Blend of experience, new faces to lead Signal Item-area boys basketball teams
By Nathan Smith
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The boys of the hardwood will be returning this weekend.
The WPIAL basketball season gets underway with dozens of preseason tournaments with teams hoping to get their seasons off to a fast start.
Following is a look at what the Signal Item basketball teams are expecting this season.
Last season's record: 11-13 (7-5).
Key returns: forward Brennan Cahill, guard Reed Relosky.
Lost starters: forward Jake Seligman, forward AJ Puchany.
For second-year coach Tony DiMaria, the 2013-14 season will be like starting fresh with the Crusaders after 10 graduations from last season.
“This is like a whole new team,” DiMaria said. “Last season was a pretty senior-oriented team. We have one players back who played for the varsity team last season. We do have a talented freshmen class coming in and they will be backing up seniors and juniors.”
The lone returning starter from last season is senior Brennan Cahill and the forward will be expected lead the team on the court.
“He has got to get us some points to be successful,” DiMaria said. “He is the only one with varsity experience so he will have to step up.”
He will be joined by a group of athletes that , while being inexperienced at the varsity level, are multi-sport athletes. Senior Tyler Reddy along with Mitch Taufer and Reed Relosky will all get valuable minutes this season.
“All of the guys play two or three sports,” DiMaria said. “They are good athletes. It will be interesting to see how this season plays out.”
The team will also rely on some youth as sophomore Dom Palmosina and freshmen Greg Jones, Mitch King and Walter Bonds all will see the court as the program builds for the future. The younger players will get a taste of a new style of play from last season.
“Last year we slowed the game down a lot due to the talent we had,” DiMaria said. “This season we will play a lot more man-to-man defense with a lot more trapping. We will have a real aggressive defense.”
The new intensity on defense will help the squad compete in a tough Section 4-AA against the likes of Seton-La Salle, Washington an Brentwood.
“We have to make the playoffs,” DiMaria said. “We want to get the younger guys a taste because it is not like the regular season. Even a first round playoff game is big, so we want them to experience one. If we can do it, we will be good down the road. Good things are happening with Canevin basketball.”
The Crusaders will kickoff their season when they travel to Trinity Tuesday for a 7:30 p.m. start.
Last season's record: 6-16 (3-9).
Key returns: guard DJ Hart, guard Mason Follmer.
Lost starters: forward Mike Latimore, guard Dan Schuster.
In his second year back with the Cougars, coach Mike Kozy isn't hiding the fact that his squad is young – the team returns only four seniors and doesn't have any juniors.
“We don't have a lot of returning experience,” Kozy said. “It has been easier my second year though because I was able to work with the players over the summer and I know the guys we have coming back.”
Follmer is the team's only returning starter and will be joined by fellow seniors Hart, Jordan Oddi and Brock Hoffman as they look to improve on the team's six wins from last season.
Carlynton will look to a pair of sophomores in Tarik Isak and Tyler Clayton to provide valuable minutes on the court this season.
“We have two focuses heading into this season – we want to win right now and compete at the highest level,” Kozy said. “The other is our younger players are starting a three or four year journey with us. Any experience they can get now will help us as we move on.”
The biggest obstacle the team will need to overcome early is the chemistry between the seniors and underclassmen.
Kozy said the Cougars have worked on it in their two scrimmages and will continue to do so in the team's opening games of the season.
“The older players and younger ones are separated by two years,” Kozy said. “They haven't played together in junior high or anything. We need them to play as one unit.
“We are still tinkering with our defense as well. We want to run whatever best suits our players.
The Cougars will kick off their season at the Jefferson-Morgan Tournament with a 4:30 tipoff against Jefferson-Morgan tomorrow, Friday.
Last season's record: 24-5 (11-1).
Key returns: guard Matty McConnell, guard Jerrad Tuite.
Lost starters: center Spencer Casson, guard Michael Boulos.
For the Chartiers Valley boys basketball team, the weeks leading up to the 2013-14 season were used to figure out how to replace a big graduation – literally.
