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Boys baskeball insider: Uniontown getting balance in quick start

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Uniontown guard Xavier Ellis drives to the hoop over Connellsville Area forward Jim Leichliter during their Boys Holiday FCCA Hoopfest tournament contest on December 28, 2012 in Connellsville.
Eric Schmadel  |  Tribune-Review
Uniontown guard Xavier Ellis drives to the hoop over Connellsville Area forward Jim Leichliter during their Boys Holiday FCCA Hoopfest tournament contest on December 28, 2012 in Connellsville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

To this point in the season, there has been no simple remedy to slow down the Uniontown boys basketball team.

Take away the top scorer, which changes regularly, and the next player steps up. Take away the inside game, and 3-pointers start launching. If teams start fouling, well, the Red Raiders are shooting better than 70 percent from the free-throw line.

The balanced, eight-deep rotation has given opposing teams fits. The Red Raiders (7-1, 2-0) have four players averaging at least nine points per game: junior guard Jordan Pratt (15 ppg), senior guard Christian Kezmarsky (12), senior guard Dreher Winfrey (10) and junior guard Xavier Ellis (9).

Add two sophomores — guard Joe Campbell (8) and forward Jeremy Perkins (7) — and it's clear depth is not an issue.

Uniontown Rob Kezmarsky called this year's squad perhaps the most unselfish in his 20 years of coaching high school basketball.

“In all my years coaching, this team plays together the best,” he said. “They really want to be successful and go as far as possible. Nobody complains about points or other little things. They have one common goal.”

That goal, in the short term, is winning their third straight Section 3-AAA title. Long-term, Kezmarsky feels his team has a shot to make a sustained playoff run.

“We knew coming in we had shot to be pretty good,” he said. “So far, I have been very pleased with their performance. The team has a great attitude, and I couldn't ask for more as far as leadership and selfless play goes. They need to keep practicing hard and hopefully it will lead to more success.”

One obstacle the Red Raiders will have to overcome is their lack of size. Uniontown has just two players more than 6 feet tall. Due to the outstanding guard play, however, it hasn't been a major issue.

Uniontown has twice beat Class AAAA Connellsville, which boasts one of the tallest lineups in the WPIAL.

The Red Raiders have been able to offset their lack of height with an up-tempo offense and a relentless defensive presence.

“We have played great team defense,” Kezmarsky said. “Ellis and Pratt have done a great job of helping out on the glass and when we play bigger teams we really just try to play fast.”

In perhaps its marquee game of the season, Uniontown dropped a tight 75-66 decision to Obama Academy from the City League. The Red Raiders controlled most of the game but blew a double-digit, third-quarter lead.

Despite the loss, Kezmarsky is confident his team will grow from the experience.

“Obama Academy is an excellent team with great athletes,” he said. “Our four top scorers have played a lot of basketball. They have a lot of big-game experience and know what it takes to win. We're looking forward to the section games and continuing to develop.”

While the Red Raiders appear to be an early front-runner for the section title, Kezmarsky knows it won't be easy. He said there are several capable teams in the league.

“We've played two section games already,” he said. “There's a perception the section is kind of down this year, but I don't feel it gets enough credit. Derry, Yough, Mt. Pleasant, Greensburg Salem, they are all capable teams. This league is better than a lot of people think.”

Uniontown is prepping for its showdown with Greensburg Salem on Saturday night.

“Their record is very deceiving,” Kezmarsky said. “We've seen them on tape and in person. They have lost to a lot of very good teams. We expect them to be there in the end.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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