Freshmen to play key roles for Apollo-Ridge boys basketball
Many coaches over the years have been reluctant to play freshmen early in their careers.
But Apollo-Ridge coach Damon Andring isn't one of them.
Andring is expected to field three freshmen starters to begin the season, and other ninth-graders likely will be worked into the rotation.
“The best part about our freshmen is that they've been playing basketball together plenty of years now,” Andring said. “You can tell by our practices here so far that they know what they're doing. I think throwing them into varsity basketball with their AAU experience they have is not going to be a big transition for them.”
Apollo-Ridge will be trying to improve on last year's record of 2-8 in Section 3-3A play and 3-17 mark overall.
Manning the three-guard set for the Vikings will be Klay Fitzroy, Jake Fello and Keighton Reese.
The veteran of the roster is 6-foot-5 senior Kyle Fitzroy, older brother of Klay.
Kyle Fitzroy, the football team's quarterback, will fill a leadership role for the freshmen — just like he was during the recent football season.
“Most of the same kids who played football are the same ones coming out for basketball,” Kyle Fitzroy said. “They already have some type of varsity experience, and that'll help them out for basketball.”
The elder statesman of the locker room thinks the transition from junior high ball to varsity won't be too big of a leap.
“My younger brother's in there, so I've watched this team from third grade on,” Kyle Fitzroy said. “We had coach Bruce Yard take over the eighth-grade team and the AAU tournaments and we won the summer league over at St. Joe's, so they've adapted pretty well to the varsity level.”
Kyle Fitzroy averaged 12.9 points last season and 9.4 rebounds.
Forward Maison Bruner, a 6-4 senior, is expected to round out the starting lineup.
“This is his second year in the program,” Andring said. “His development from the last game of last season, through the summer, the work he's put in showed us he can be on the floor and give us everything he has.
“Through the fall, he was in the gym here with me two or three times a week; he has grown as a basketball player and a leader.”
Juniors Bobby Mangan and Brad Milko are expected to provide depth as Apollo-Ridge hopes to make a run at the Class 3A playoffs.
First, the Vikings have to battle some talented teams, including Shady Side Academy.
“Shady Side's going to be pretty tough with Skyy Moore coming back. He's a heck of a basketball player,” Andring said. “Coming back from an injury when we played them, he's pretty spectacular. East Allegheny should be pretty good other than that, we hope to stick our nose right in the mix.”
The Vikings begin their 49th season Dec. 8 against Winchester-Thurston at the Leechburg tip-off tournament.
Apollo-Ridge opens section play Dec. 22 at home against Steel Valley.
George Guido is a freelance writer.