New Carlow men's basketball team mines local talent
There's a new kid on the block in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Carlow is fielding a men's basketball team for the first time in school history in 2014-15, as a KIAC member.
Celtics coach Tim Keefer is aiming to construct a model program from the ground floor up.
“At Carlow, we are trying to build a great culture. Great cultures attract great players. If we can build a great culture, great players will come and play for us,” said Keefer, who has more than 30 years of experience coaching in the Pittsburgh area. “We hit the ground running as soon as I was hired in late October.”
Carlow is a Catholic, women-centered, liberal arts institution embodying the heritage and values of the Sisters of Mercy.
The sisters founded the school in 1843 under the name of Mount Mercy College, which was renamed Carlow College in 1969 and granted university status in 2004.
In 2013-14, Carlow's total enrollment was 2,294 students; more than 90 percent were females.
The university has women's varsity sports in basketball, volleyball, soccer, cross country, tennis and softball, along with men's basketball and cross country.
Carlow's roster for its inaugural men's basketball season looks like a “Who's Who” of WPIAL roundball talent.
Keefer and his staff have landed an impressive crop of freshman recruits, including athletes from WPIAL playoff teams such as Lincoln Park, Central Valley, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Forward, Norwin, Jeannette, Uniontown and Brownsville.
Lincoln Park won the WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles last season; Central Valley was the WPIAL Class AAA champion.
Lincoln Park (30-1), Central Valley (25-4), Thomas Jefferson (23-4), Uniontown (22-3) and Brownsville (14-8) all captured section titles and compiled a collective 114-20 record.
“The players we went after came from winning programs,” said Keefer, who spent two decades coaching at Oliver High School, where he also served as athletic director from 2009 to 2012. “We have players who have won section championships, and WPIAL and state championships. We want players who want to earn a college degree and are total team players.”
The Celtics' backcourt will be stocked by freshman prospects Zach Bryan (Norwin), Zach Talley (Thomas Jefferson), Jacob St. George (Central Valley), Cole Novotney (Brownsville) and Jordan Pratt (Uniontown).
The forward positions will include freshmen Chris Pipkin (Lincoln Park), Charlie Scharbo (Thomas Jefferson), Austin Matta (EF) and Miles Sunder (Jeannette).
The incoming freshmen will be joined by senior forward Jehosa Wright (Oliver), junior forward Justin Harshbarger (Somerset), plus sophomore guards Tyler Trombley (Belle Vernon) and Vinny Bucci (Frazier).
Bryan, a 5-foot-10 point guard, helped lead Norwin to a WPIAL Class AAAA playoff berth last season.
“Zach was our first freshman to commit to Carlow, so he is very special,” said Keefer, who is assisted by David Gordon and Ryan Shank. “He was the first student-athlete to want to be a part of history.
“Zach is a tremendous ball-handler and floor leader.”
Bryan was a three-year starter at Norwin, which advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs all three years. He was selected to play in the Pennsylvania vs. Maryland all-star game in Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh Roundball Classic.
“There are a couple reasons why I chose Carlow,” said Bryan, who also competed in football and track in high school. “First, they are one of only a few schools who offer my intended major (biology/perfusion). I love the location, and in terms of basketball we will be competing in a great conference. I really like the coaching staff; I have a lot of respect for them. I think they are a great fit for me and my personality. Also, the style of play the coaches are installing is a good fit for me and the other players coming in.”
Bryan considered attending Hood College, College of Staten Island, Washington & Jefferson and Alderson Broaddus before opting for Carlow. He committed to Carlow only a few days after the end of the 2013-14 high school basketball season.
“To be honest, it's pretty cool, and I am really excited to be able to say I was the first ever commit and (be) a plank owner of the men's basketball program at Carlow,” Bryan said. “At first, I really didn't think too much about it. But looking back now, it really is an honor and humbling opportunity.
“It's not easy to continue to play after high school; not many kids will get the chance. I'm grateful to the coaches who believed in me and took a chance on me.”
The recruiting process started in November, and Bryan visited the university in January.
“Coach Keefer and Coach Shank watched me play a couple times, and we continued to talk a lot throughout the season,” Bryan said. “We talked a lot, not just about hoops but about school and life stuff, and my future.
“I like everything about the school. I believe it's a perfect fit for me.”
