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Class AAA boys basketball preview: 6-11 transfer George Prota vaults Elizabeth Forward into contender status

Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News - Elizabeth Forward's Jaquan Davidson runs wind sprints during practice Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Ronald Vezzani Jr.  |  For the Daily News</em></div>Elizabeth Forward's Jaquan Davidson runs wind sprints during practice Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News - Elizabeth Forward's Jasano Brooks works out during practice Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Ronald Vezzani Jr.  |  For the Daily News</em></div>Elizabeth Forward's Jasano Brooks works out during practice Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News - Elizabeth Forward's Jalan French works out during practice on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Ronald Vezzani Jr.  |  For the Daily News</em></div>Elizabeth Forward's Jalan French works out  during practice on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News - Elizabeth Forward coach Gerald Grayson watches team workouts Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Ronald Vezzani Jr.  |  For the Daily News</em></div>Elizabeth Forward coach Gerald Grayson watches team workouts Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
Albin R. Roth/For The Valley Independent - EF's multi-talented Jaquan Davidson is a major threat for defenses, running and passing.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Albin R. Roth/For The Valley Independent</em></div>EF's multi-talented Jaquan Davidson is a major threat for defenses, running and passing.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News - Elizabeth Forward's Austin Matta runs a passing drill Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Ronald Vezzani Jr.  |  For the Daily News</em></div>Elizabeth Forward's Austin Matta runs a passing drill Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

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who 2 watch

preseason player of the year

JAQUAN DAVIDSON

Elizabeth Forward

6-4, sr., guard

22 ppg

players to watch

ANDREW KOESTER

West Allegheny

6-4, Jr., G/F, 19 ppg

RYAN MAHA

West Mifflin

6-0, Sr., G, 17.9 ppg

MATTY McCONNELL

Chartiers Valley

6-0, Jr., G, 16.3 ppg

JORDAN PRATT

Uniontown

6-2, Sr., G, 18.8 ppg

GEORGE PROTA

Elizabeth Forward

6-11, Jr., C, 15 ppg

preseason top 10

1. Elizabeth Forward (12-11)

JaQuan Davidson will pair with 6-11 Serra transfer George Prota (15 ppg, 11 rpg).

2. Chartiers Valley (24-5)

Last season's WPIAL runner-up still has sharpshooter Matty McConnell.

3. Indiana (17-7)

Indiana returns five starters and added transfer Chris McConnell, Matty's cousin.

4. Central Valley (16-7)

The Warriors finished hot and only graduated one player.

5. Uniontown (17-4)

Uniontown returns Jordan Pratt (18.8), Dreher Winfrey (9.8) and Xavier Ellis (9.8).

6. Thomas Jefferson (17-8)

Chase Winovich (11.4 ppg) and the Jaguars are looking to repeat as Section 4 champs.

7. Montour (25-5)

Montour needs to replace Devin Wilson (16.8 ppg) to defend WPIAL title.

8. West Mifflin (16-6)

Ryan Maha (17.9 ppg) will provide the scoring, but team lacks size.

9. Mars (21-5)

Graduation hit Mars hard but talent remains.

10. Freeport (9-10)

Sophomore guard Josh Beale averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game last season.

section favorites

section 1

Indiana

The Little Indians return all five starters. Added to the mix of nine returning lettermen is Chris McConnell, who transferred in when his father Tom was hired as the IUP women's basketball coach. Mars finished atop the section last season, but the Planets were hit hard by graduation. Freeport returns G Brendan Lynch (19.8 ppg).

section 2

Central Valley

The Warriors have a stockpile of returning talent. Last season, they won 10 of their final 13 games. With Beaver losing star Aaron Barlow to graduation, the section is Central Valley's to lose.

section 3

Uniontown

Uniontown outscored opponents by an average of 17.2 points and led Class AAA at 71.5 ppg. Leading the charge is Jordan Pratt, a 6-2 senior guard who averaged 18.8 points. Last season, the Red Raiders were the only team from the section to win a playoff game.

section 4

Elizabeth Forward

The return of JaQuan Davidson and the addition of George Prota equal a championship contender. The Warriors are buying into second-year head coach Gerald Grayson's hard-nosed approach and they will need to play tough. With Thomas Jefferson, Steel Valley and West Mifflin in the mix, this looks like the best section in Triple-A.

section 5

Chartiers Valley

The perennial contenders bring back Matty McConnell, the son of head coach Tim McConnell. Always a high-scoring team, last season was no exception when the Colts averaged 70 points per game, second only to Uniontown in the class. Defending WPIAL champion Montour should compete, and South Fayette is a team to watch.

Top high school sports
By Ed Phillipps
Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 9:10 p.m.
 

Elizabeth Forward's JaQuan Davidson was the leading scorer in Class AAA last season with an average of 22 points.

He's hoping he won't defend that title.

Davidson had to shoulder a big portion of the scoring responsibilities for an undersized squad a season ago. At 6-foot-4, he was the tallest player on the team.

That changed with the addition of 6-11 Serra Catholic transfer George Prota, a junior who averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks as a sophomore. With a big man in the middle, Davidson is able to show off his other skills.

“JaQuan is an amazing player,” Prota said. “He's even better than I thought he was. Some of the passes he makes are ridiculous.”

Double-teaming the athletic Davidson, a Pitt football recruit, and leaving open another player won't be a good strategy this year.

“If the ball's in my hand, I just have to make something happen with it,” he said. “I don't mind passing. In fact, I like it.”

Along with Davidson the top-ranked Warriors return starting guards Austin Matta and Jalen French, as well as starting forward Matt Bernadowski. They added 6-5 Gateway transfer Jasano Brooks to a team that finished 12-11 overall, 6-6 in Section 4.

Perhaps the most important person returning is coach Gerald Grayson. The former McKeesport girls basketball coach, who led teams powered by Swin Cash, is in his second season coaching EF. His brand of fundamentally sound basketball has resonated with his players.

“Coach Grayson is all about hard work,” said Prota, who has visited Pitt and West Virginia. “If you don't want to play, then go home because you're not going to fit in.

“I absolutely love Coach Grayson.”

Prota is the embodiment of hard work shaping success. He has transformed from a 310-pound freshman to a 250-pound nightmare for opponents. He credits a healthy diet and hitting the weight room for developing into the prospect he has become.

“I want to bully people in the paint this season,” he said.

Prota's blue-collar mindset meshes well with the laid back Davidson. Neither player is looking to be a star. All they want to do is play for a champion, they said.

They will have to navigate what looks like the toughest section in Triple-A. Thomas Jefferson (12-0 in section last season); Steel Valley with Ajan Smith (18.1 ppg); and West Mifflin, which returns Ryan Maha (17.9 ppg), each will put up a fight.

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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