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Class AAAA boys basketball preview: Third time could be a charm for Hampton

About Chris Harlan
Details

who 2 watch

preseason player of the year

RYAN LUTHER

Hampton

6-8 sr.

Forward

21.2 ppg

players to watch

MATT D'AMICO

Fox Chapel

6-2, sr., G, 22.1 ppg

KASON HARRELL

Hempfield

6-2, jr., G, 16.4 ppg

MALIK HOOKER

New Castle

6-2, sr., G, 16.8 ppg

TOM KROMKA

Gateway

6-6, sr., F, 9.5 ppg

BRIAN PAPICH

Fox Chapel

6-2, sr., G, 15.2 ppg

preseason top 10

1. Hampton (22-6)

Talbots return four starters from last season's lineup that was runner-up to New Castle.

2. New Castle (29-1)

Shawn Anderson graduated, but Malik Hooker gives 'Canes chance for third straight title.

3. Gateway (16-7)

The Gators, who won WPIAL titles in 2011 and '12, feature three starters at 6-5 or taller.

4. Fox Chapel (17-7)

Senior guards Matt D'Amico and Brian Papich rank among Class AAAA's leading scorers.

5. Hempfield (17-6)

Two all-section players give

first-year coach Mark Marino talent to build around.

6. Central Catholic (16-6)

Vikings must wait for football season to end before they can take inventory of their roster.

7. Upper St. Clair (20-4)

Senior G/F J.J. Conn returns, but the Panthers must replace top scorer Jordan Grabowski.

8. North Allegheny (22-5)

WPIAL semifinalist Tigers return some experience.

9. Bethel Park (17-6)

Junior guards Joey Mascaro and Sam Volpatti return.

10. Norwin (13-10)

Junior G Curtis Perz, who led the team in scoring (15.3 ppg), keys an up-tempo approach.

section favorites

section 1

HEMPFIELD

The Spartans return much from last season's section-winning lineup, including Kason Harrell, a 6-3 junior guard, Mike Nauman, a 6-3 senior guard, and Tony Pilato, a 6-7 junior forward. Harrell (16.4 ppg) and Pilato (10.0) were all-section as sophomores. But coach Jim Nesser was not retained after last season, when Hempfield won the section and lost in the first round. Former Lycoming College assistant Mark Marino has replaced Nesser. Norwin (13-10), Kiski Area (16-6) and Latrobe (12-11) also were playoff teams last season.

section 2

Gateway

Fox Chapel guards Matt D'Amico (22.1 ppg) and Brian Papich (15.2 ppg) are among four returning starters who'll have the Foxes in contention for the section title. But Gateway and defending section winner Central Catholic aren't fading away. Along with senior guards Delvon Randall and Shomari Thomas, Gateway's frontcourt has senior Tom Kromka (6-6), junior Daylon Harris (6-5) and sophomore Aidan Howard (6-5). McKeesport (15-8) and Franklin Regional (12-10) also show promise, making this section deep with potential.

section 3

HAMPTON

Without question, this was the toughest section last season. All four WPIAL Class AAAA semifinalists were from Section 3, including the Talbots, who lost to New Castle in the championship. Now Hampton becomes the team to beat.

section 4

UPPER ST. CLAIR

The Panthers return one starter from last season's lineup that won the section, but seven of their top eight players are seniors. That includes returning starter J.J. Conn, a 6-foot-3 wing who also plays linebacker at USC. Point guard Conor Gallagher (5-10) and forward Will Ross (6-3) saw considerable minutes when USC won 17 straight. Graduation weakened this section, but Bethel Park (17-6) and Mt. Lebanon (10-13) should remain in the playoff picture.

Top high school sports

By Chris Harlan

Published: Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 10:48 p.m.

As two-time defending runners-up, Hampton wants this to be the season it finally can celebrate.

“The past two years we came up one win short,” said senior Collin Luther, whose Talbots reached but lost WPIAL championships the past two winters. “The goal this year is to take that next step and finish. It would be terrible to go back to the Palumbo Center and lose for the third year in a row.”

Six veteran players return from last season's lineup, including four starters; the fifth starter from last season chose to not play his senior season.

Along with Collin Luther (6-6), the Talbots have his twin brother Ryan Luther, a 6-8 Pitt commit, plus junior guards Joey Lafko and David Huber. Senior guard Jack Obringer joins the lineup.

“We have the experience and the leadership,” Collin Luther said. “We just have to get it done.”

With both experience and Division I talent, Hampton starts the season ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA. Ranked No. 2 is New Castle, the WPIAL-title roadblock that stopped Hampton the past two seasons.

But graduation has thinned New Castle's lineup, leaving Hampton as the team to beat.

“It's an honor,” Ryan Luther said, “but what matters is your ranking at the end of the year.”

Hampton reached the WPIAL final in five of the past eight seasons. But the Talbots own just one WPIAL title, won in 2009 when the Luthers' brother, Bill, was a junior.

Along with second-place finishes in 2012 and '11, the Talbots were WPIAL runners-up in 2010.

“Everyone is kind of sick of not finishing it,” Ryan Luther said.

Rather than play football this fall, the Luthers concentrated on the weight room. Adding strength became a goal for the entire team.

“This year we're going to play more aggressively and really try to attack teams,” Collin Luther said.

But with its strength, Hampton needs patience. The Talbots can't be concerned with February in December, coach Joe Lafko said.

“This team has shown it has that ability,” he said. “We just have to maintain that focus.”

Section 3 was Class AAAA's strongest last season, sending four teams to the semifinals. And while it likely won't be as dominant this season, Lafko cautioned his team against dreaming about Palumbo Center too soon.

“There's definitely a sense of urgency,” Collin Luther said. “We have six seniors, and we all know this is our last shot. We have the players and the capability to make another run. And, this year, to finish it off.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

 

 

 
 


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