Kings of the Court brings community basketball to New Kensington
Andrew Cressler hasn’t played a college basketball game in five years, but the Plum graduate and former standout at Seton Hill and Pitt-Johnstown still enjoys the opportunity to mix it up on the court in a competitive environment.
He is one of the more veteran players in the Kings of the Court league in its second year at Roy A. Hunt Elementary School in New Kensington.
The league brings together players of all ages, from those who have experienced all levels of play to those just beginning to break out in the game they love.
“It’s a weird feeling being the veteran in these leagues,” said Cressler, who also played in the league’s inaugural season in 2018.
“But it’s good to be able to give something back to these younger guys, as long as they’re listening. If this sparks interest in even one kid in New Ken or the surrounding areas, it’s doing its job. That’s all that matters. There’s so much untapped talent in this area that needs to get brought out more. Anything that helps do that is worth it.”
One of those younger guys is Kyle Tipinski, a 6-foot-3 rising sophomore forward at North Catholic who played as a freshman at Kiski Area.
“The competition is tough, and I like that,” he said. “A lot of the guys are stronger and quicker, and that shows me how much harder I need to work.”
Tipinski said he held his own in the first couple of games.
“I needed to score a little more, but I did pretty good on defense,” he said.
The league came together one year ago, mainly under the direction of lifelong friends Ian Benson, a Valley graduate, and Joey Marzullo, a Burrell grad.
Both had seen what good local basketball leagues had done for the community in the past, and they hoped to bring good things to the area through the league that mixes those in high school and college with others past their collegiate playing days.
“The high school guys can get a test of different levels of play so by the time the season comes, they will be ready both physically and mentally,” Benson said.
“It’s also good for the older guys to go against the younger, athletic kids to test themselves and try to stay in shape.”
Games began earlier this month and will be Mondays and Wednesdays through the end of August.
“There were so many good teams last year that everybody thought they could win the title,” Benson said. “When they didn’t, they were ready to go again. They wanted me to do a winter league, but I couldn’t as I am an assistant coach for Valley.”
Seven teams last year expanded into 10 this year with more than 90 players coming to games each week.
Benson’s goal is to get more high school players involved. One team consists entirely of Valley players, and recent Valley grads Isiah Mangol, Deonte Ross and David Primus are among the fresher legs in the league.
“I’ve been in a lot of leagues, and I’ve seen some of the best competition here,” Benson said. “There are no weak links. Every single team has good players who made something of themselves in the game. Everybody has played ball at some level. It really brings out the competitiveness in everybody.”
Penn Hills graduate Gerald “Scoot” Warrick said the league keeps him feeling young.
“I know I have to raise my game to keep up,” said the 31-year-old who played at Edinboro and professionally in Europe.
“I have a nickname of ‘Skywalker’ in the league because I guess I can still fly a little. I just want to be a good role model for the younger players.”
Warrick now is a member of the Harlem Wizards professional show team that helps raise money for community and special organizations and fundraisers around the world.
“I grew up playing ball with Ian. We played AAU when we were younger,” Warrick said. “It’s amazing what he and Joey are doing to get players to come out and play ball and show there is good things going on in the community.”
The goal for the league now is to keep growing, not only in the number and quality of teams and players, but in terms of impact.
“We got the league together last year, and it blossomed,” Marzullo said. “We can see it’s taken a jump in the competitiveness, the attraction, the appeal to the community But we want to branch out and go even farther with this. We want to make sure this is a staple of the community for a long time. We’re not satisfied.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-856-7400 x8632, [email protected] or via Twitter .