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Toughness key for Greensburg Salem boys basketball

| Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 6:58 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem senior Simeon Stevens practices Nov. 19, 2013, in Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem boys basketball coach Craig Mankins instructs his players during a practice session at the school's gymnasium on Nov. 19, 2013 in Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem senior Simeon Stevens participates in a practice session at the school's gymnasium on Nov. 19, 2013 in Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem boys basketball coach Craig Mankins instructs his players during a practice session at the school's gymnasium on Nov. 19, 2013 in Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem senior Max Ponzurick participates in a practice session at the school's gymnasium on Nov. 19, 2013 in Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem's Antonio Ferrari participates in a practice session at the school's gymnasium on Nov. 19, 2013 in Greensburg.

Experience will help transform a new-look Greensburg Salem basketball team.

Widely regarded as underdogs last year mostly because of an undersized, young team, coach Craig Mankins expects a different team this year.

“The one thing we've been preaching a lot is toughness,” he said. “Last year we weren't very tough to play against.

“I want to make sure when people play us, win or lose, they say ‘ehh we don't like playing that team.' ”

One reason the Golden Lions will play a more physical brand of basketball will be additional experience that was missing last year. Greensburg Salem will court a team that is senior- and junior-heavy, which wasn't the case last year.

“Mentally and physically, the older those kids get, the bigger and stronger and better they get,” Mankins said. “We have some guys who haven't even come into their body yet.

“The physical difference is going to help.”

The Golden Lions have three players returning who averaged at least 11 points per game.

Seniors center Pat Boyer (6-5), guard Simeon Stevens (5-9) and forward Max Ponzurick (6-2) are the returning starters who are expected to parlay Mankins' physical and structured brand of basketball into a Section 3-AAA title.

In describing his returning seniors, Mankins was quick to tab each player's skill quickly, noting: “Pat's one of the bigger big men in the area you can utilize, Max is an unbelievable athlete who can play inside and out and Simeon, for his size, plays bigger than he really is.”

As is the case with most coaches in the area, a stable group of seniors with varsity playing time will be key when the bulk of section play begins in early 2014. Mankins, who was hired late last summer, has benefited from their presence and additional time together on the court.

“It's a big advantage (having those three back) because they have some expectations as far as what we'd like to do,” Mankins said. “Last year, we got the job late so it was tough getting the kids used to what we wanted to accomplish.

“It took us a long time, but having those three will make my job a little bit easier.”

Mankins expects a trio of seniors to contribute in the starting lineup and off the bench this season. Point guard Antonio Ferrari is tabbed in the starting job, and Caleb Key will see valuable minutes off the bench similar to last season. Delaine Hughes will play the two-guard and back up Ferrari.

Mankins said he was pleasantly surprised with the work the juniors put in during the offseason and he hopes that will alter opposing teams' game plans.

The Golden Lions tip off their season the first weekend of December in the Hempfield Tournament. There they are slated to play Quad-A foe Hempfield and Section 5-AAA's Keystone Oaks.

The early tests should prove to be a useful gauge in determining how high Greensburg Salem can climb the Section 3 ranks.

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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