Lincoln Park has been cast as a villain in WPIAL basketball, a starring role the Leopards are willing to perform.
Even if they accept the label with disdain.
“We are the villain,” said Mike Bariski, athletic director and assistant coach. “We wear black uniforms for a reason, because everybody thinks we're the bad guy.”
The performing arts charter school in Beaver County, a public school that draws students and tax money from districts throughout Western Pennsylvania, has been criticized for the number of talented basketball players who enroll there.
The Leopards have quickly taken control of Class A, winning the WPIAL title last season in their third consecutive trip to Palumbo Center. Their roster comes from West Mifflin, Monessen, Bethel Park, Blackhawk and elsewhere, leading to recruiting allegations and their bad-for-the-game label.
Bariski dismisses the accusations.
“I don't know how many times we have been accused of recruiting, and every single time we have been found innocent,” Bariski said. “Our school recruits itself. People hate that. Money is coming out of their district and into our district. We're new and thriving, and some schools are having a hard time staying open. I empathize with that, I do. But that's not our problem.”
Instead, Lincoln Park will try to reach the state championship game for the third consecutive season. And with 6-foot-7 junior Ryan Skovranko among its three returning starters, that's a real possibility. Skovranko, a West Mifflin resident, averaged 14.6 ppg last season, when the Leopards were 26-5 and beat Cornell, 74-57, in the WPIAL championship. Other returning starters from that Palumbo Center victory are sophomore Antonio Kellam (6-1) and senior Jaylyn Cottrill (6-6).
Temple recruit Devontae Watson has graduated, meaning more will be needed from Skovranko, the Leopards' tallest starter. Watson, a 6-10 center, was the team's leading scorer and rebounder.
Elijah Minnie, a junior from Monessen, was expected to be Watson's replacement. The 6-9 Minnie was ruled ineligible by the WPIAL, a decision that was later upheld by the PIAA. But Bariski said Lincoln Park has petitioned the WPIAL for a second hearing to provide new evidence. The paperwork was filed Wednesday with the league, said Bariski, who expected a response by early next week.
Filling the other two starting spots are junior Nate Loedding (5-10) and talented freshman Maverick Rowan (6-5), son of former Beaver Falls star Ron Rowan.
“There's a target on our backs against everybody we play,” Bariski said. “Even when we're playing in the summer league, everybody says: ‘That's Lincoln Park.' ”
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