Gators ready for battle back to The Bluff
Is a WPIAL Quad-A title three-peat in the cards for the Gateway varsity boys basketball team?
If you ask head coach Mitch Adams, he says the Gators, with their mix of returning talent and newcomers, have just as good of a chance as any to be at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center in early March.
But he knows it won't come without hard work and overcoming stiff challenges in and out of Section 2-AAAA play.
“These kids have been working out in open gyms and getting to know each other,” Adams said.
“We lost a few marquee names, but we still have a lot of talent. They are working hard. These kids have expectations.”
Gateway lost a strong senior group — including starters Tyler Scott, Barnett Harris and Luke Kochka — from last year's WPIAL title squad that finished 21-7 overall and added another trip to the PIAA playoffs.
The senior group, which also included Nick Paolino, Tyler Wright and Tim Bell, went to three straight WPIAL champion-ship games and also was a part of a WPIAL title squad as juniors.
Scott and Harris will begin their collegiate basketball careers next year at Kent State University and the University of Delaware, respectively.
The Gators begin the season ranked No. 3 in the Tribune-Review Quad-A boys preseason rankings behind Quad-A newcomers New Castle and Hampton.
“We have goals for this season, and we have to go after them one game at a time,” junior returning starter Tommy Kromka said.
“Rankings show which teams have good talent and potential, but it comes down to who can execute on the court.”
Adams said that this year's team has depth, and the rotation begins with Kromka, a 6-foot-5 forward, and senior point guard D.J. Boyce.
“It's time for Tommy and D.J. to each be the man,” Adams said.
Boyce said he knows what potential this team has.
“We've embraced the opportunity we have this season,” Boyce said. “We know how big this season is, what we can do, and the history we will be making if we can three-peat.”
Senior Matt Shorr, a reserve off the bench last season, is battling back from a knee injury
“When he gets back, he will be able to give us a lot of flexibility,” Adams said.
“He shoots the ball well and is a hard worker. He's four months off of ACL surgery, and he's out there doing what he can to get ready. It shows his dedication and character. He's looking better and better every day.”
Adams said Shorr could be back in late December or early January.
Senior Jordan Landfair (6-2) is a newcomer to the squad. He is an endurance player, having run cross country in the fall.
“Jordan is a dynamic athlete,” Adams said. “Never in the long time I've coached have I had a cross country runner play basketball for me. He's very athletic and can jump. He can shoot the ball very well. It's just a matter of him getting our offensive and defensive sets down. That will come with time. He's getting a lot thrown at him right now, and he's picking it up more and more.”
Also new to the team is senior Deon Baker, a 6-4 forward.
“Deon is a high school senior in a man's body,” Adams said. “You don't find too many 6-4, 220-pound kids who can run like him. He can handle the ball well and create his own shot. He will be a wing player in college.”
The fifth senior on the roster is Steve Hartnett, and Adams expects him to be a part of the rotation.
Adams said he will be counting on several other underclassmen to get the job done, including junior returnee Shomari Thomas, sophomore Daylon Harris (6-5) and freshman Aidan Howard (6-5).
Howard is a transfer from North Hills.
“Harris and Howard are young, but they will get some varsity playing time,” Adams said. “It's about production, and they understand that. They both played at a high level in AAU.”
Gateway begins its season Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at traditional Class AAA power Blackhawk.
“Blackhawk has some nice size,” Adams said. “They have a 6-7 kid and (starting quarterback) Chandler Kincade, who is heck of an athlete. He's 6-4 or 6-5. They are always a good team. We will definitely see where we are against them.”
Gateway then turns its attention to its section opener against Penn Hills on Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m.
The next night, the Gators host St. Vincent-St. Mary (Ohio) at 7 p.m. in the second game of the Battle of the Borders doubleheader at the Furrie Sports Complex.
Jeannette and East Allegheny play in the first game at 5.
During the evening of basketball, the 2012 WPIAL championship banner will be unveiled in a ceremony.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.