Old & new coaches ready for basketball season
The boys' basketball season is about to tip off and it's hard not to look at both ends of the coaching experience rainbow in the Mid-Mon Valley.
On one end there is the long-tenured Phil Pergola at California and Joe Salvino at Monessen, who combined have more than 60 years of head coaching.
On the other end is Belle Vernon Area's Eric James, whose next game will be his first.
But regardless of experience, coaches all go through the same task when it comes to molding a team for a new season.
Here is what each team has going for it going into the 2011-12 campaign:
Any time a team wins a title, it always has a target on its back.
No one has to tell Salvino about it, as he has won his share of titles during his legendary career.
He has amassed four WPIAL titles and two PIAA titles in 27 years, and he fully expects the best from everyone on every night.
"Any time you win a title, teams get fired up to play you," he said. "We are going to have to be ready to play every night."
Salvino's starting lineup is set for now, and while he is starting four seniors and a junior, the bench is young.
"We have to develop the young guys because they will have to contribute," Salvino said. "Because we have so many young players that will have to step in, a key for us is to stay healthy."
The senior starters are Jalen Madison, Earl Pinkney, Alonzo Payne and Tyler Young. The junior is returning starter Chavas Rawlins.
The lone upperclassman coming off of the bench is senior Vinnie Scirotto, a transfer from Charleroi.
Another senior, Jaisen Irwin, who at one time was Monessen's leading scorer, is a question mark for the season.
Four sophomores will also see time. They include Javon Brown, Luke Doptis, Clintell Gillespie and 6-6 Tyler Yuill.
While his team is talented, Salvino says the goals always take place in steps and it starts in Section 3 AA.
"We want to be com-petitive, win the section and make the playoffs," he said. "We really do have to take it one game at a time."
The Greyhounds open Saturday, hosting perennial Class AAA power Blackhawk.
Bill Wiltz enters his 12th season as Charleroi's head coach, and he and his staff could look at his team with a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty outlook.
He lost his entire starting lineup from a season ago as well as two more subs, but instead of focusing on the negative, he is looking at things positively.
And considering that Wiltz has a talented six-man sophomore class, he looks at building the team for the long haul.
"We will be very young and our season will be determined on how quickly the young players mature," he said. "The work ethic has been there so far and we want to keep working hard."
Senior guards Tony Bristol and Santino Tarquinio and junior forward Jim Diaz provide returning experience to go with the gifted sophomore class.
The 10th graders include guards Matt Indorante and Evan Anderson, forwards Brandon Bowman, Eric Johnson and Ryan Konek, and center Zach Nabozny.
Johnson is recovering from an injury suffered in football and should be back by Christmas.
Despite losing so many players, Wiltz said the team is striving for a playoff berth in Section 4-AA.
"We expect to contend for a (playoff) spot," he said. "Our section is extremely competitive and while Greensburg Central and Jeannette will be very good, we feel that we can match up with the others."
The Cougars open up at Bentworth Friday.
Belle Vernon Area
Coming off a one-win season, most people would expect new BVA hoops mentor James to not have a positive outlook on the upcoming season.
But the complete opposite is the truth.
"We are ready to get this thing going," said the former Ringgold assistant. "We are young and there is a lot of teaching to do, but the kids are working extremely hard."
The Leopards return six players who started games last season, but according to James, no spots are set.
"We have so many players who are the same size," he said. "Everyone has room to improve, and those who stand out will be on the court."
Players vying for minutes include senior guards Chase Foglia, Kevin Binger and Blake Pacy, junior guards Adam Ferita and Ryan Thomas, junior forwards Dom Francia, Tyler Frankel, and Jesse Kallam, sophomore guards Jason Capco and Cody Menges, sophomore forwards Jake Sweitzer and Aaron McCullough and freshman guard Travis Snyder, who is recovering from an injury during the football season.
"Once everyone is comfortable with each other, things will play out and we saw positive improvement from our first scrimmage to our second," James said. "Our goal is to keep improving throughout the season and build a foundation."
BVA travels to Hempfield's tip-off tournament Friday to take on the host team.
When Pete Logan hired long-time defensive ace Jim Williams as an assistant coach this past off-season, the fifth-year Ringgold head coach knew things would pick up defensively.
"One of our keys is going to be that we want to play aggressive defensively," Logan said. "We are hoping that it will lead to easy baskets."
Although his team lost several seniors from last year's 18-6 squad, Logan is looking for his team to use the success as building blocks.
"We are trying to build on that success that we were able to have," he said. "This is a different group of kids, but our goal is to get back to the playoffs and advance.
"While our section is arguably the toughest in Class AAA, we want to compete."
Logan is starting four seniors in Michael Beveridge, Tavon Crews, Nick Greaves, and Alfon Cook, along with junior John Maldonado.
The top reserves are junior Demetrius Lewis and sophomore Dayshore Majors.
The Rams will have to wait a little longer than most teams to open their season as they don't get things going until Monday, when they head to West Allegheny.
Although his team plays in the rugged Section 4 AA with perennial powers Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic, Pergola says the post-season remains his objective.
"The ultimate goal is to make the playoffs," he said. "After the first two teams, the other two are up for grabs."
Pergola will run a new offense and defense this year, and longtime Charleroi assistant Bruno Pappasergi is in as Pergola's top helper.
"We hope to play more man (defense) than we have in the past," Pergola said. "Offensively, we would like to run a little bit more."
The starting five consists of seniors Naz Victoria and Skylar Dickinson and juniors Tanner Huffman, Brian Fisher and Evan Patterson.
Huffman is the team's leading scorer who returns from last year's playoff team.
Seniors Jake Evans and Dylan Gaskill are the main subs.
When asked about the key to the Trojans' season, Pergola didn't hesitate.
"We have to shoot the ball well and not turn it over as much," he said. "If we do that, we will be all right."
California opens Friday at Fort Cherry in the Rangers' tip-off tournament.
The Commodores came close to making the playoffs in Section 4 AA last season, but came up just short.
However, fourth year coach Ed Keebler thinks he has the kind of team that can go a little further this year.
One reason for Keebler's optimism is the amount of experienced players the Commodores return, including senior starters Robert Gondura, Rock Vargo and Tyler Rock. The other expected starters, seniors Scott Benning and Kyle Rodriguez, garnered plenty of playing time a year ago.
"Our goals are to make the playoffs and to make a good run in the playoffs," Keebler said.
The Commodores never had a problem scoring points, as their up-tempo offense gave a lot of teams fits.
Where Frazier struggled extensively a year ago was on the defensive end, and Keebler said he is taking steps to correct that.
"I expect us to play better team defense," he said.
The top reserves for Frazier are seniors Josh Barota, Charlie Manack, Tony Kudyba and Shane Benning.