Lincoln Park's Minnie to face former Monessen teammates
Elijah Minnie will share the Palumbo Center court with hometown friends from Monessen, but they can't all become WPIAL champions.
His friends will wear Greyhounds jerseys for Friday night's Class A basketball championship. His shirt will say Lincoln Park.
“It's going to be heated and competitive,” said Minnie, who left Monessen last school year to enroll at the Beaver County charter school. “They're not just going to lay down and let me win this — especially me playing against them. I've played with these guys my whole life. I know exactly what I have ahead of me.”
Minnie's family still lives in Monessen. But they will sit on Lincoln Park's side for the 7 p.m. matchup. Minnie thinks he'll have some fans on Monessen's side, too.
“They understand that going to Lincoln Park was best for me,” said Minnie, who cited academic and social issues in Monessen for his move. “I don't think they'll say anything negative about me.”
His friends aren't bitter that he transferred, he said. He still talks with them often. And some Monessen fans cheered for him Tuesday when Lincoln Park played as part of a semifinal doubleheader that included the Greyhounds.
“It's not like they all hated me for leaving Monessen,” said Minnie, a 6-foot-9 forward who averages 17 points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
“At the end of the day, it's just a game that we both want to win really bad,” he said.
But his transfer drew vocal protests from Monessen administrators, who successfully petitioned the WPIAL last season to rule Minnie ineligible. The PIAA overturned that decision but not until Minnie had missed part of the season.
“I'm not their biggest fan,” said Mike Bariski, Lincoln Park's athletic director and assistant coach, who had a Monessen fan chastise him Tuesday for “stealing Minnie.”
At issue for some is the charter school system itself, not necessarily Minnie. Lincoln Park, a performing arts school in Midland, draws students from around the region.
“I feel that we are playing for more than Monessen, which we are proud to do. But I think we are playing for every public school in the state,” Monessen coach Joe Salvino said. “I have nothing against Lincoln Park, its coaches or its players. But it just isn't fair that they are allowed to do things that I'm not allowed to do at my school or any other public school.”
Lincoln Park has a lineup with three starters 6-7 or taller, which includes Pitt recruit Maverick Rowan, a sophomore guard. The Leopards are the top-ranked team in the state.
Monessen upset 2013 champion Vincentian in the semifinals. Yet Minnie predicted this championship matchup.
“He said two weeks ago when the pairings came out that Monessen would be in the final,” Bariski said. “He was right. … He knows all of those kids and he's ready to go.”