WPIAL AAAA boys basketball preview: Runners-up last season, North Allegheny hopes to take next step
The same night the North Allegheny boys basketball team lost to Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game, then-junior Keegan Phillips gathered the players who would be returning for a team meeting.
“We just sort of talked about how we could take the next step and win it,” Phillips said. “Right away after we lost, we started getting ready.”
Phillips is the only returning starter from last year's team that won the most games in program history (24-4), finished as the WPIAL runner-up and made it to the second round of the PIAA playoffs. Among the key losses were leading scorer Cole Constantino, who averaged 23.4 points and was a second-team all-state selection last year, as well as Mike Fischer, Jordan Lake and Will Sandherr, the Tigers' second-leading scorer.
In addition to Phillips, a shooting guard, the Tigers return Curtis Aiken Jr., a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard who has scholarship offers from Tennessee and Pitt, Griffin Sestelli and Isaiah Zeise.
Chief among the new players joining the team is junior Isaac Barnes, the 6-foot-7 son of new Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes. The younger Barnes most recently played at Mountain Crest High School in Hyrum, Utah.
“He's skilled,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said. “He's trying to learn the system as best he can right now.”
Phillips said having a player of Barnes' size can intimidate opponents.
“If you have him inside just taking up their biggest defender, it's going to open a lot of opportunities for shooters on the outside,” Phillips said. “It gives us a good inside and outside game, and we haven't had that the last couple of years.”
DeGregorio hopes the players left from last year's team learned not only from the experience but also from the outgoing players about what it takes to be good leaders.
Phillips said it's also on him and his fellow seniors to make sure players know their roles and don't try to do too much as individuals.
“I think we're capable of winning our section, which is always difficult, then getting back to the WPIAL championship,” Phillips said. “Our coach is big on knowing your role in the system, so if everyone plays his designated role helping the team, we'll be in good shape.”