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Nesser a key motivator for Hempfield basketball team

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 11:34 p.m.
Hempfield Area's Kason Harrell eyes an outlet pass to Tyler Handlan during their January 4, 2013 contest versus Penn-Trafford. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Hempfield Area's Kason Harrell drives through the Penn-Trafford defense during their January 4, 2013 contest in Hempfield Township. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Hempfield Area's Tyler Handlan drives through the Penn-Trafford defense during their January 4, 2013 contest in Hempfield Township. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

From the opening tip of a Hempfield basketball game, coach Jim Nesser's passionate bellows can be heard from one end of the gym to the other.

Whether conducting practice or guiding players in game situations, Nesser offers a message of hope.

“We're a team,” he said. “We preach teamwork. Our kids are unselfish. They don't care about points. We're about winning.”

Cut and paste those thoughts into any writings about Nesser's teams — past or present — and it's likely to apply.

Perhaps it is why they've enjoyed so much success.

Nesser previously coached Jeannette to three consecutive WPIAL championship games, winning the WPIAL and PIAA championships in 2007-08. Prior to that, he rallied an Elizabeth Forward program to a 24-3 record and its first section championship after the Warriors had won just two games the previous season.

“I've been playing for him since I was a freshman, and he's busted my tail every day,” Hempfield senior guard Tyler Handlan said. “I thank him for it, too, because he's made me a better player.”

Handlan is among five seniors whose value to Hempfield's success is immeasurable, Nesser insisted. All play an important role, he said, but none scores more points than two underclassmen on the team.

Sophomores Kason Harrell (15.4 ppg.) and Tony Pilato (10.7) are the only Spartans averaging double figures in scoring.

“We've definitely bought into the team concept that coach preaches,” Handlan said. “He's taught us not to be selfish as a team.”

The 6-foot-3 Harrell, though only a sophomore, has gotten a lot of attention from fans and players alike.

He scored 12 points and was one of four players in double figures in Hempfield's 72-52 victory over Penn-Trafford on Friday.

“He wants to learn. He's all ears. He's learning to become a complete basketball player,” Nesser said. “He was patient and took what the defense gave him. He's starting to learn to understand the game of basketball. He's learning that there's more to being a great player than scoring 25 points a game.”

Hempfield has had a week to recharge after a feverish pace to the start of the season. The Spartans (8-3, 3-1) shared second place and trail Section 1-AAAA leader Norwin by a half-game entering Friday night's trip to Kiski Area (8-4, 3-2).

With the bulk of the section schedule upcoming, Hempfield hopes to continue its winning ways and stay in contention for the title. To Nesser, the veterans hold the key.

“The group of seniors we have right now are doing things their own way,” he said. “We had three outstanding seniors who showed great leadership in their own way last year on the floor and in the locker room. They supplied something special. It's picked up with these guys this year.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at

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