Bethel Park seniors' experience, height carry boys team to No. 4 ranking
The Bethel Park boys basketball team went 4-17 three years ago during Ben O'Connor's first season as coach, but the talent of that season's freshmen had O'Connor thinking big when it came to the future.
Four seniors who start for the Black Hawks this year dressed for the varsity team as freshmen. Each has started for multiple seasons — and the tallest three of that group stand an average of 6 feet, 7 inches tall.
“I think the strength of our team is having a group of guys we've had for four years now, a senior group who provides a lot of leadership,” O'Connor said. “You can't put a price tag on kids who have bought into what you're doing and whom you know what to expect of them.
“Of course, they're pretty big, too — 6-11, 6-7, 6-3, and that helps with our physical part of the game.”
The Black Hawks won their first six games of the season by an average of 17 points and were ranked No. 4 in WPIAL Class AAAA heading into the Shady Side Academy tournament this week.
Bethel Park won a WPIAL title six years ago but finished 4-17 in 2009-10. The Black Hawks doubled that victory total when the current seniors were sophomores and they won 15 games and qualified for the playoffs last season.
“We knew the freshmen and sophomores (three years ago), all 10 of those kids were strong,” O'Connor said. “We knew what we had, and that's why the coaching staff stuck around and believed in the program.”
Four starters are seniors — 6-11 center Wyatt Hagerty, 6-7 forward Kennedy Gilmore, 6-2 swing man Cody Gilchrist and 5-9 guard Rohan Young.
Other seniors who are part of the rotation are 6-4 guard/forward Bobby Huntington and 6-3 forward Matt Fowler, who had been out due to injury.
“Our senior class is really special,” Young said. “I've known all my teammates from elementary school and have been playing on teams with them a lot all the way up. We have a special bond, and we trust each other, and we play that way on the court, and it works well.”
Hagerty, who has four Division I scholarship offers, stood 6-5 as a freshman but has packed on muscle in addition to stature. O'Connor said Gilmore “can run the floor like a guard but also play underneath.” Gilchrist is the Black Hawks' best defender and a player O'Connor calls, “our toughest kid, a warrior.”
Young, who shares the primary backcourt duties with sophomore Joey Mascaro and junior Josh Kracfynzski, is Bethel Park's emotional leader. Young and Mascaro start and can alternate between point guard and shooting guard.
“(Young) is very quick, very athletic, and he does everything really well for us,” O'Connor said. “He's a kid that I've got all the trust in the world in and whatever he does out there because he's sort of a quarterback on the floor.”
Perhaps in part because of the position he plays, Young might be the most cerebral of the Black Hawks, but O'Connor and his staff feel similarly about the entire roster.
Most of the players have been through highs and lows together.
“There's a trust on all levels, and it carries onto the court,” O'Connor said. “They're kids who enjoy practicing, and they know what we want.
“Pretty much, we could stand off to the side in practice, and they run it. ... It's real easy to say something and another to do it; these kids do it. Of course, winning games definitely helps with that.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.