Knoch basketball team taking workmanlike approach to season
Knoch boys basketball players like to use the Twitter hash tag #tiedandtucked, meaning their shoelaces are tied and shirts tucked in, coach Ron McNabb's business-like motto that for all intents and purposes 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,” said McNabb, the team's second-year coach. “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.), 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 per game, 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 players'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 with a shoulder injury, which followed a wrist injury when he was a freshman.
Knoch is coming off a see-saw season in which 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 Connor Shinsky (6-6, 250-pounds), 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.”
McNabb will continue to run a motion offense, where his best players have freedom to roam on offense. His goal is to up the ante on defense.
“We as coaches weren't happy with how we guarded the ball last year,” he said. “We want to put more pressure on the ball.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.