Class A boys basketball preview: Lincoln Park fell short of WPIAL, PIAA titles last year but again is favored
If anyone on Lincoln Park's basketball roster has forgotten how last season ended, an early-season refresher has been scheduled.
The Leopards will bus three hours to Elk County to face the same Johnsonburg team that beat them in March, just one game short of the state championship.
“We have some unfinished business,” said Lincoln Park athletic director and assistant coach Mike Bariski, who scheduled the Dec. 17 game at Johnsonburg.
Just like this season's team, tall-and-talented Lincoln Park began last season as preseason favorites to win the WPIAL Class A title and reach the state championship.
But it accomplished neither.
Lincoln Park lost to Clairton in the WPIAL semifinals 71-70 and then was eliminated from the state semifinals by tiny Johnsonburg, 59-53. Those are losses the Leopards won't forget, because their coaches won't let them.
“Every day I say something to our guys about Johnsonburg or Clairton,” Bariski said, “and you can see the fire in their eyes.”
With four starters 6-foot-4 or taller, Lincoln Park looks more like a college team than a Class A school. The tallest is senior Elijah Minnie, a 6-9 forward, but teammates Ryan Skovranko (6-7), Maverick Rowan (6-6) and Chris Pipkin (6-4) form a tall lineup few Class AAAA schools could match.
It's taller than most any lineup coach Mark Javens fielded at Community College of Beaver County, where he won a junior college national championship.
Junior guard Antonio Kellum (6-2) is the fifth starter. A key addition will be freshman point guard Nellie Cummings (5-9), who scored 50 as a Midland eighth grader, Bariski said.
“This is probably our most athletic team from top to bottom,” Bariski said. “We have four guys that all have been looked at or have some type of offer from a Division I school.”
That includes Rowan, a sophomore guard who verbally committed to Pitt. Rowan was Lincoln Park's leading scorer last season when he averaged 22.9 points.
Minnie averaged 21.0 points last season, and Skovranko and Kellum are Division I recruits.
Pipkin, a whose father Chris once led the WPIAL in scoring at New Brighton, joins the Leopards.
With so much talent, the goal remains a state title. Playing Johnsonburg is a reminder that nothing's guaranteed, Bariski said.
“I told them we'll play out in the backyard if that's where you want to play,” Bariski said, “and you can even bring the same three officials you had at Clarion last season.”