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Ford City boys basketball team will rely on more scorers

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2012,
Bill West | Leader Times Ford City's Andrew Labutka looks back for the ball during a drill at practice on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.
Second-year Ford City coach Greg Hutcherson watches Dave Lattanzio shoot a 3-pointer at practice on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.
Ford City assistant Corey Smith works with freshman big man Brandon Heilman during a preseason practice.

A year ago, Ford City coach Greg Hutcherson had less than two months before the season opener to get to know his players, but he benefited from the fact that the Sabers featured a strong, ready-to-run senior class.

Hutcherson had a whole offseason to prepare for season No. 2. And he made certain that none of it went to waste.

At its coach's behest, Ford City headed to the gym early and often in the summer and fall. The Sabers have just three players with significant varsity experience and are underclassmen-heavy, so they need several unproven team members to become major contributors by the start of Section 1-AA play.

“Last year, at this time, even by the first week, we knew who our guys were going to be,” said Hutcherson, whose Sabers went 13-10 overall and lost to Aliquippa in the WPIAL Class AA prelims. “There are a lot of spots that a couple young guys can step up and fill this year.”

Particularly during Ford City's first few games, senior guard David Lattanzio, junior guard Jesse Sequeira and sophomore forward Blake Bower will accept much of the crunch-time pressure. Each started a season ago. However, all three shouldered fewer responsibilities then, particularly as scorers.

“We just need everyone to become more of team leaders and make everyone around us better,” Sequeira said. “It's tough not having Jon Shanty as a leader to help us. If everything broke down, he was able to create. And it's a lot different without him here.”

With the graduation of Shanty (20.1 points per game), the Sabers lack a go-to shooter. The departures of guard Martin Brison and forward Hunter Bower didn't help either, as both factored heavily in the defensive end.

Carbon copies of those players aren't necessary to sustain success, Hutcherson emphasized.

“I stressed to them that we don't need you to be Jon Shanty,” Hutcherson said. “I don't need Blake Bower to be Hunter Bower. We just need them to play as a team and fit into the system, and on any given night, anyone can get 20. But every night, if each guy gets 10 or 15, then we can be successful, so that's what we're preaching this year.”

Ford City will stick with the fast-paced style Hutcherson introduced a season ago. Senior guard Andrew Labutka steps in to handle point guard duties, and sophomore Noah Nulph shows promise as a secondary ball-handler.

Junior Mike Foster, a Kittanning transfer, and freshman Brandon Heilman — two players taller than 6-foot-1 — bolster the frontcourt.

Those two additions to the team created some new confidence among the Sabers.

“We just always feel like we have a chance to win every single game,” Lattanzio said.

“With losing Jon and Hunter and Martin and all of them, people think we're going to do bad,” Blake Bower said, “and I think they're going to be mistaken.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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