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Monessen boys big on experience, athleticism

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 2:51 a.m.
Jim Ference/The Valley Independent
Leading scorer Clintell Gillaspie is one of five returning starters for Monessen this season.

Joe Salvino and the Monessen Greyhounds didn't experience a typical season in 2012-13.

While Monessen managed to qualify for the playoffs for a current WPIAL-best 32nd straight season, the Greyhounds (10-14) finished under .500 for only the second time in Salvino's previous 29 seasons.

The good news for Salvino is that he welcomes back all five starters and one of his top reserves from last year's team. He said the experience will make the Greyhounds a better team.

“We have an experienced bunch and a lot of athletes,” Salvino said. “I think our speed and athleticism will be our strength. I'm just hoping that the kids who played last year learned a little more about basketball for this season.”

Back for Monessen is leading scorer Clintell Gillaspie, a senior. Other returning starters seniors are Justice Rawlins, Tyler Yuille and Javon Brown and sophomore Lavelle Rush.

Junior Noah Rullo, who played extensively a year ago, will also see plenty of action and occasionally start, Salvino said.

“Our only problem is we don't have much height,” the veteran coach said. “Yuille, at 6-3, is our tallest player. What I'm hoping we do is get up and down the court and play strong defense.

“We want to pressure the ball all over the court with our man-to-man defense and let our defense create our offense.”

Salvino said that while height is going to be a problem, depth will not.

He listed no fewer than five players outside of his returning six whom he expects to be factors this season.

Those players are senior Kayne Jackson, juniors Irvin Green and Brandon Lenhart and freshmen Justice Rice and Jaden Altomore.

“All of those kids are short on basketball sense, but have plenty of athleticism,” Salvino said. “We're going to depend on all of them at some point.”

A year ago, the Greyhounds were inexperienced and lost their first nine games before winning 10 of the next 15.

“We started 0-9, but we played a lot of quality Quad A and AAA schools,” he said. “And we will do that again this year. I have always believed that playing against bigger quality schools helps in the long run.

“The difference is last season, we lost some of those games because of our inexperience. This year, I expect us not only to compete, but win some of those early games.”

Monessen opens the season Dec. 6 in the Upper St. Clair Tip-Off Tournament against the host team.

The non-section schedule includes powerhouses such as Franklin Regional, Hempfield, Uniontown and Sto-Rox.

In Section 3 A, where the Greyhounds will play, Salvino says two of the top teams will be Clairton and Carmichaels.

However, he expects his team to finish at or near the top.

“Hopefully, we're somewhere near the top of our section at the end,” he said. “That's always one of the goals — to win the section. But we also hope to do more than that. The bar is always set high here.”

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or joliver@tribweb.com.

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