Jan. 14—At 6-foot-5, it was evident Chagrin Falls senior James Kosmides would be a key part of the Tigers' rebounding when he was a varsity starter last season. What caught both him and the coaching staff were his abilities on the defensive end of the floor.
Chagrin Falls has been a defensive-minded team in the past. But to have a shot blocker at the level of Kosmides has been missing the past few seasons. He averages 5.9 rejections a game and many of them aren't in the post as opponents go for layups.
Kosmides has no problem stepping out of the paint and going for blocks beyond the arc. Kosmides said it has been homegrown, with a boost from facing top players in AAU this past summer.
"I was never really a big AAU guy outside of my eighth-grade summer," Kosmides said. "I played last summer before this season and that was a big help for me. You play good competition every single day there and it can translate to a lot of the CVC games we have to play. Playing against athletes like that every single day really helps you with timing on those blocks and that was big for me."
After last season's exit in a district semifinal, Kosmides went to work to become even more of a force on defense. His teammates have followed.
The Tigers are allowing 52.3 points a game with their defense forcing several long possessions when they go down the court. When those long possessions end with a player trying to get a shot over Kosmides, that's what Chagrin Falls wants.
"A lot of it has to deal with timing," Kosmides said. "When you're going to block a shot, you have to watch the guy's feet. Some guys know about me as a shot blocker. So they'll try to pump fake me, but you can always tell by their feet. For the most part, if I see guys lengthen their steps and start to slow down, I know they're going for a shot and that has been a big help this season."
The defense has helped the Tigers to second place in the CVC Chagrin Division with an 8-3 record, two of those losses being in the conference. It's been a big change of pace from last season, when they went 12-11. Coach Dave Bargar said Kosmides' defense has led the turnaround.
Bargar has also seen other aspects of Kosmides' game improve. He also leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Several times this season, Kosmides has been close to a triple-double with nine blocks.
"He's always had the defensive ability, but I never expected James to be as good as he is now," Bargar said. "Last year, he averaged 4-5 a game, and now he's consistently at that 5-6 mark. It's something that when you've never had it and then you realize how important it is. To not have that next year is going to be a major adjustment for us again."
The biggest adjustment for Kosmides this season has been his perimeter defense. Last season, he was a big threat in the post, but teams drew him outside and took advantage from there. This offseason, Kosmides has put an effort to improve his defense all around the floor. Even when he isn't blocking shots, he is able to force his opponents to give up the ball or force a bad pass.
"When you have five guys that can shoot, that is a big challenge to defend," Kosmides said. "I have to guard out on someone and it can lead to more fouls. I need to be smarter against some of the bigger teams and pick my spots a lot better when it comes to those instances."
That allows Bargar and the coaching staff to create new schemes as opponents try to plan around Kosmides.
"We try to hang our hat on the defensive end since we've been here and we've had some really great defensive teams," Bargar said. "I'm not sure we've had a better defender and what he brings to a team than James. It's not just the blocked shots, we've changed our zone when we play it because of him and man-to-man we do some different things. He's a big man that can guard multiple positions with his mobility. He changes the game defensively."
The Tigers hope to continue their unique defensive plan when they travel to Beachwood on Jan. 17 in a game with CVC Chagrin standing on the line.