Monessen braces for 'small college'

| Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Monessen coach Joe Salvino gives the impression that he is preparing his team for more than a WPIAL Class A title game tonight, which is big enough as it is.

The third-seeded Greyhounds (20-5) will tangle with top-seeded Lincoln Park (24-1) at 7 p.m. at the A.J. Palumbo Center for the WPIAL Class A title, but in Salvino's eyes this game is so much more.

“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,” 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.

“At Monessen, we know what we have, the kids we have. We can't go out and just get kids from anywhere we want to and then have that community's taxpayers pay for it. Why should taxpayers have to pay for a kid to go to a school when there is a school in their own community they can go to? That just isn't right.”

Lincoln Park is a charter school and one of its players, 6-9 center Elijah Minnie, is a Monessen resident. The Monessen School District pays Minnie's tuition to attend the performing arts school.

“And don't tell me anything about kids going there for performing arts,” Salvino said. “Those kids are there for one thing and one thing only, and it's not dancing. And I know I'm only saying what every other public school coach is thinking. The difference is I've been here for 30 years and what can they do to me?”

Salvino fired one last salvo about the system that determines how charter schools like Lincoln Park can draw players.

“Look at their roster. It's like a small college roster,” he said. “This is Class A basketball, for goodness sakes. But they are like the Yankees trying to buy a championship. Here, if they want one so bad, they can come see me and I'll give them one of mine.”

When Salvino got around to talking basketball, he said Lincoln Park is a tremendous team that will cause a lot of problems for the Greyhounds.

“They are very big and can shoot the ball well from the outside,” he said. “They have kids 6-7, 6-9, and my tallest is 6-2, so that will be an issue for us.

“We're going to have to use our speed and athleticism to combat their height. But I think if we do the things we need to do, know how to do, we can give this team a game and we can beat them.”

The Leopards are led by 6-7 sophomore Maverick Rowan, who averages 25.2 ppg.

“Rowan is a tremendous player,” Salvino said. “He has the ability to take over a game by himself.”

Minnie, at 6-9, averages 16.6 points and 6-7 Ryan Skovranko averages 13.6. Rounding out the LP lineup is 6-1 Antonio Kellem (12.7) and 5-10 Renell Cummings (10.6).

Salvino said his team is excited about playing Lincoln Park.

“First, it's a title game, and second I'm sure they are looking forward to going against Elijah, who once played with them,” Salvino said. “I've always said if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We beat (defending champion) Vincentian and now we get to play Lincoln Park.

“It's a challenge all my players over the years looked forward to. This is why you play the game.”

The Greyhounds will counter with a lineup of 6-1 senior Clintell Gillaspie (18.9), 5-9 senior Javon Brown (14.5), 6-1 senior Justice Rawlins (8.7), 6-2 senior Tyler Yuille (6.6) and 5-9 junior Noah Rullo (3.5).

Three key players off Monessen's bench are 6-1 freshman Justice Rice (7.0), 6-0 freshman Jaden Altomore (7.6) and 5-10 senior Kayne Jackson (4.5).

“Ever since Lincoln Park became such a dominant program, I figured we would see them some day,” Salvino said. “Well, the day has come. It should be a lot of fun.”

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or

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