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Athletic McKeesport boys basketball team features new coach, up-tempo style

| Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, 1:06 a.m.

The basketball season has yet to begin, but Gerald Grayson's return to McKeesport already is drawing crowds.

Open gym workouts have pulled in between 40 and 50 kids, a marked improvement from years past.

“We do have a lot,” said power forward Khalil Perdue. “It's much more (than last year).”

A healthy buzz surrounds the program as Grayson, who led the McKeesport girls to a WPIAL title during the 1997-98 season, will take over the boys program. He spent the past two seasons coaching the Elizabeth Forward boys team and racked up a 32-15 record.

But the McKeesport native, who has spent his entire life in the city save for the four years he attended Boise State in Idaho, couldn't resist the opportunity to return to his alma mater.

“I was really satisfied where I was at, but you can't turn down your home town,” said Grayson, who goes by the nickname “Puddin.”

Grayson has not been disappointed by what he's seen so far, and has high expectations for the trio of Jordan Payne, Demetrius Diggs and Perdue, a power forward who averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Perdue, who was granted an additional year of eligibility by the WPIAL this month, said he spent the summer working on his jump shot from just inside the 3-point line. At 6-foot-2, he is small for a power forward, but his athleticism more than makes up for that. He hopes his newly-honed threat will draw defenders out of the paint where he can either take them off the dribble, or pass inside to a cutting guard.

As for Payne and Diggs, Grayson said he believes they make up one of the best guard tandems in the WPIAL. And Diggs has caught his eye since the first open gym.

“(Grayson) likes fast breaks and easy buckets, and that's what I've been doing in open gyms,” said the 5-11 Diggs.

The up-tempo style Grayson demands is perfect for a team loaded with athletes.

“It's going to fit us very good,” said Payne. “We have a lot of fast athletes, and we are going to be all over the court.”

Payne suffered a hairline fracture to his fibula during the football season, but he is expected to be back in 2-3 weeks.

“I can't even go the open gyms because I want to be out there so bad,” said Payne, a returning starter who averaged 15 points per game.

The Tigers missed the playoffs last season, but expect to compete with the likes of Franklin Regional and Plum for Section 2-AAAA supremacy.

The team's mantra is “Can you outwork yourself?” So far, the results have been good.

“I'm really excited because they work exceptionally hard,” Grayson, who replaced former coach Corey Gadson, said. “We challenge them every day that we can't lower the standards of our program, and they bought into that.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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