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McKeesport boys, girls basketball teams dealing with different outlooks this season

- McKeesport senior center Luke Blacka Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
McKeesport senior center Luke Blacka Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
- McKeesport senior guard Carlito Acie Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
McKeesport senior guard Carlito Acie Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
- McKeesport coach Corey Gadson Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
McKeesport coach Corey Gadson Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
- McKeesport senior forward Jamie Grayson Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News
McKeesport senior forward Jamie Grayson Ronald Vezzani Jr.| For the Daily News

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By Keith Barnes
Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 11:56 p.m.
 

McKeesport boys basketball coach Corey Gadson knows better than to attempt to project where his team will finish in Section 2-AAAA this season.

“Who knows? It's like Mike Tomlin said, ‘I'm not going to tell the story. I'm just going to let it play out,' ” Gadson said. “That's my favorite quote from Mike.”

It's probably the best philosophy for the Tigers, considering how things went last year.

McKeesport (11-11 in 2011-12) overcame a slow early-season start to win three of its final four section games and eke into the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. It defeated Norwin in a preliminary-round game at California (Pa.) and led top-seeded Shaler by 12 before losing, 50-47.

“We grew up a lot playing against the No. 1 team. The thing that stood out for me the most from that game was that the guys were angry that we lost, even though a lot of people probably thought that ... we would be a one and done,” Gadson said. “We just keep reminding each other of that feeling, and hopefully that experience will help us.”

It certainly didn't help losing a key inside player before the school year. Junior forward Jaquan Davidson transferred to Elizabeth Forward, where he quarterbacked the Warriors' football team to its first playoff berth since 2005. Davidson was an integral part of the Tigers' scheme and netted what would have been the tying 3-pointer against Shaler with 16.6 seconds left, but the basket was disallowed because of a timeout.

Senior center Lucas Blacka (6-foot-6), who was sidelined for the playoffs with a broken foot, will be relied upon to fill the lane and pick up the scoring slack.

Even without Davidson, McKeesport has three starters returning, including junior point guard William Gadson, senior forward Jamie Grayson and senior shooting guard Carlitto Acie, the team's leading scorer last season. Acie again will key the offense, while senior Damonje Walker and junior Mikell Moore, who were solid off the bench last season, will have more prominent roles when the team opens Friday against Obama Academy.

“We've kind of got a veteran group that has seen a lot of action, and those guys are back,” Corey Gadson said. “We're expecting our veterans to step up and help us.”

While the boys have a considerable amount of returning experience, the opposite is true of the girls program, as the Lady Tigers lost almost the entire 2011-12 roster to graduation. For McKeesport (6-16 in 2011-12) to be competitive, it will have to grow up in a hurry around senior guard Kasey Dansak.

“She's played varsity basketball since she was a sophomore and … Kasey is a very coachable person, but we're looking that we have a bunch of very young girls that are very energetic,” Lady Tigers coach Eric Smith said. “They're excited and they're very willing to learn.”

Still, having a young team could make for a long season for the Lady Tigers, who have not qualified for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs since losing to Bethel Park in the opening round of the 2010 tournament.

“We're going to try to use the one player we've got coming back and try to build on her experience,” Smith said. “These young kids are very coachable, but they have a lot to learn about playing basketball at the Quad-A level.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.

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