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Knoch boys packing more punch

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Knoch's Austin Miller runs drills during basketball practice Monday, November 25, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Knoch boys basketball coach Ron McNabb watches over his players during practice on Monday, November 25, 2013.

Knoch boys basketball players like to use the Twitter hash tag #tiedandtucked, meaning their shoelaces are tied and shirts tucked in. It is coach Ron McNabb's business-like motto that means the Knights are ready to go to work.

With several newcomers giving the team a longer and stronger frontcourt, Knoch could be taking its blue-collar approach under the basket more often this season.

“We have some bigger guys coming in,” the second-year coach said. “Some haven't played in a while, and there's some rust there, but with our perimeter game already there, we'll have some options.”

Ever since its team camp at Indiana (Pa.) University, this group has been meshing, experienced guards working alongside the forwards.

Three returning starters — senior point guard Austin Miller, senior shooting guard David Gallagher and senior forward Chris Kier — will be joined by 6-foot-4 junior forward Matt Zanella.

Zanella, who like Miller, averaged about 12 points, is a talented post player. Miller is as much a scorer as he is a distributor and floor leader. But his status was somewhat questionable heading into official practice. Miller broke his ankle a month ago, when he landed on another player's foot.

He has nursed the injury and is slowly working his way back into action.

“We need him; he's very good at pushing the ball up the floor,” McNabb said. “We're hoping (at worse) we'll have him on a limited basis. He's a hard-luck kid. He's very valuable to us.”

Miller missed three months of action with a shoulder injury, which followed a wrist injury when he was a freshman.

Knoch is coming off a see-saw season where it finished 12-12 and notched its first playoff win since 2006 — 52-40 over Mt. Pleasant in the preliminary round of the Class AAA tournament. Knoch ran into No. 1 seed and WPIAL runner-up Chartiers Valley in the next game and fell 77-43.

McNabb said the fifth starting spot is “wide open,” but there's plenty of height at the auditions.

Senior 6-6, 250-pound senior Connor Shinsky, known more for his play in football where he is a Division I prospect, is out for hoops for the first time since his freshman year. He will add muscle and presence to the low block.

“I don't think he wanted his high school sports career to be over after football,” McNabb said.

Another football talent, senior Jim Larrimer (6-4, 190) also has a spot on the roster. The athletic forward didn't play basketball last season due to a knee injury from football.

“He's picking things up well,” McNabb said. “It's hard when you haven't played basketball in two years.”

Other contributors include senior forward Steve Oblich (6-4), junior guard Troy Hixson, senior guard Jordan Hickey and sophomore guard Aiden Albert. Gallagher could present more of a defensive matchup issue in the backcourt.

“He led Butler County in 3-pointers made last year,” McNabb said. “He was one-dimensional. But he's really worked on his ball-handling and spent extra time in the weight room.”

Some rising freshmen also could chip in, including guard Austin Hannes and 6-2 forward Mac Christy.

McNabb hopes his team's new-found size will help it compete with Indiana, which he believes is the Section 1 frontrunner.

“Indiana is loaded,” McNabb said. “They have a lot of size so we're hoping to be able to match up with them.

“Once these kids get into the mix and get their feet underneath them, we could be pretty good.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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