s approach.

“It was so similar in how they preach about teamwork and family,” Slater said. “At Villanova, that’s the most important thing we have now is our family.”

After Slater, high-major coaches continued to recruit Paul VI’s players. Roy Williams, the previous North Carolina coach, got here through the college for Harris, who committed to the Tar Heels after initially choosing Virginia Tech. He modified course after Coach Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff also visited Paul VI to recruit Roach, who committed to play for the Blue Devils in May 2019. On one in all Krzyzewski’s visits to see Roach, Farello called Keels into his office so the younger player could meet the Hall of Fame coach. Farello knew Duke was Keels’s dream school.

“He walked in and he was wide-eyed,” Farello recalled. “And as he walked out, I turned to Coach K and I said, ‘I just desired to make sure that you knew who he was, because sooner or later, I believe it is advisable to circle back with this one.’ And sure enough, they did.”

Keels ultimately committed to Duke in April 2021 and is now one in all three Duke freshmen — together with Griffin and Paolo Banchero — expected to be chosen in the primary round of this summer’s N.B.A. draft.

Keels, who’s built like an N.F.L. linebacker at 6 feet 5 inches and 221 kilos, averages 11.3 points and three.5 rebounds, while Roach averages 8.6 points and three.1 assists.

Roach knew they were a part of something special with their highschool team, and he sensed that greater things were ahead.

“4 years later, to all find yourself here within the Final 4, you may’t be more pleased than that,” Roach said Friday. “This just shows you the way good PVI is.”

Now they’re trying to win one other championship on a bigger stage.

Keels said in February that the present Blue Devils have “higher talent” and “higher depth” than the 2015 team that won the national championship, and that this 12 months’s team can “definitely” cut down the nets in Krzyzewski’s final 12 months with this system.

Farello, meanwhile, said he hears from several N.B.A. scouts each week who check in not only about Keels, but additionally Slater.

Though the Paul VI players are focused on their very own teams now, Slater said that, down the road, the group hopefully will learn to understand its accomplishments this season.

“When all this is claimed and done, we’re definitely going to take a seat back and speak about this endlessly,” he said.

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