Coached by school's all-time leading scorer, Wilkinsburg surges to Section 4 title
A 16-point loss made Wilkinsburg coach Eugene Wilson feel optimistic.
Yes, the Tigers lost. But more importantly, they didn't fold when faced with the defending WPIAL champion.
“The kids battled,” said Wilson, who fielded a roster with many raw talents. “They really put up a fight.”
Now two months later, confident Wilkinsburg enters the WPIAL Class A playoffs as Section 4 champion with two talented scorers and a first-year coach determined to bolster his alma mater's basketball program and his community.
“I'm more than thrilled. I'm ecstatic,” Wilson said of this season's success. “It really hasn't sunk in.”
Wilkinsburg, the No. 6 seed, faces No. 11 Union in the first round at 8 p.m. Friday in Butler. They'll play in the same gym where the Tigers faced Vincentian Academy in December and convinced their coach they had potential. A year earlier, Wilkinsburg had lost to Vincentian by 34.
Not since the 2007-08 season had Wilkinsburg (12-7, 9-1) won a section title. The Tigers clinched this season's title Feb. 4 with a 70-53 victory over St. Joseph. The matchup at home attracted alumni to the school.
Landing the coaching job was personal for Wilson, who considers it a way to help kids from his community.
“I come from the same place they came from and went through some of the same things they went through,” Wilson said. “I can help them through that.”
Wilson, 35, starred for Wilkinsburg's basketball team in the 1990s and later was a 1,000-point scorer for Pitt-Johnstown. He already worked for the school district as parent community liaison when he was hired last summer as basketball coach.
“It meant everything in the world because I'm able to give back to the community,” Wilson said. “We can show a different side of Wilkinsburg and the type of people we have here. It's different than what people think.”
Assistant coaches Wolford Dennis and Greg Anderson also have Wilkinsburg ties. The third assistant is Ricky Hardy.
Wilkinsburg has five seniors on its roster, but only one, D'Shawn Adair, had any organized basketball experience before this season. Adair, who's a versatile guard-forward, ranks second on the team in scoring with 18.4 points.
The leading scorer is junior guard Isaiah Pete (6-foot), who averages 20.1. Wilson set Wilkinsburg's career scoring record in 1997, but the coach expects Pete to break it next season.
Pete scored 45 points in a double-overtime loss at St. Joseph on Jan. 14, when Adair was out. Adair scored 25 in the rematch, and Pete had 23.
But with Wilson's urging, the rest of the roster has begun to contribute more, he said.
The team's rotation also includes seniors Montay Clancy (6-1) and Rafiq Simpson (6-2), senior Desmond Stolich (6-1), and freshmen Kenneth Eleam (5-11), Koran Fleming (5-8) and Dremar Everette (6-4).
The team enters the playoffs with a five-game winning streak.
“They understand what's before them,” Wilson said. “But no moment is too big for them.”