Stonecheck provides physical presence for section-leading Franklin Regional

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018 | 10:29 PM


Hunter Stonecheck knows he gets under the skin of opponents, thrives on it even.

A grin forms slowly as he discusses his ire-inspiring game, like there are puppet strings pulling up the sides of his mouth.

“I love it,” said the 6-foot-4 senior forward from Franklin Regional.

But can a player truly work in petulance if he knows what he is doing from the opening tip?

He doesn't say much, buy his actions speak louder than his words.

To Stonecheck, an extra bump, an extended elbow, a handful of jersey, are all just parts of his master plan: to fuel your dislike him.

It's his personal advantage.

He is the Panthers' Bad Boy.

“I don't care if people don't like me,” Stonecheck said. “I am not a dirty player. I just play hard. I have just always been the guy who annoys people on the court. But it's just how I play and who I am. I want to wear teams down.”

Franklin Regional coach Steve Scorpion said his throwback forward plays with a controlled brand of nastiness.

“He plays physical and doesn't back down,” Scorpion said. “But yeah, he drives you nuts.”

Teammates appreciate Stonecheck's style because it has helped the Class 5A No. 3-ranked Panthers (9-2) vault to the top of Section 3.

“We love playing with him,” Franklin Regional guard Mike Bartolacci said. “He is hard-nosed and he likes to get after it. We have some heated practices, but he keeps us all going.”

Opposing teams, though, quietly appreciate Stonecheck's effort.

“He is the type of kid that every team needs,” Armstrong coach Greg Hutcherson said. “He does the dirty work and brings a hard-nosed mentality. He isn't trying to make friends on the court.”

Highlands also plays in Franklin Regional's section.

“Stonecheck is not someone who cares about points or stats, he just wants to win,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “He's big and strong and can handle the ball. He creates a hard matchup. I'd use the phrase no nonsense. There was a foul he committed in the fourth quarter of our game that our team took exception to. Was it dirty? I don't know, but did it send the message that if you want to win the section you have to come through Franklin Regional.”

Scorpion said teams presuppose that Stonecheck will try to lure them into his sleeper hold and agitate them. That distraction, though, can allow the Panthers' shooters to get more involved, with Stonecheck there waiting for the rebound.

“He is the guy nobody wants to play against,” Scorpion said. “Until he's on your team. Then you love him. Teams need that enforcer. He's a throwback to an Aaron Lovelace or a Mark Ponko, great post guys at Franklin.”

That's what happened in AAU when Stonecheck teamed up with players he had once sent home with bruises.

“It pumps them up,” Stonecheck said of teammates. “Everyone is focused on the goal of winning and they can kind of rally around a player who goes hard like that.”

And while he accepts his reputation for being the kid who swings at the pinata without a blindfold — he embraces it; tries to live up to it — Stonecheck doesn't want all the candy. He wants people to know he still plays within the parameters of the rules, and doesn't instigate with the intention of losing his cool.

“I have never had a technical,” he said proudly, pausing for a few seconds as if to wait for a reaction. “I don't take it too far.”

Said Scorpion: “He knows he can't do that. He knows I won't let that happen. He isn't going to do something stupid that will hurt our team. He is still a team kid.”

Stonecheck said he started honing his post skills playing alongside Todd Summers a few years ago. Franklin Regional is known for having industrial-strength athletes who translate well from football to basketball.

“Todd showed me a lot; it was great that I was able to play with him,” Stonecheck said.

Summers is now a tight end at Villanova.

Stonecheck's hobbies, aside from subtly trash-talking and chasing offensive putbacks, include watching YouTube videos of former Detroit Pistons ruffian Bill Laimbeer, notorious for starting trouble and irritating opponents to the point of retaliation.

“When I get some down time I search for Bill Laimbeer fights,” he said. “I love the ‘Bad Boys' 30 for 30. And, ‘I hate Christian Laettner.' I love Christian Laettner.”

Those are players after his own heart.

“And he has pictures of Dennis Rodman all over his room” said Scott Stonecheck, Hunter's father. “He is all about the ‘Bad Boys.'

“The competition makes him tick. He loves the underdog. He doesn't have all the physical attributes but makes plays when it counts and has mental and physical toughness like no other. He's a glue player.”

Stonecheck, though, also is a die-hard Boston sports fan who revels in the New England Patriots' success, even if it comes at the expense of the Steelers. He scored a sideline pass a few weeks ago when the Patriots visited Heinz Field — on the visitors' sideline, of course, hoping to get as close to Tom Brady as possible.

He also is a fan of Celtics legend Larry Bird. He even wears No. 33.

“I like to watch the video of him fighting Dr. J,” Stonecheck said. “That's great stuff.”

Stonecheck also plays linebacker and tight end in football, He recently was the recipient of the team's annual Mark Ponko Award, highlighting “the highest level of toughness, work ethic, character and skill.”

Ponko was a star defensive back who walked on and became a starter at Pitt in the early 2000's.

“He has always just been a tough, ‘hard,' player,” said Scott Stonecheck, a former Penn Hills wrestler who is about five inches smaller than his son. “He gets his size from his mom's side of the family. She has some tall relatives.

“I remember Hunter smashing his finger in a door and his nail hanging off. He taped it up and went out and played quarterback. He's not a mean kid. He just plays hard.”

Hunter Stonecheck's grandfather, Ron Willard, was a basketball standout at Hempfield and went on to a hall of fame career at Duquesne.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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