Hester to return to West Mifflin lineup
C.J. Hester never got used to the idea of sitting on the West Mifflin Area bench.
Even if his exile over the final two weeks of the regular season was medically induced after the Titans' standout senior guard/forward sustained a concussion during a Feb. 4 game against South Park.
"I really hated sitting out, but it was something I had to do to heal up," Hester said.
On the eve of second-seeded West Mifflin's (20-2) WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game against No. 15 seed West Allegheny (13-10) tonight at Baldwin, however, Hester finally received some good news in terms of his playing time with coach Lance Maha's Titans.
His days as a bench warmer are now over.
Hester was cleared by his doctor Tuesday to return to action, just in time for West Mifflin's playoff run to commence.
"I feel great," Hester said. "The doctor completely cleared me. He just said, 'Go at your own discretion. If you start feeling any symptoms, just pull yourself out or ask to come out and sit down.'" It was news that certainly came as music to the ears of Maha and his team.
While the Titans came up victorious in their final three games of the regular season without Hester, the return of the 6-foot-4 Division I recruit's 19.9 points and 11 rebounds per game should prove pretty valuable against a West Allegheny team that has won six of its past seven contests.
"He's been a large part of our success this season and he's a great kid," Maha said. "Probably above and beyond how much he's going to help our team, I'm pleased for him because it would have been almost an injustice for him not to finish out his senior season being a part of whatever ... we end up accomplishing."
After only being medically cleared to jog and shoot since sustaining his second concussion over the past two seasons, Hester took part in his first full practice Tuesday.
If Monday night's snowstorm would not have postponed the Titans' game against the Indians, originally scheduled for Tuesday at 8 p.m., Hester would have been fully cleared to participate in his team's first-round game.
Instead, he received some critical practice time with fellow senior forwards Lonzell Coles and Leondrae Cobbs. It was this combination in West Mifflin's front court that formed the nucleus of players who led the Titans on their postseason run to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals one season ago.
"We've been running the same stuff for four years now," Hester said. "It wasn't anything new. It felt good to get back in there and start running everything again, so I don't feel rusty or anything."
And West Mifflin will have an equal amount of familiarity with the team they will face to open their 2010-11 playoff campaign.
Over the past two seasons, the Titans met West Allegheny in Section 4- AAA play, before WPIAL realignment moved the Indians to Section 2-AAA before the start of this season.
Like last year, West Allegheny relies heavily upon 6-foot-5 senior forward Greg Kaulius and 6-foot-4 junior Trevor Williams in its front court.
But this time around, the Indians also will have an added advantage in 6-foot-2 junior guard Dylan Bongiorni, who transferred from Burgettstown before this school year.
After scoring 19.7 points per game with Burgettstown as a sophomore, Bongiorni sat out the first half of the regular season this year. The Indians are 7-1 with Bongiorni, also the West Allegheny football team's quarterback, in the line-up.
"He's a very good player," Maha said. "They're a little bit different team than they were early in the year."
"He's going to be a very, very difficult match-up," Maha added of Bongiorni. "I'd venture to say he's about as good a guard as we've played against this year if not the best."
In his first game back, Hester will match up in West Mifflin's man-to- man defense against Bongiorni.
It's the kind of challenge the Titans' senior leader was dreaming about while sitting on the bench nursing his injury.
"There's no better feeling than playing in the playoffs," Hester, who has received a scholarship offer from Division I Florida Gulf Coast, said. "I'm glad I get to at least help my team try to win."