Shaler star Thorpe ready for college hoop game
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On a nightly basis in the winter, he may effortlessly dribble past two, sometimes three defenders on his way to an easy layup. At other times, he may pull up from beyond the arc and knock down a 3-point shot that gives his team the lead. In other instances, he lurks up to mid-court, and in the blink of an eye — just when it appears he has allowed the opposition to get by him — it happens.
Nothing brings the Shaler crowd to its feet like a Geno Thorpe steal is followed up by a vicious dunk while the other team futilely tries to chase him down.
His game is as smooth as it is complete, which is one reason Thorpe knew he had a Division I offer in hand as a junior. Penn State was thrilled to land the talented prospect, but Thorpe is much more than talent on the basketball court.
“One thing I am the happiest about is his three years at high school here, Geno has been a regular, normal student,” Shaler basketball coach and athletic director Paul Holzshu said. “He goes to other athletic events as a spectator, and his experience here has allowed him to deflect some of the athletic attention and have a normal high school life.
“Geno has a very engaging personality. He is always smiling and pleasant. He is articulate and knows how to conduct himself (in interviews). He is personable, and people gravitate toward him.”
It was no secret that Thorpe was going to be something special. His ninth-grade coach said that if Thorpe stayed grounded and healthy, he was slam dunk Division I basketball player. That was Eric Schott, and he said that five years ago.
Thorpe played basketball for Shaler on the ninth grade team as an eighth grader. That team was virtually unstoppable.
“It was nice for Geno, because he could blend in with that group,” Schott said. “He didn't have to score 30 points for the team to have a chance to win. That group — Sean Gavin, Zack Taylor, the Bittners (Sean, Brian) and Ryan Mincher — they all pushed each other, they pushed Geno.”
One example Schott mentioned was in Gym A at Shaler, Thorpe got the ball, drove hard down the lane and almost dunked the ball (as an eighth grader). Schott and the opposing coach made eye contact. All the coach could do was mouth, ‘Wow,' to Schott.
“From a talent perspective, Geno is the best individual talent I have seen in 16 years coaching,” Schott said. “He is a good kid, and the group around him made him a good player.”
But in a decision that was agreed upon by his parents, Thorpe attended Shady Side Academy as a freshman. Things didn't go as well as they could have at Shady Side, so Thorpe opted to return to Shaler as a sophomore.
“The coach that was at Shady Side left, and things didn't work out,” Thorpe said. “I was not mad about it, but I had to do what was in my best interests, so I went back home (to Shaler).
The move wound up being good for Thorpe. He was back around his friends and back with the team he had so much success with two seasons before. The Titans were a force to be reckoned with Thorpe's sophomore and junior seasons. Back-to-back section titles and playoff runs followed. Thorpe was a key factor to that success. He played along players like J.P. Holtz and Zach Taylor. Although he was a star, he could play his game with calculated risk and aggression because the players around him had a similar ability and basketball IQ.
Thorpe and the Titans had two exciting seasons, but this past season, the worst as far as overall record in the section, may have been his finest hour.
“This season was a lot different,” Thorpe said. “My role changed, and I had to get the other kids comfortable to compete every night, not just here or there.”
While many seniors have aspirations of capping off a storied career with a championship, Thorpe and the Titans headed into his final season in a rebuilding mode, with only Thorpe having any real varsity experience.
“I had to look at the game in a different way than any other I have ever played on,” Thorpe said. “I was always a scorer, but now I had to get all my teammates involved. I grew a lot this season.”
Holzshu said it was a challenge for Thorpe because although there were three other seniors on he team, Thorpe had really never played with them before. Since he played with the freshman team as an eighth grader, was at Shady Side Academy as a freshman, then started alongside the upperclassmen as a sophomore and junior, he never saw the court with the cast he had this season.
“It was a heck of an adjustment for him,” Holzshu said. “He was the focal point of the other team. He was the guy they were trying to stop and had to do it with an inexperienced group.”
Despite losing more games this season (14) than the previous two combined (six), Thorpe said this season was his favorite.
“It was fun having the success and having the playoff runs,” Thorpe said. “But this team had to really work for each win. We had to work really hard all the time. We stuck to our talents, and that is something I will never forget.”
This campaign may have done the most to prepare Thorpe for Penn State next season. By being the focal point, he had to face the opposition's best defender(s) every night, and he learned that is will take his maximum effort each game to achieve success.
Thorpe chose Penn State early in the process. He wanted to narrow his choices early on, and it was a visit to the school that sold him on his immediate future.
“It was on the visit, my gut told me this is where I wanted to go,” he said. “I loved coach Patrick Chambers and coach Brian Daly and knew this would be the best fit.”
Thorpe is excited to get together his fellow freshmen at Penn State and said there is returning talent that should be a good mix to compete in the Big Ten.
Although Penn State is not often in the conversation in one of the top basketball conferences in the nation, Thorpe wants to change that and looks forward to mixing it up with the high-level of talent and some future NBA stars.
“It's exciting, and it will help my game mature,” Thorpe said. “I want to compete and play with future NBA players. I am ready to go in and learn the (college) game.”
Thorpe said Holzshu helped prepare him for the transition on and off the court.
“We have a good relationship, and he helped me expand my game,” Thorpe said. “He gave me some leeway this season and helped me be a leader on and off the court. The off-the-court stuff translates to the court. I love him as a coach and a person.”
Thorpe played his last high school game last week and said he will miss the fans and how they came out and supported the team the past three seasons.
The Shaler program will miss Thorpe, but his evolution this season set a tone for seasons to come.
“Geno understands his strengths,” Holzshu said. “He plays to them, and he has a dimension other kids don't have. He has speed, quickness, an ability to accelerate and body control. I have never coached someone who can get through a small space and finish a play like Geno can.”
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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