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Smethport coach provides Clairton with extra motivation

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Clairton's Bryon Clifford takes the ball to the hoop over several Cochranton defenders during the opening round of the PIAA playoffs March 8, 2013, at Plum.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 1:41 a.m.

Matt Geletko knows motivation is everything with his team.

But when dealing with a group of seniors who has won as much as Clairton's, motivation isn't something that's easily attained.

That's why Geletko might just want to thank Smethport coach Dan Ziegler when he sees him before Tuesday's Class A second-round state playoff game at Clarion's Tippin Gymnasium.

Ziegler not only provided the motivation but tossed in a touch of challenge when talking up 6-foot-4 forward Zach Smith, the school's second all-time leading scorer who's averaging 22.7 points and 9.4 rebounds for the 23-3 Hubbers.

“Teams have been trying to shut him down all year, and we haven't seen one be successful at it,” Ziegler said. “We have seen every kind of defense — box-and-one, 2-3, 3-2 — and at the end of the night, he has over 20 points. Nobody can seem to stop him because he can do it all.”

Is that enough motivation for you? Well, it's plenty for Clairton (17-6)

“Any time a challenge is presented to them — even if it is something like giving them his stat line — they respond to it pretty well,” Geletko said. “Hopefully, this gets them motivated. You are always looking for some kind of edge, and I think this will be a good one.”

But make no mistake, Clairton will have its hands full with the versatile Smith. He can play with his back to the basket, shoot from 3-point range and can drive to the basket.

But Smith has never faced a player like Clairton's Titus Howard, who will get the assignment of covering Smith.

“This is really the first time we played somebody with size who can play both inside and outside,” Geletko said. “They are not going to change the way they play. They come out and get the ball to the kid who has been leading them all year and see what he can do.”

Smith, Smethport has limited offensive options. Point guard Clay Schuler averages 12.7 points, but nobody else averages more than 6.

That didn't bother the Hubbers during a 21-game regular-season winning streak or during a first-round upset over District 5 champion Bishop Guilfoyle.

“We have a pretty veteran team,” Ziegler said. “We traveled a lot in the summer, so we are used to playing game against real good competition. We ran all over the state this summer, and we are used to competing against athletic groups of kids.”

But matching Clairton's athleticism — highlighted by Pitt football recruits Howard, Tyler Boyd and Terrish Webb — might be a difficult task, especially with the entire team being made up of the record-setting football team that went 63-1 during their four years, including four WPIAL and state titles.

“If they were basketball Division I players, then maybe (we can use it as motivation),” Ziegler said. “We aren't worried about people's accolades. We are the underdogs, and that's the way we want it. We play our best when our backs are against the wall.”

The Bears are led by point guard Bryon Clifford and his 18 points per game. Clifford scored 20 in the WPIAL championship loss and 25 in a first-round win over Cochranton.

Geletko wouldn't be surprised if Clifford gets some extra attention from Smethport.

“We have been shooting the ball well, and I expect them to play a lot of zone,” Geletko said. “I don't think they can match up with us man-to-man, but they could play junk defense on Clifford.”

And if Clairton wanted more motivation: Smith needs 26 points to become Smethport's all-time leading scorer.

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

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