Shaler senior discovers comfort zone
Shaler's Geno Thorpe had just transferred home after seven weeks in Florida, a surprising decision much like his unexpected move there, so his coach sought to eliminate any lingering apprehension.
“I wanted to look him in the eye and let him know I'm OK with every decision that had been made,” said Shaler coach Paul Holzshu, who joined Thorpe for lunch at a restaurant along McKnight Road. “I didn't want any uncertainties. I didn't want anything lost in translation.”
It was an important conversation for Thorpe, who had left Shaler rather abruptly in July.
“Nobody sugar-coated anything,” Thorpe said of their September conversation that cleared the air. “I never got a chance to speak to him (before leaving for Florida), which I was kind of hurt about. Coach Holzshu is a real important person to me.”
Now a few months later, it's like he never left. Thorpe has averaged 27.1 points through 11 games and leads the WPIAL in scoring. He has reached 30 points five times, including a 45-point outing against McKeesport.
That down-to-basics discussion also prepared Thorpe for his role as a superstar surrounded by varsity rookies, guys playing their very first minutes.
“We knew that I was going to be the ‘it' guy and I was going to draw all this attention,” Thorpe said. “He told me he wanted to make me a better player. That I needed to learn how to get guys involved in the game early, because this year was going to be a lot different than it was last year.”
A season ago, Thorpe was just one important part of a very good team. But now as arguably the best senior in the WPIAL, attention paid to the 6-foot-3 guard has escalated.
“Now everybody focuses on him,” Holzshu said, “from the other team, to the other coach, to the other fans, to our fans, to the reporter in the stands, to the custodian who takes a break sweeping the hallway to watch a little of the game. There's a lot of pressure on this kid.”
And with increased frequency, Thorpe has seen unorthodox defenses, including box-and-one shadows.
“There are times this year that he's run into some things that have made him very frustrated,” Holzshu said. “A couple of teams have figured out that they have enough talent to run two people at him. When that happens, sometimes he gets a little impatient, and he forces some things. But good players want the ball in their hands, and good players want to try to make their team successful.”
Shaler is 6-5 overall but 0-4 in Section 3-AAAA. Thorpe sat out the first half of Friday's 60-58 loss to North Hills as discipline for missing a practice, Holzshu said. But Thorpe scored 25 in the second half.
The Titans' best game was a 66-62 victory Dec. 28 over Lincoln Park at the C.J. Betters Tournament. Thorpe scored 35, including a dunk between defenders that few could execute. But his teammates also showed promise in that victory. Starting alongside Thorpe are seniors Bill Reinheimer (6-1) and Greg Lydon (6-4), and juniors Jacob Mathias (6-5) and Zach Weaver (6-2).
“Guys needed to learn how to play off of me, and I needed to learn how to get teammates the ball,” Thorpe said. “It was something I had to do better. Last year, getting people involved wasn't as hard as this year. But I do like the challenge.”
Even if these weren't necessarily the teammates expected to share Thorpe's senior season. Not after July, when he transferred to West Oaks Academy in Orlando, near where his father lived. The private school had a successful basketball program that played in a Florida prep league more challenging than the WPIAL.
A family issue prompted his return to Shaler.
“Things didn't work out,” Thorpe said. “Everything happens for a reason in my eyes. We just had to move forward and make the best of what we had. The decision was to come back to Shaler, which was a very easy decision. Shaler has been wonderful to me.”