WPIAL all-stars top City League in 38th annual exhibition
Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar had a pretty laid-back approach on how to handle the WPIAL bench Sunday for the 38th annual Western Pa. High School Basketball Classic against the City League all-stars at Penn Hills High School.
“I told them that we were all going to have fun,” Skrinjar said. “In the end, we were going to play to win and whoever was playing the quote-unquote ‘best' was going to get after it. It's kind of hard for these kids because they're all the best players, and they want to be out there the whole time, but I thought they shared the ball well, and it ended up working out for us.”
It would be hard to argue with the result. Deon Cottrell-Baker of Gateway scored what turned out to be the game-winning basket on a one-handed alley-oop layup off an inbounds pass with 33.2 seconds remaining then capped it with a finger roll as time expired for a 77-74 WPIAL victory.
Gateway senior guard D.J. Boyce was named most valuable player after scoring a team-best 15 points. The MVP was given automatically to the leading scorer from the winning team, while the participants were selected a bit more arbitrarily.
“They were chosen by the staff and some other coaches,” Skrinjar said. “We also had to determine who was playing in other all-star games. All of that was taken into consideration as well as availability.”
For several, like McKeesport guard Jamie Grayson, this game was something of a farewell to organized basketball. Though he will attend Akron, he does not plan on playing collegiately, which allowed for some introspection afterward.
“It was fun and it was a nice experience with those guys, and I'd like to do it again,” Grayson said. “I don't want to give the game up, but it was fun while it lasted.”
Neither Grayson nor fellow Tigers backcourt stalwart Carlitto Acie scored, but each saw significant playing time thanks to Skrinjar's substitution system. At regular intervals he replaced all five players in an effort to give each of the participants equal time on the floor.
Perhaps the biggest difference between this game and a regular-season or playoff game was the lack of PIAA-imposed restrictions. That meant players on both sides could dunk in the pregame and second-half warm-ups without worrying about drawing a technical foul.
In fact, it took the players a few minutes before the realized they could take a few shots above the rim in the pregame.
“This is an all-star game, and, at this level of hoops, it's all about being comfortable,” Woodland Hills forward Tom Greene, a California (Pa.) University football recruit, said. “It's my last game as a hooper in high school, and I just wanted to have fun with my friends before I leave.”
In the end it was about the fun, but there is something to be said about putting on a good show for the crowd. East Allegheny guard Jordan Williams has never seen an outside shot he didn't like — he averaged 17.5 points per game during the regular season — and won the halftime 3-point-shooting competition.
“It was exciting,” Williams said. “I knew I was going to be in it and I wanted to win it because a lot of my teammates came out.”
During the game Williams scored eight first-half points, including a pair of NBA-range 3-pointers. Though his size (5-foot-4) probably has limited his being recruited by most colleges, he is still looking to play at the next level — perhaps at Penn State New Kensington.
“I hope I gave them something to look at,” Williams said. “I absolutely want to play at the next level, but you never think (high school basketball) is going to end. But there's always college.”