Unselfish play has helped balanced Central Valley to top of Section 2-AAA
Unwilling to settle for merely a good shot, Central Valley worked instead for the great shot it wanted.
It took nearly 15 or 16 passes.
“We passed up two wide-open 3s for an easy layup,” senior guard Mike Sims said with a laugh, remembering one prolonged possession from earlier this month. “And then we passed up the easy layup for another easy layup. It's crazy how we try to help each other.”
That unselfishness has Central Valley (14-2) undefeated in Section 2 and ranked No. 3 in Class AAA.
Even if, at times, the team might be almost a little too unselfish.
“This is the most unselfish group I've ever coached,” Central Valley coach Brandon Ambrose said. “They pass up really good shots for someone else to get a better shot. We do a lot of film work, and when we're watching the film, I shake my head sometimes. You have to praise our kids because they really don't care who scores.”
The team uses a nine-player rotation with five seniors and four juniors. That group includes five starters from last season's lineup that reached the playoffs.
With so much experience, Ambrose has encouraged his players to play with patience. They run in transition but establish a half-court offense if the quick basket isn't there. The team averages 62 points and allows just 49.
“We're running our motion offense a lot more this year than in years past,” said Ambrose, in his fourth season at Central Valley. “I trust our guys. They can make decisions. I put the game in their hands more. I'm not calling as many plays.”
The lineup includes Sims (5-10), a three-year starter at point guard, along with senior Jake St. George (5-11), senior Tony Gates (6-4) and senior Matt Kline (6-8), a Seton Hill recruit. Either senior Brian Kolich (5-10), who missed time with a shoulder injury, or junior John George (5-10) has been the fifth starter. First off the bench are juniors Chris Anastas (6-2), B.J. Powell (6-3) and Dante Lucci (5-7).
The lineup doesn't have one go-to scorer to provide 20 points every night. Instead, five players average between nine and 12, with St. George and Kline as the top scorers.
“It's hard for teams to guard us because if someone's struggling, we know another guy is going to step up and make shots,” Sims said. “It's hard to keep all nine guys from scoring on one night.”
The team had four different leading scorers in its past five section games. St. George had 26 points against Ambridge and 16 against West Allegheny. Against Hopewell, Kline had 21. Against Ellwood City, George had 15. Against Beaver, Sims had 17.
“Last year, we'd have possessions where we'd dribble up, pass, pass, pass and then shoot,” Kline said. “But this year we know that we'll be able to keep passing the ball back and forth until we get that guy open.”
Central Valley has positioned itself as a WPIAL contender in what seems to be a strong classification. No Class AAA team is undefeated, but there are eight with just three losses or fewer.
To prepare for the playoffs, Central Valley has played nonsection games against the area's best Class AAAA teams. The team's two losses were to undefeated Obama Academy, the top City League team, and one-loss Hampton. Central Valley's schedule ends with a visit to Class AAAA No. 1 New Castle.
“You don't get to play home playoff games,” Ambrose said, “so we wanted to schedule as many quality opponents as possible, and we wanted to play them on the road.”
Central Valley (8-0) entered Thursday with a solid lead over Blackhawk (7-2) in the section standings. The teams meet again Feb. 4 at Blackhawk. Central Valley won the first matchup 67-47.
“We're looking way past just winning the section,” Kline said. “We want to win at Palumbo, hoist the trophy, and go deep into states.”