Share This Page

Burrell boys basketball team ready for move back to Class AA

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, 11:38 p.m.
Burrell's Matt Hess, the team's top returning scorer, goes up for a layup during a practice on Tuesday. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

With plenty of senior leadership, athleticism and size, Burrell appears to have the tools to make a successful transition from Class AAA to Class AA boys basketball.

But don't hand the Buccaneers a section plaque yet. Hold the applause and save the pats on the back for later.

“I told them to check their egos at the door,” Burrell third-year coach Rob Niederberger said. “This isn't like football where you have 11 guys. There's only five out there at a time. We have to form chemistry to make this work.”

Burrell went 10-11 last year, including a 4-10, next-to-last mark in Section 1-AAA. But after two years in Class AAA, they're back, arguably, where they belong.

The last time they played in Class AA, in 2009-10, they finished second in Section 1-AA and made their last playoff appearance.

Scenery will change significantly in that same section alongside Apollo-Ridge, Deer Lakes, Ford City, Summit Academy and West Shamokin.

“We don't have any superstars, but we have a lot of guys who are good players,” Niederberger said. “If they can work together, the potential is there for us to do some good things.”

Nine seniors will lead the charge.

“We have a lot of guys who played; some either started or lettered for us,” Niederberger said. “Of the nine seniors, eight have started at some point. We hope to be well-balanced, but we don't have a true go-to guy.”

Burrell probably won't be confused with a finesse team. Enforcers are abound.

Among them are notable football players Matt Hess, a dependable tight end, James Liput, who played quarterback, and star running back Cole Bush, who did not play basketball as a junior.

A swingman, Liput missed time last season with a concussion but should provide leadership in a healthier role.

Hess and Bush are a formidable — and bulky — post pair. Hess is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Bush is 6-2, 220.

Hess is the team's top returning scorer (11.2 ppg) and rebounder (7 rpg).

Add linemen-turned-forward Nick Nitowski (6-0, 215) to the post rotation, along with 6-3 Ryan Puchak, and the Bucs have a committee-led paint presence.

The backcourt will be led by senior guards Alex White and Pete Spagnolo, a duo who could share time at the point.

Senior 6-0 guard Jake Prefling also should figure in at guard, along with sophomore Joey Cox and junior Mitch Pollino.

Kyle Saylor, a 6-4 senior forward, could make an impact later in the season when he returns from a knee injury.

Burrell was strong defensively last year, tying Section 1-AAA champ Hampton for the section's lowest points-allowed average (48.1). More offensive pop will be needed to improve on the team's 47.6 points-per-game average.

Foreseeing unpolished potential, Niederberger toughened the Bucs' non-section schedule. It includes Central Valley, Quaker Valley and Clairton, as well as a trip to the State College holiday tournament.

“We have a lot fo work in front of us,” Niederberger said. “We're raw, but the ability is there. But we haven't done anything yet.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.