Young lineup to take the court for Latrobe boys

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 7:23 p.m.

The Latrobe boys basketball team will feature plenty of new faces when the Wildcats take the court to begin the 2013-14 season.

After losing seven graduates from last season's squad, Latrobe returns just one starter in junior guard Matt Cullen from last year's 12-11 team that advanced to the playoffs after finishing 7-5 in Section 1-AAAA).

Needless to say, the Wildcats will need to rely on new faces to emerge on the court. But for coach Brad Wetzel, that's something he's optimistic about heading into this season.

“Right now it's exciting because you just don't know how we're going to develop, what team chemistry is going to be like,” he said. “When you lose seven seniors like that it kind of leaves you wondering how we're going to respond to the grind of the whole thing.”

According to Wetzel, his team has indeed responded well in the early going. The coaches have made it clear that spots are up for grabs and the competition in practice has been spirited up to this point.

“Probably the highlight of the first week of the season, just kind of the intensity level is there,” Wetzel said. “They can see for themselves that there's a lot of opportunity for playing time. It's just going to be who plays the best, not who has the best talent.

“I think they can look to their left and to their right and realize that nobody's got a position nailed down,” he added. “That has made our practices better. That parity can be really good, especially if they know we're serious about people earning spots and earning more time in rotations.”

The Wildcats have six forwards vying for playing time in the front court. Seth Holler; sophomore Craig Stevens; juniors Matt Traggon, Mario Fannie and Lane Loughner and senior P.J. Self are all competing for spots.

“Right now they're kind of battling it out and we'll see how we're going to fit that rotation, but we don't really have any clear distinct idea yet,” Wetzel said.

One area where Latrobe has some returning experience is at guard. Cullen, along with junior Chad Kissell and sophomore Sean Graytok will be called upon to lead the Wildcats from the backcourt. All three are expected to start.

“I think that's going to be a trio we're going to count on to kind of set the pace of games and build on,” Wetzel said.

All three bring slightly different aspects to the court. Wetzel described Kissell as a player with a scoring mentality while Graytok is someone who can handle the ball while posing a threat with his shot and Cullen as an excellent overall athlete.

“(Cullen has) got good athleticism, probably the best on the team and a nice first step,” Wetzel said. “I think his game has evolved to be pretty balanced.”

While the team goal is always a championship, Wetzel has set realistic expectations for his young team and hopes to see it improve and play its best basketball in the late winter months.

“I would just like to see us play to our potential and go as far as we can,” Wetzel said. “Obviously, I would love to go deep into the playoffs, but you've got to get there first.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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