After ending lengthy playoff drought, East Allegheny boys set sights on section title
In his second season at East Allegheny last year, coach Vernon Benson helped the boys basketball team end a 16-year playoff drought.
Now, he has his sights on the school's first section title since 1967.
“Our goal is to win the section,” Benson said.
“We'll take it one step at a time, and I think we can get there. It's going to be work, but we'll be all right.”
Winning a Section 4-AAA title will be no easy task, however. The Wildcats lost eight players to graduation, including top scorers Jordan Williams, Shawn Adair and Joel Randolph.
“The outlook is still up in the air.” Benson said. “We have some guys that didn't play last year that are seniors, so we'll still be inexperienced court-wise.”
Benson doesn't see last year's 12-11 record or playoff berth as a fluke but, of course, that has to be proven on the floor this year, he said.
This year's new crop of expected contributors — seniors Kyle Whipple and Shabazz Washington and junior Taizon Brown — seems to share Benson's outlook.
“We want to do the same thing as last year,” Whipple said, “but it's a whole new team. We've just got to work hard and hope for the best.”
It is yet to be seen which players will be taking on the bulk of the scoring, but the Wildcats already have shown their early-season identity.
“They're all hustlers. That's what I like,” Benson said. “If a guy's going hard for you, he's eventually going to make a good play for you.”
This is especially true of Washington. Although the 5-foot-11 senior isn't going to be a standout scorer, he certainly is a lock-down defender, Benson said.
“He brings another dimension to our team,” Benson said. “He's a hustler. He'll make little plays that just spark us.”
Whipple and Brown identified rebounding as the key to a successful year for the relatively undersized Wildcats.
Although the players don't have much on-the-court experience with each other on the varsity level, they aren't foreign to competing together.
Whipple and Brown shared a backfield for the East Allegheny football team, with Whipple starting at quarterback and Brown at running back. Washington also played wide receiver for the Wildcats.
But now, the focus is back in the gym. East Allegheny opens its season at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 against Yough, the first step in ending yet another drought and claiming that elusive section title.
“I just want to win,” Washington said. “I want to get that banner up there.”
Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.