Depth to be an advantage for Pitt-Greensburg men's basketball team
The Pitt-Greensburg men's basketball team got far too used to competing without its best players the past two seasons for coach Sean Strickland's liking.
“My first year with the program, we lost our starting forward/center (and leading scorer) David Palmer for five games, and we lost all five games,” the third-year coach said. “This past year, we lost our second-leading scorer halfway through the season and our sixth man halfway through the season for the year. We've had a lot of adversity to overcome as a group.”
As a result, the Bobcats stumbled to 9-16 records each of the past two seasons, including seventh- and eighth-place finishes in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
The Bobcats will open play Saturday night with a road game against Indiana (Pa.), and Strickland believes the return of eight players — including five who started at least 15 of the team's 25 games — and the addition of eight newcomers gives the team a chance to make some noise.
“A lot of those guys are coming back for the next two or three years, too,” Strickland said. “We have the chance to really build on something good and make something really good happen here at Pitt-Greensburg.”
For the Bobcats to do that, they'll likely rely heavily on Palmer. The 6-foot-7 senior led the team in both scoring and rebounding the past two seasons, averaging a double-double. He was named co-conference player of the year after averaging 18.8 points and 13 rebounds — the highest rebounding total in AMCC history.
However, when the AMCC's polls came out last week, coaches had selected Penn State Behrend's Russ Conley as the preseason player of the year.
“I'm hoping the AMCC coaches did us a favor,” Strickland said. “Hopefully, that makes him hungry (and) as a competitor that brings out the best in him and he tries to prove everyone wrong.”
Beyond Palmer, the Bobcats will look to fellow returning starters in senior Anthony Papini (7.7 points per game), junior Brock Witkowski (12.4 ppg) and sophomores Brian Heinle (9.3 ppg) and Dylan Reigel.
The Bobcats also added four 1,000-point high school scorers to their freshman class.
“It just creates a more competitive atmosphere in practice, which pushes everybody to get better,” Papini said. “It elevates everybody's game up another level and makes everybody become more of a leader in a sense; everybody has to step up and pick up their game if they want to play.”
Pitt-Greensburg got better as the season winded down last year. The Bobcats finished 5-4 in their second tour of conference play. Conference coaches picked the team to finish fifth in the preseason poll.
“We just came together real well and figured everything out,” Papini said. “I think it's carried over into this year.”
Although his team is young — 11 of the Bobcats' 16 players are freshmen or sophomores — Strickland believes the strong finish last season, plus the depth added in the offseason, will help his team compete with conference favorites Penn State Behrend, La Roche College and Medaille College.