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Guard's return boosts Hempfield's chances of defending title

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 11:46 p.m.
Hempfield Area's Michael Nauman passes over a pair of Belle Vernon Area defenders during their game in the 2012 Hempfield Spartan Tip-Off Tournament on Friday night December 07, 2012. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Belle Vernon Area's Jason Capco gathers a loose ball between Hempfield Area's Michael Nauman (left) and Kason Harrell chase a loose ball during their game in the 2012 Hempfield Spartan Tip-Off Tournament on Friday night December 07, 2012. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Mike Nauman's sophomore basketball season at Hempfield was a memorable one but for the wrong reasons.

After starting and averaging nine points during the 2010-11 season, injuries prevented the now junior to miss the 2011-12 season. He wasn't alone, as an injury also sidelined current senior Nate Irwin.

Both are back and are looking to help Hempfield — 19-4 in 2011-12 — repeat as Section 1-AAAA champion and earn respect in the WPIAL. The Spartans were soundly beaten by Central Catholic in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

“I believe our section is the toughest I've seen since I began here,” said Hempfield coach Jim Nesser, who is beginning his fourth season. “Penn-Trafford, Norwin, Latrobe and Kiski Area are all very good. It's going to be a challenge.

“Having Mike back gives another player who can score, and Nate gives us another solid player.”

Nauman, a 6-foot-3 guard, broke his left wrist while dunking at practice. After missing two months, the day he was cleared to resume practice, he sustained ligament damage in his left ankle.

“It was definitely disappointing missing last year,” Nauman said. “But I used it as a learning experience. I got to see basketball differently as I broke down every game by watching film. If I saw something during a game, I'd tell coach (Nesser) and he'd relay it to the team.

“I'm going to try to be a better teammate and help my teammates anytime I can. It was difficult watching.”

Hempfield is off to a 3-0 start and Nauman is averaging 11 points in wins against Belle Vernon, McKeesport and Penn Hills. The Spartans open section play Friday at Norwin.

Nesser said he likes the way Nauman has returned.

“Missing those games will slow his progress a little,” Nesser said. “You can't get them back. Game experience is important. You can't make them up, but Mike has worked hard and I expect he'll be back up to speed by January. He's already playing well.”

Nauman is more than a scorer who will complement sophomores Kason Harrell and Tony Pilato and three-year starter Tyler Handlan. He's a rebounder, and his defense has improved.

“Mike is a lot stronger and more of an all-around player,” Nesser said. “He's a smart player who's always asking questions.

“We're a different team this year. We have a chance to get more points on the board. Our key is defending and rebounding. If we do that, we'll be successful.”

Hempfield also has strengthened its nonsection schedule. It will play Shaler, Fox Chapel and Central Catholic and play in the Montour tournament.

“If we want to earn respect, we have to be able to defeat teams outside Westmoreland County,” Nauman said. “We have to beat teams from Allegheny County. Those games will give a taste of what to expect in the playoffs.

“We have to play as a team. We could be pretty good as long as we rebound and defend.”

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