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East Allegheny boys basketball program savors success

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 11:51 p.m.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and was selected as the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Jordan Williams barely can walk down the halls at East Allegheny without getting some kind of congratulatory proclamation. Actually, just about anywhere he and his teammates go nowadays prompts an ‘attaboy' and a pat on the back.

And that's just fine with Williams.

“It actually feels good to be noticed a little bit,” Williams said.

Noticed for doing something good, that is.

For nearly the past two decades, East Allegheny's basketball program was noticed for one thing only – losing.

• East Allegheny had only one winning season in 17 years.

• Their last playoff appearance was in 1996.

• Managed only an 85-271 record since their last playoff berth.

• Haven't won a playoff game since 1986.

• Won only once in 2005-06

• Haven't won a section title since 1967.

Now you know why Williams and Co. are getting the red carpet treatment after a 12-10 season in which they snapped the second-longest current playoff drought in the WPIAL.

East Allegheny will play only its second playoff game since Williams was born in 1995 when the Wildcats play Ambridge at North Hills in a first-round matchup.

“I think it is special for the community, not only the school, to get the basketball program back on the map and competing again,” veteran coach Vernon Benson said, who is in his second year at East Allegheny. “Trust me, it wasn't easy. There were some hurt feeling and guys mad at me last year, but this is the result of all of that.”

Benson took over at East Allegheny with a reputation of turning around a program. He lost his first 44 games at Valley a decade ago before winning 20 games his third year.

Last year at East Allegheny, Benson lost 13 of his final 15 games en route to 5-16 record.

“The culture has changed a lot since then,” Williams said. “We've been working out hard during the summer, and it has paid off.”

A lot of the turnaround has to do with a trio of seniors who have been there through the tough times – Williams, Shawn Adair and Joel Randolph.

Williams averages 17.6 points per game, Randolph 15.1 and Adair 13.2 and are among the top 30 in scoring in Class AAA.

“We have some guys who can put some points on the board,” Benson said. “We like to run things through Jordan first, but Shawn can score, Joel can score.”

Williams is East Allegheny's spark plug. Benson moved the 5-foot-5 point guard over to shooting guard at the start of the season and plugged in Adair at the point, and it has worked wonders.

“We experimented in the summer, and Shawn did well at the point so we went for it,” Benson said.

It freed up Williams from handling the ball, and he was able to get more shots off.

EA also got good minutes from Malik Pope, Josh Strawins, Gerald O'Keefe, Josh Jenkins and Martell Crosby.

“It feels good to be able to say that we are the first team to make the playoffs in so long, but I am about tired of hearing it and ready to make some noise in the playoffs,” Williams said. “We aren't going to the playoffs just to say that we made it. We are going into this trying to win some games.”

The Wildcats will have their hands full with an Ambridge (13-8) team that features three double-figure scorers with Malik Walker (17.0), Stephon McGinnis (11.9) and Daylon Carter (10.1).

“We are just not happy to be here, I can tell you that,” Benson said. “We are going into the playoffs competing to win the WPIAL just like everybody else. “We are not one of the best teams in this tournament, but we aren't one of the worst teams, either. If we go in there and play ball like we can, we aren't that bad at all.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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