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High School Sports

Big Macs garnering preseason attention

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2001

It didn't take long for the Canon-McMillan boys basketball team to receive some attention during the off-season.

First, the program hired a new coach. And a few months later, it received news that a quality player was moving into the district.

The transformation of Canon-McMillan's program started March 19, when Rick Bell was hired to replace Rich Sonson, who resigned in February. Bell is known in Washington County for turning perennial loser Peters Township into the county's most consistent program.

Bell, however, isn't the only newcomer who should have a significant impact on the program. Justin Moore, a 6-foot-6 junior forward who led Bethel Park in scoring and rebounding last season, will suit up for the Big Macs this season.

There's certainly more interest at Canon-McMillan, but is a new coach and a legitimate go-to player enough to immediately reverse the fortunes of a program that has won just 30 games during the past four seasons?

"I've got to believe we can win right away," Bell said. "If I don't believe it, then how can the players and assistants believe it."

The Big Macs are coming off an 8-15 season, which included a 2-10 record in Section 2-AAAA. Twenty-seven teams of the 36 Class AAAA won more games than the Big Macs in 2000-01.

When Bell took over at Peters in 1988, he faced a similar situation. Peters was a program accustomed to losing, posting just seven wins in two seasons before Bell's arrival.

After Bell was hired, he immediately had five goals for Peters, which included making the WPIAL playoffs, winning a section championship, qualifying for the state tournament, winning a WPIAL championship and winning a state title. Bell said the lofty expectations were met with laughter from members of the community.

In his first season at Peters, the Indians posted an 8-13 record, and lost seven games by less than four points. In Bell's second season, the Indians posted a 13-9 record, and missed the playoffs by a game. In the third season, the Indians qualified for the WPIAL playoffs, and they haven't missed the postseason since.

"Last year, when we lost in the first round of the playoffs, it was a disappointment," Bell said.

The goals are the same at this stage of Bell's Canon-McMillan tenure, as they were when he started at Peters. Bell, however, has two big advantages at the beginning of this stint - time and experience.

Because Bell was hired in March, there's been enough time for him to develop personal relationships with his players, who enter the season knowing what's expected from them. At Peters, Bell wasn't hired until October, which was just one month before the season started.

This Canon-McMillan team also has much more experience than his first Peters team. The Big Macs return seniors Anthony Polenski, Garrett Broberg and Justin McKean, who all made significant contributions last season.

"We're more talented and more experienced then our first year at Peters Township," Bell said. "Nobody on our first Peters Township team had much experience."

Although Moore is just a junior, he also adds experience to the Big Macs' lineup. Moore was a starter for Bethel Park, and averaged 17 points per game. Bell said one of the things Moore improved during the off-season was his shooting.

"The things about him that is so positive is not where he is, but it's where he can be," Bell said. "His potential is unlimited."

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