Trib Cup: PIAA tournament experience helps Aliquippa boys find success
The Aliquippa boys basketball team's PIAA Class AA second-round matchup against Bishop Canevin ended the same way as 55 of its last 56 games.
With a win.
Entering the PIAA quarterfinals with an unblemished record for the second year in a row, it would be easy for the Quips to get caught up in their accolades, a two-year stretch where they've earned a pair of section and WPIAL titles, along with a PIAA championship appearance.
But not this team.
“It's no different than if we had a few losses,” Aliquippa coach Nick Lackovich said. “We don't look at it that way, we don't talk about it, it's just another game. I know it may be hard to believe, but we don't really focus on being undefeated.”
“We really don't pay attention to it too much,” added senior guard Jassir Jordan. “We just go game by game and we take it one by one. You want to win each game you play.”
After becoming only the second team in WPIAL history to win back-to-back titles with perfect records (New Castle 2013-14), the Quips (27-0) are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and are a big reason why Aliquippa is in sixth place in the Class A standings.
The Quips are led by an impressive group of four seniors — guards Sheldon Jeter and Jordan along with forwards Kaezon Pugh (committed to play football at Pitt) and Chucky Humphries.
Playing together as teammates since elementary school, the on-court chemistry developed by this year's senior class has played a big part in its success.
”We have a lot of chemistry; that's the best part about playing with each other,” Jordan said.
“I guess it's overall chemistry,” added Lackovich. “These four seniors have all played together since they were in third grade or so. They know each other, they're close, they understand each other, they know where each other is on the court. That's kind of the biggest thing.”
One part of playing with the same teammates for so long is that they get to see each other's skills develop over time. And that's exactly what Jordan has noticed with Humphries, the Quips' leading scorer at 17.8 points per game and a West Liberty commit.
“Chucky's an outstanding player,” Jordan said. “I remember from freshman year, he's gotten better every single year. I watched him grow as a player.”
Next up for the Quips is West Middlesex, the third place team out of District 10, and the team Aliquippa defeated to earn a trip to the Giant Center for the state championship last year.
While the title game turned out to be the Quips lone loss in the last two seasons, it was the culmination of a playoff run that has provided valuable experience for this year's team, a group that hopes to win one more playoff game than last year.
“The run through the playoffs last year … it's an experience that makes your team better, makes them tougher, makes them more mentally tough to go through this,” Lackovich said. “We're just really happy that we were able to experience it, and we do feel a little better prepared this year.
“It's the last thing that we need to accomplish,” he added of the PIAA title game. “We definitely want to get there again and win this time.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.