Coach has great expectations for Penn State Fayette basketball team
At first glance, it may appear that the Penn State Fayette men's basketball team has to start over.
The Roaring Lions are coming off a 2012-13 season in which they lost in the first round of the PSUAC Tournament, but won three straight games and advanced to the championship game of the USCAA National Tournament, where they lost to Warren-Wilson to end a 17-13 campaign. From that team, no starters are returning.
“That's a major thing for us,” Penn State Fayette coach Mark John said. “When you lose all five starters, you lose 90 percent of your offense and you lose leadership and go-to experience.”
Penn State Fayette lost James Pratt, David Winns, Brandon Cunningham, Ryan Hart, Will Gaines and Andrew Hoye. All were significant contributors to the team's success.
Despite those losses, it seems there's plenty of talent to go around at the small Fayette County school.
“The guys returning saw what those guys did and what it takes to be successful,” John said.
Junior guard Darius Mack and sophomore guard/forward Dierre Jenkins are holdovers from last year's club, and each saw significant playing time.
“Darius has worked hard over the summer to get stronger and he is emerging into one of the best defenders in the league,” John said. “Dierre has really stepped up in the form of leadership. He expects success, and he knows what it takes.”
Jenkins learned a lot from Pratt, but acknowledges that without last year's starters, things will be different.
“It changes the mindset,” Jenkins said. “We've had more experience, but now it's more of a team thing and we need each other. Everybody has their own role and everybody has to step up.”
While the Roaring Lions' situation obviously is different from last season, the goals have not been altered.
“We go out every day to win the conference title,” John said, who pointes out that he expects his team to be a contender in the USCAA again this season. “The guys that come in here want to be a part of that. We want to set our goals high, and achieve them.”
Sophomore guards C.J. Gaddis and Luke Williams and junior guard Derek Jones are expected to make a big impact on this year's team.
“Gaddis really studied how James (Pratt) ran our team and he understands the way we want to get things done,” John said. “Jones will play inside and he is one of the best shooters in the nation when he is on. Williams transferred in and he is getting used to what we are doing. His work ethic is unparalleled and I think he'll be a big part of what we do.”
Junior forward Jacob Bronder and freshmen guards Dominick Jackson and Sean Smoggie also figure to have an impact.
Penn State Fayette opens the season in the Greater Allegheny Tip-off Tournament Friday and Saturday at Penn State McKeesport.
Jason Black is the Local Sports Editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.