College transfers Brandon Lioi, a junior guard from Seton Hill; Zack Taylor, a sophomore forward from Case Western; Kirk Marshall, a junior guard from Elmira Academy; Rushan Roberts, a sophomore guard from CCAC; Bryce Leach, a sophomore forward from Bethany; and Kirk Marshall, a junior guard from Elmira Academy; are looking to make an immediate impact as well for the Celtics.
“We want to make sure every player understands the commitment it takes — first in the classroom, then applying that same commitment onto the court,” Keefer said. “We will stress being fundamentally strong both on offense and defense.”
Thomas Jefferson won the most games in one season in school history in 2013-14. The Jaguars advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals and the second round of the PIAA playoffs.
Two key seniors on that TJ team were Talley, a 5-11 point guard, and Scharbo, a 6-3 forward.
“Zach and Charlie should do well in college,” Dom DeCicco, Thomas Jefferson's floor boss, said. “They will have to be patient, because they have done a lot of winning in high school and now are going to a start-up program. There could be some growing pains.
“On the upside, they should be able to get playing time early. They both have the athleticism to succeed at the next level. The key for both will be adjusting to the physical play and speed difference from high school to college. They are both great kids and have made our school and basketball program proud.”
Talley, also a standout wide receiver/defensive back on the TJ football team, was a two-year starter in the backcourt for the Jaguars. He averaged 12.5 points in the regular season and led the team in 3-point field goals.
“I chose Carlow University for a select few reasons,” Talley said. “The No. 1 reason is for academics. That's No. 1 before I take the court. Second is Coach Keefer, Coach Gordon and Coach Shank. Their coaching ability and their characteristics were a key factor in the selection process. Another reason is the history our team will be making. The first men's basketball team at a university — you just don't see that often.”
Talley, who like Bryan plans to major in biology and pursue a career as a perfusionist, started at point guard for two years and was a three-year letterman in basketball at TJ. He was named first-team all-section as a senior.
“The more we saw Zach, the more he impressed us, so went after him,” Keefer said. “Like all TJ players, he knows how to win. He's a strong defensive player. He's a very hard worker, with good ball skills, and is improving his shooting.”
Scharbo averaged 16.9 points and 10 rebounds last season. He scored 20 points or more 10 times and was the Jaguars' leading scorer in 16 of 27 games.
“Charlie is ‘Mr. Everything,' ” Keefer said. “He can rebound, shoot and he handles the ball well. He gets every 50-50; no one in our league will outwork him.
“Charlie was on our radar from the first time we started our WPIAL recruiting list. Our guys from the South Hills area will help us to build a great foundation.”
Scharbo, who was recruited by Thiel, Washington & Jefferson and Penn State Beaver, was named the Daily News Boys' Basketball Player of the Year.
“He is not fast (and can't) jump out of the building, but he got to the basket and finished around the rim as good as anyone I have ever coached,” DeCicco said.
Scharbo, Talley and Bryan represent a portion of the overall talent Keefer and his staff will be attempting to mold into a cohesive college basketball unit.
“They are part of the great culture we are trying to build at Carlow,” Keefer said.
Bryan is anxious to begin practice and start the 2014-15 season.
“I'm really excited and can't wait to get things rolling,” he said. “I want to help get this program started in the right direction, and I'm looking forward to the challenge of a new start at Carlow as well as playing ball at the next level.
“I have high expectations for the program. We expect to compete immediately. It's not easy to start a program from scratch, but I have faith in the coaching staff and the players coming in. I expect the program to grow each year, and I know it will. I believe and expect the Carlow basketball program will have a winning tradition in years to come. It's very exciting to be a small part of it.”
Carlow will join Alice Lloyd, Asbury, Brescla, Cincinnati Christian, IU East, IU Kokomo, IU Southeast, Point Park and Rio Grande in the KIAC.
The Celtics will tip off Nov. 15 at Ohio Valley.
“We are here to provide student-athletes an opportunity to earn a college degree and experience playing basketball at very high level,” Keefer said. “Our players at Carlow are expected to concentrate on effort and execution. The results will take care of themselves both on the court and in the classroom.”
Keefer has had previous success at the college level. He helped expand the Pennsylvania State Greater Allegheny men's basketball team from a two-year to four-year program, and under his leadership the team won the PSUAC championship in 2006.
“Our players will work as hard as they can, and they will do it in a total team atmosphere,” Keefer said. “Success is never measured in terms of winning and losing.”
The Celtics' home opener will be Nov. 21 against Kent State Tuscarawas.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.