A-K Valley girls basketball teams struggling to score points
This is the time of year when single-digit temperatures begin appearing on weather forecasts. But single-digit basketball scores? That's an entirely different slippery slope.
In what has become an alarming early season trend, several girls basketball teams have struggled to score points. Some head-turning scores have had social media buzzing and coaches and fans asking, “Are those typos?”
Kiski Area lost its opener to Hopewell, 67-6.
The Quad-A Cavaliers followed that up with losses of 52-12 to Butler and 63-9 against Plum.
Kiski Area wasn't alone.
• Highlands scored eight points against Ford City (57-8)
• Leechburg fell, 50-9, to Sewickley Academy, and then 61-19 at Springdale
• Knoch managed to score just 18 against St. Joseph (67-18)
The troubling results have coaches looking for answers while trying to stay positive. A number of them believe the offensive woes are byproducts of poor fundamentals — or none at all — being taught at the younger levels.
Second-year Kiski Area coach Nick Ionadi, the Cavaliers' third different head coach in the last four seasons, said he encountered issues with the feeder program from the beginning.
“I am not knocking my predecessors, but none of them since coach (Tom) Pipkins (in the early 2000s) did anything to foster and develop this program and allowed it to completely fall apart,” Ionadi said. “These girls are not playing enough and simply are not ready for this.”
Ionadi said he worked over the summer to reconnect severed pieces of the program. Now, he wants to see more participation and greater attention to fundamentals, which could be a long process.
“You cannot just walk into a gym, in November, at the Quad-A level and expect to compete, especially when there is no experience returning from the year before,” he said. “This is the battle here: making everyone understand if you do not put the time in during the summer, then we will never get off the ground.”
But even when players do show up for practice, some are short on raw fundamentals. It might be as simple as that.
“Too many kids try to play this sport without the skill of dribbling,” Leechburg first-year coach Joel Ceraso said. “Coaches do a great job of teaching defensive pressure. That is something that can be taught without any basketball skill. When you have a team that is skilled, they can't be pressured.”
Other reasons for the low scoring, coaches say, can range from a lack of interest, to minimal pure basketball talent, to a lack of offseason dedication, to multisport athletes, to parental interference — and the list goes on.
“Basketball is a sport that takes a lot of practice, and any more it — like all other sports — has turned into a game where girls have to keep playing most of the year to keep up with the competition,” Knoch coach Sean O'Donnell said. “From what I see, there are certain programs in the area with girls who play year-round and work on their games year-round, and other programs that don't. When those two (type of) programs like that meet, it's going to be pretty lopsided.”
Ionadi can attest to the fact that teams take no joy in catching crumbs from the table of teams with more depth and established youth programs. Kiski Area has 12 girls in the program, varsity and junior varsity combined. Eight are freshmen.
“You look at teams like Hempfield, who has sixth-graders that are ready to play varsity as freshmen,”Ionadi said. “That school has been pumping out good basketball players since I was in high school. They've had two undefeated seasons in section in the last 10 years. Why? Effort.”
Ionadi, a former standout guard and WPIAL champion at Penn Hills, said he developed a mental toughness at his alma mater and wants to instill that thinking at Kiski Area.
“You went out, and you worked because you represented something that was great before we arrived and it was up to us to carry that reputation and represent that the right way — by playing the right way and by fighting,” Ionadi said. “You want it, you battle for it. That's the mindset I am trying to instill here, but it can only be done to those receptive to it.”
Ionadi was a senior when Penn Hills retired George Karl's jersey number. Ionadi served as a chaperone for Karl, who has coached in the NBA.
“I asked him for advice and one thing he said stuck with me,” Ionadi said. “ ‘Respect the game.' That is what I am trying to get these kids to do. “
O'Donnell said the teaching and grasping of offense and defense requires different progression time. Some teams never seem to have one catch up to the other.
“It usually takes longer for the offenses to catch up to the defenses,” he said. “I'm a baseball guy, and there's always that first couple weeks where the pitchers dominate. In basketball, defense is easier to do than offense. But once you get a few weeks under your belt, you hope that the offense starts clicking. Once everyone gets on the same page offensively, the output tends to get better. We're hoping that that's the case with our team.”
No matter how one-sided scores continue to be, Ionadi said he'll continue to stand watch and chip away at the ice.
“I am not bailing on this program because its in bad shape,” Ionadi said. “These kids deserve a place and an opportunity to play the game.
“I told the parents when I met them, that I am going to be demanding of their kids and expect a lot out of them and push them out of their comfort zones.”