Class AA boys basketball preview: Plenty of changes facing defending WPIAL, PIAA champion Lincoln Park
When Lincoln Park starts its season, the state's player of the year won't be there. And neither will the coach of the year.
The state champion Leopards already had braced for adversity. They'll face the upcoming season in a new classification without star junior Maverick Rowan, whose family moved to Florida.
But coach Mark Javens' absence adds another element.
“If someone has a bigger adjustment than us, I'd like to know who they are,” athletic director Mike Bariski said.
Javens, coping with an undisclosed illness, hasn't been with the team for several months, said his son, Mark Javens Jr. Bariski will coach the team with Javens' son as his assistant.
“(Being away from basketball) is really getting to him,” Javens Jr. said. “Hopefully, he'll be coming around because he'd like to get back here.”
Bariski said the team will approach the season as if Javens won't be available, but would welcome him back whenever he's healthy. Since Javens joined Lincoln Park's staff in 2009, the Leopards are 120-29 with two WPIAL championships and a PIAA title.
“I'm keeping his seat warm,” Bariski said. “When he's better and cleared to go, it's his job.”
Lincoln Park won WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles last season with a 30-1 record. Javens was named the state's Class A coach of the year in a vote of Pennsylvania sports writers.
Rowan, a junior, was named the state's player of the year. The 26-point scorer left in August.
“We heard about it, were shocked, and then moved on from it,” senior Antonio Kellem said. “If you're not part of the team, that's fine. Best of luck to you. We'll focus on the team.”
That was only the first of many adjustments. With an enrollment increase, the team moves to Class AA. And without the height of last season's roster, the Leopards have a new approach.
Kellem (16.0 ppg) and sophomore Nelly Cummings (13.5 ppg) lead a guard-driven, speed-oriented offense.
“Last year, we were just a big team and we overwhelmed a lot of people,” Cummings said. “This year we're going to play a different game with a faster tempo.”
With Elijah Minnie and Ryan Skovranko now at Robert Morris, the frontcourt features Dermotti Welling (6-8, jr.), Zay Craft (6-2, jr.), Chance Tomassetti (6-2, sr.) and Mike Smith (6-5, so.). Junior guard Nick Aloi will join the lineup once eligible, on Jan. 21 at the latest.
“This year we'll be about putting the ball in the basket conventionally,” Bariski said. “Jump shots, layups, fast breaks instead of that high-wire act we used to have.”