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Steel Valley boys basketball team relying on experience

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 11:27 p.m.

If conventional wisdom is true, the Steel Valley boys basketball team is poised for a breakout season this year.

The Ironmen posted a 12-9 record overall and 6-6 in the competitive Section 4-AAA and made a playoff appearance. They lost 67-60 in double overtime to South Park in the first round of the playoffs.

Coach Shawn McCallister will have the luxury of returning a wealth of upperclassmen, a feature his group lacked in the past.

“This year, we have a few guys who saw the court quite a bit last year and got that taste of the playoffs,” he said. “We're working on seeing who fits where right now, and once we've done that, I think we'll be ready to go.”

Seniors Ajan Smith and Dorian Bridgewater are returning starters, and their “slash” style of guard play and improved jump shots have McCallister excited about the prospects of them leading this year.

Smith and Bridgewater were two of the Ironmen's primary scorers last season, and when their three starters are determined, the fast-paced offense will flourish.

“With Ajan and Dorian, I'm looking at them to bring that senior leadership and stability that every team needs,” McCallister said. “They have a few years of starting experience already, and with their improved outside game and jump shots, I think we're in a good spot.”

McCallister's early practices have been competitive and typical for most teams this time of year. Getting back to the basics and seeing what each player can bring has been his primary focus in the early going.

“It's kind of been maybe a bit of a challenge or slow these first few weeks, getting everyone back and shape and on their game,” he said. “We're just getting started in learning our X's and O's, but we're close to where we need to be at this point.”

Seniors Derek Taylor and Jackson Majernik and juniors Brandon Donavon and Dominique Keyes are the four vying for the final three starting roster spots.

McCallister has been pushing them mentally and physically to see who will be the best option on game days.

“Our goal is to get that chemistry we'll need to have success,” he said. “I need guys who are willing to start each game and also some guys to come in and off the bench and give us a spark.”

On paper, McCallister said he is happy with the roster he has this season. He said the biggest difference between this year's and last year's team is the improved shooting from its guards. He hopes that this year they can improve on the defensive end, work on its trap and become a better rebounding team.

All three points of improvement will be crucial in the Ironmen surviving the difficult task that is Section 4, a section he said is probably the best in Triple-A.

“When you have to go out and play Elizabeth Forward, West Mifflin, Thomas Jefferson and South Allegheny twice a year, you better play your best basketball,” he said. “Each game is going to be a battle in us fighting for our goal of getting back in the playoffs.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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