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West Shamokin boys basketball team cautiously confident

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 12:04 a.m.
West Shamokin's Anthony Rocco (front) and Zac Horner go through a dribbling drill at practice on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012.
West Shamokin's Zane Clowser (left) works on dribbling under pressure during practice on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012.

West Shamokin boys basketball coach Mike Nagy finds himself still wrestling with the idea that his team is a potential frontrunner in Section 1-AA.

A few years — frustrating ones — have passed since West Shamokin last belonged in that discussion.

This winter, West Shamokin has an opportunity to fully restore its reputation as one of the Armstrong area's top programs. Only three seniors graduated from a team that went 12-11 overall (7-5 in Section 1-AA) and made the WPIAL playoffs — West Shamokin won just seven games during the previous two seasons combined. The Wolves' leading scorer returned. So did their top two post players and their point guard.

“The expectations are fairly high, but at the same time, I keep reminding this group that you still have to go out and do it,” Nagy said. “You can't just show up and expect good things to happen. Right now, that's what we're focusing on. We don't want to get overconfident, and we don't want to relax.”

West Shamokin's steadiest scorer, senior shooting guard/small forward Anthony Rocco, is back after leading the team in points for a third consecutive season. He averaged 18.5 points and also managed four rebounds and three assists per contest.

A threat to shoot outside, operate in the low post or attack off a drive, Rocco creates matchup trouble for defenses. He hopes defenders swarm to him this season, because he's eager to dish the ball to what he believes is the most complete set of teammates in his four years with the team.

“We're probably the most balanced team in the section,” Rocco said. “All of our big men are good, and Zane (Clowser) is a true point guard. I'm probably the scorer. I think everyone just plays their role perfectly.

“We have 10 guys on this team that we can rotate in, and it's not like we're losing anything.”

Clowser, senior Matt Marsh and sophomore Zac Horner bolster the backcourt. All saw significant time a season ago. Clowser, more comfortable than ever as an offensive initiator, will generally bring the ball upcourt — a responsibility previously handled by Rocco.

Senior forwards Damon Craig (6-foot-2) and Andy Stover (6-1) remain West Shamokin's top rebounders and interior defenders. Senior Kyle Schons and junior Austin Bussard also provide sturdy bodies down low.

“Even though we're labeled as big men, we try to act as guards every now and then,” Craig said. “I guess Andy is probably referred to as the muscle on the team. I guess I'd be considered the quicker one. ... I think it's just after a couple years, you get used to not having as much height as everybody else, and you find your way around that.”

Seniors Travis Anderson and Emil Ihnat join the lineup after starting for Elderton last season. Nagy expects both to enhance a rotation that the coach considers almost a dozen players deep.

With so many capable players, West Shamokin should not struggle to maintain fierce man-to-man pressure this winter. Nagy views lock-down defense as a hallmark of West Shamokin basketball and believes a rededication to that style of play is paramount.

“The last three years, our defensive average has slipped,” said Nagy, whose Wolves allowed just 42.2 points per game when they went 18-6 in 2009. “So that's going to be one of our goals this year, is to get the defense back to where it's been in the past.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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