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Graduation-ravaged Deer Lakes boys basketball tries to rebuild on run

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Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Deer Lakes basketball player Scott Ventura takes aim during practice on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
Top high school sports
By George Guido
Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Here's some advice for Deer Lakes fans heading to a boys basketball game this season — buy a program.

After a season that saw the Lancers win their first section title in 21 seasons, the top eight players graduated from a team that went 8-2 in the section, 16-7 overall.

“We don't have a guy on the roster that played a meaningful varsity minute last year,” coach Jon McKay said. “We lost 99 percent of our scoring. I don't want it to come across like we're whining, but that's the state of our program right now.”

Of the 1,263 points Deer Lakes scored last year, all but 18 were tallied by the eight seniors.

All told, it was a successful first season for McKay, who was hired several weeks before the season began.

“I think we surprised a lot of people last year, but we didn't surprise anybody in our locker room,” McKay said. “Those eight seniors really laid a foundation for the program, and for that we'll be indebted to them for years to come.”

Among those departed are Tim Jaczesko, who averaged 23.1 points, and J.J. Kowalkowski, with a 12.8 average.

The new-look Lancers will feature junior Scott Ventura, while freshman Alex Nichols figures to see plenty of playing time.

“The (new) players have a lot of talent, and they're fully committed to basketball,” McKay said. “They learned so much from last year's seniors, and they know what it takes to win — 16 wins just don't fall out of the sky.”

There are 15 Lancers on the roster from grades nine through 12.

McKay also thinks the team's two preseason scrimmages against Freeport and Leechburg will be important as a way to battle inexperience.

“We're still putting some things in, so these scrimmages will tell us a lot,” he said. “Reps are so valuable because you only get 22 of them during the season so these two scrimmages mean a lot.”

Another factor related to vast inexperience is the fact that Deer Lakes had few blowout games last season, which prevented McKay from putting in his underclassmen often.

“That would have been nice, but fortunately we didn't lose by a lot and didn't win by a lot,” McKay said.

Nine of the 10 Deer Lakes section games were decided by 12 points or fewer.

Despite the inexperience, the Lancers aren't shrinking from a challenging nonsection schedule.

The Lancers open at the Plum Tip-off Tournament against Shaler and will visit defending WPIAL Class A champion Vincentian on Dec. 21.

Deer Lakes will play its first six games away from home before hosting Karns City on Dec. 23.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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