The Colts lost three-year starting center Spencer Casson, who is now on the roster at Seton Hill. The 6-foot-6 center used his wingspan to average a near triple-double last season with 11 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.3 blocks per games.
The team also lost leading scorer Michael Boulos (17.9 ppg) to graduation.
“We don't have a shot blocker anymore so we are going to have to play fast,” Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell said. “We are going to press a little more and use our speed to our advantage.”
The Colts' top returning scorer will be Matty McConnell. The junior averaged 15.8 points and 3.8 steals per game and led the team in made 3-pointers with 33.
Chartiers Valley will welcome back senior Jerrad Tuite after he missed most of last season with an injury. During the Colts trip to the KSA Classic in Orlando, he suffered a fractured knee. In only four games, Tuite averaged 11.3 points and 4.3 assists per game.
“(Tuite) has been working his way back,” McConnell said. “He is cleared to play and at practice he gets stronger and stronger. I really think if we had (Tuite) last season, we would have been a different team. It may have been a different outcome against Montour (in the WPIAL Class AAA title game) because he can control the tempo for us like Devin Wilson did for them.”
In Tuite's absence, Hayden Herzer was thrown into an extended role and averaged 6.7 points per game.
“You never want to see anyone get hurt but throwing (Herzer) in might have been a blessing ,” McConnell said. “I like the experience he got. He had a really nice year for us and we want to build on that.”
Senior Kyle Westover will get an extended role this season after playing off the bench in 2012-13. Junior Jake Ritson and sophomores Jake Collins, Cole Wasson and Moon transfer Joe Sibeto are all expected to see playing time.
“Our leading scorer each game could be any one of the guys,” McConnell said. “ I like the way this team can shoot. We have stressed being fast and we are going to have to be unselfish.”
The higher tempo of play will help the team in a tough Section 5-AAA against the likes of Keystone Oaks, Montour, South Fayette and South Park. Playing against some of the top programs in Class AAA will help prepare Chartiers Valley for what it wants to achieve this season.
“We want to get better each and every day we step on the floor,” McConnell said. “Our goals are the same as they were last year – we want to win a section title, a WPIAL title and to contend for a state title.”
The Colts will kick their season off with a trip to the KSA Tournament at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas this weekend.
Last season's record: 9-13 (5-7).
Key returns: forward Erat Ojok, forward Taylor Lehman.
Lost starters: guard Cory Sevacko, guard Jared Sklonicki.
Ask first year Golden Eagles coach Tony Cherico what he wants his squad to excel at this season and the response is simple – defense, defense, defense.
“If you ask any of the players, they will tell to since the day I met them I have preached defense,” Cherico said. “This team was 34th out of 35 Class AAA teams in points allowed last season. I have made it clear that is unacceptable.”
Keystone Oaks gave up 71.4 points per game last season – worst in Section 5-AAA and better than only Southmoreland's 71.5 points per game in the classification.
The team will look to 6-foot-3 guard Erat Ojok for big minutes this season.
“That kid has worked as hard as anyone in the weight room and conditioning,” said Cherico, who was the head coach at South Park for five season while also serving as an assistant at Baldwin and Keystone Oaks. “We are expecting big things from him on defense as well as offense.”
Senior forward Taylor Lehman – a pitcher who recently committed to the Penn State baseball team – will provide the Golden Eagles a 6-foot-7 presence around the rim. Guards Braydon Griffiths and Kobe Phillippi both return after playing a large number of minutes last season.
“(Senior) Nick Milkovich injured his knee last season but he is back to 100 percent,” Cherico said. “From top to bottom we have kids with the ability to put pressure on the ball handler.”
The Golden Eagles will once again be tested in a tough Section 5-AAA – home to Chartiers Valley, Montour, South Fayette and South Park – but Cherico isn't letting the challenging schedule detract him from setting high goals.
“If they players do what they are taught, we won't have to worry about wins and losses because the wins will come,” Cherico said. “If they improve on defense and play to their potential, I will be happy.”
Keystone Oaks will participate in the Hempfield Tournament this season. The Golden Eagles will play Jeannette at 5 p.m. Friday followed by a showdown with Greensburg Salem at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.
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