New Castle hopes to reload for another run
In six years under Ralph Blundo, New Castle's boys basketball team has reached the WPIAL semifinals every season and won three titles. The Red Hurricanes have made it to at least the PIAA second round and won one of those championships as well.
That leaves this year's squad with some lofty goals.
“They are a physical bunch and a gritty group. They are tough kids who are athletic. They are good competitors and they play hard, and we have some really good athletes to mix in there,” said Blundo, who has a 154-19 record entering his seventh season. “It's all about how we improve throughout the course of the season and if we're playing our best basketball at the right time. That's the recipe to get something done — you have to play your best basketball at the right time.
“I don't know how good we are or how good we're going to be. I just know we're going to work really hard to get there.”
Last year, New Castle nearly wrapped up its fourth unbeaten regular-season in its previous five campaigns. The team won its first 21 games, but dropped a 75-49 decision to Allderdice in the regular season finale. The 'Canes fell to Highlands in overtime in the WPIAL semifinals and dropped a 77-68 decision to Bishop McDevitt in the PIAA quarterfinals.
New Castle graduated two big pieces from that squad — leading scorer Marquel Hooker (21.5 points per game) and point guard Micah Fulena.
“Certainly, Micah and Marquel were huge losses, but, fortunately, we think we can fill those voids,” Blundo said.
Seniors Garrett Farah and Gino DeMonaco and juniors Lorenzo Gardner, Carrington Smith, Steve Ware and Georgie Eggleston will play in the backcourt.
“I think we have a versatile group of guards and can do some good things,” Blundo said.
At forward, senior Geno Stone and junior Marcus Hooker, the brother of Marquel and Ohio State football standout Malik Hooker, are a scoring and rebounding force despite being sized like guards.
“Both do a really good job rebounding for only being 6-footers. They both defend really well. Those are two of the better athletes in the WPIAL,” Blundo said. “It's good to have that scoring punch and the experience those guys have had. They've been part of a lot of big games.
We think that'll help us through the course of this year.”
In the paint, 6-3 senior Te'Quawn Stewart and 6-5 junior Anthony Bailey could see minutes at center.
“We have two true centers for the first time since I've been here,” Blundo said.
“Te'Quawn has really improved. Anthony, the more experience he gets, the better he'll be.
“We do have depth. It's made practice really competitive. When practice is competitive when players are fighting for minutes and fighting to get better, your team gets better.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.