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Holy Ghost junior optimistic about team’s improvement

Adrien “Ace” Varella is serving as a team captain for the Holy Ghost basketball team. PHOTO: HOLY GHOST

Adrien “Ace” Varella loved playing for Tony Chapman.

Varella is a junior small forward on the Holy Ghost Prep High School basketball team, and prior to this year, the Firebirds were under the tutelage of Chapman for 45 years.

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Varella learned a lot while playing for Chapman, which included a very deliberate style.

This year, the Firebirds are coached by Tom Heston.

Heston has brought a new style to Holy Ghost, a more up-tempo offense. And guess what?

Varella loves playing for Heston.

“It’s been great, I loved playing for (Chapman), we played a slow style and I learned so much watching,” said Varella, who lives in Olney. “Coach Heston has been great to play for, I really love it. The biggest difference is we wanted to have a different play style. We pressure the ball all game and don’t slow down. Try to score as many points as possible. A lot different than last year. We run a lot more.

“I mean last year was great. I grew up kind of playing that style, it was a little slower. It was different playing at that pace. I think last year opened my eyes to when I drive, people collapse, and I would find an open person. I provided for my teammates when they collapsed. It helped a lot. I used it to learn, and had fun. And this year, I’m using what I learned last year while still learning so much. We’re lucky, we had great coaches both years.”

The Heston era hasn’t started on the best of notes because the Firebirds have struggled, losing four of their first five games.

But it hasn’t been from lack of effort. The Firebirds return just two starters and their schedule has been daunting. Their losses were to Pennington, Bishop Shanahan, Northeast and La Salle. 

It wasn’t the start Varella was hoping for, but he does realize the start of the season has been productive from a learning standpoint.

“This year is great, but it’s been a rough start,” Varella said. “But only five games and we have time to figure out what we have to do. We have talent and we’re working. We have a lot of work to do. A lot to do as a team. We need to take every game like it’s a new start for us.”

Varella knows that if the team is going to do that, they need a leader.

And while he’s only a junior, he was selected to be a captain this year, and that meant everything to him.

“My role is to be a captain and a leader,” said Varella, who played football for the North Philadelphia Blackhawks when he was younger but decided to focus on basketball and gave up his other sport. “I was surprised, but it meant so much. I work great with the new coach, I love him. He’s really nice, a nice guy, he always pushes us to be hard in practice. And games, too. 

“He never wants to see us slack, he’s always on the go. It’s like working out with (2023 Holy Ghost Prep graduate Mel Lindsey’s) dad. He runs a fast tempo, nothing is slow paced. I love how we play this year. Fast tempo. We are in shape. We play so fast, so we have to be in shape.”

As a captain, he’s made it part of his job to make sure the new coach has everything he needs to succeed.

If it means scoring, Varella is capable of doing it. Last year he averaged 11 points per game.

He’s also willing to play defense and do whatever else Heston asks of him.

Varella is still learning how to be a leader, but so far he’s been exactly what the the new coach has needed, according to Heston.

If it works for the coach, it works for Varella.

“I’m trying to help, I think it’s going really well,” Varella said. “It’s all new. He always asks us, ‘How do you think we should do things’ in games and in practices. He’s a great coach, but he’s working with us and he’s open to feedback. He will use it, and make it his own things. 

“He’s doing great. It’s a rough start, but it’s not because of him. We’ve played tough teams and we’re getting better.”

His coach isn’t the only person helping him.

Varella didn’t have a great few years at the end of grade school.

He broke his leg in seventh grade, which spoiled that season.

The following year, he was healthy but couldn’t play because the world was shut down because of the pandemic.

He returned for high school, but knows he wouldn’t be where he is today without the help of his family.

“My family are very supportive,” he said. “They’ve always supported me since day one. Even when I played football, they never missed a game. They pushed me, took me to practice. I love my family, they’re my No. 1 supporters in my hearts.

“It’s mostly my mom and my grandpop. No matter where it’s at, they’ll make time to come to my games. I love doing it for them. My grandpop has been in my corner. My grandpop was a baseball and basketball player, but baseball was more his thing. But if I’m playing, both of them are there.”

“Another guy who helped me a lot was our athletic trainer BJ Carolan: He’s my trainer, he helps me through injuries and I thank him. I wouldn’t play if it wasn’t for him. I want to play basketball, but I learn a lot from him. I will be a trainer if basketball doesn’t work out. I’d love to show kids how things work in basketball.”

He also hopes he can help the Firebirds have a fun year.

“We can be very good,” Varella said. “We have potential. We’re not bad. We have a lot of talent, but we’re putting everything together. It’s hurting us now because we’re still learning, but we’re in a good spot. We’re talented and good.”

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