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South Allegheny boys basketball begins climb to respectability

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 12:04 a.m.
South Allegheny junior forward Kordell Thompson Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
South Allegheny boys coach Tony Decenzo Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
South Allegheny senior center Brandon Murn Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News

For the South Allegheny High School boys basketball program, the only way to go is up.

After last season's 0-21 record — 0-12 in section play — first-year coach Tony DiCenzo is reconstructing the program from the bottom up.

“We know what we walked into and we're going to start building it back, starting from the foundation,” DiCenzo said.

DiCenzo was coach at Community College of Allegheny County-South before that program was discontinued. He also had assistant coaching stints at Elizabeth Forward and at his native West Mifflin.

DiCenzo is hoping that winning and a sense of accomplishment can come from the school's football team, which recently qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1986 under coach Pat Monroe.

“We have a handful of kids from the football team coming over to the basketball program,” DiCenzo said. “Coach Monroe has changed the work ethic, and the kids believe in what we're saying — that we want to put them in a position to succeed.”

South Allegheny hasn't made the WPIAL playoffs since 2003, losing a first-round Class AAA game to Hampton. The last Gladiators playoff victory was Feb. 17, 2001, vs. Center.

One player DiCenzo is looking to build around is junior Kordell Thompson, last year's leading scorer. Thompson is listed as a small forward but is versatile enough to play any position.

DiCenzo will be assisted by former Gladiators standout Nate Wojciekowski and by Shaun Johnston.

The Gladiators have been realigned to Section 3-AA and will face perennial playoff contenders Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette and Shady Side Academy.

“We want to play the best teams,” DiCenzo said. “I think it will be good for the kids.”

The Gladiators begin the season Friday at the Brownsville Tip-off Tournament against the host Falcons. South Allegheny will be thrown into the fire immediately in section play, opening at home against Jeannette on Dec. 14.

Girls look to improve

The South Allegheny girls team has also moved into a new section.

Instead of playing teams such as defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Seton-La Salle, the Gladiators have been moved to Section 3-AA and powerhouses like Greensburg Central Catholic, a school that has made the WPIAL playoffs 29 of the past 30 seasons.

Jeannette and Riverview, a team that did well in Class A last season, also will be part of the new realignment.

South Allegheny compiled an overall record of 5-15 last season, 2-10 in its old section.

Coach Ashleigh Hays, back for her third season, is stressing tried-and-true goals in the preseason.

“We're stressing fundamentals and building team chemistry,” Hays said.

Leading scorer Jay'Lee Patterson is back for South Allegheny along with sophomore Abby Dranko, a 5-foot-11 post player.

Also expected to help will be senior Allison Couch, juniors Mikayla Stearns, Carly Galley, Caitlyn DiMarco and sophomore Lauren Maize.

“We see every game as bringing a challenge, and we're excited to get going,” Hays said of her team's new section.

Hays will be assisted by Cari Skiffington.

South Allegheny will be trying to garner its first WPIAL berth since 2005, when the Gladiators defeated Brownsville in a preliminary-round Class AA game.

The Gladiators open section competition with Jeannette at home Dec. 13. But before that, South Allegheny will open the season at the Cornell Tip-off Tournament against the homestanding Raiders.

One problem facing the team is that a lack of players will prevent the school from fielding a junior varsity team.

George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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