After football season, Belle Vernon boys basketball team has title aspirations too

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Monday, November 22, 2021 | 8:39 PM


There is not much Belle Vernon boys basketball coach Joe Salvino has not dealt with on the hardwood in his 38 seasons in coaching.

Case in point: starting basketball practice while the Leopard football team is still playing and may be playing for some time. There are a couple of important players that will not be joining the hoops squad until their time on the gridiron is complete.

However, it does give the opportunity for some other players to step up and showcase their talents.

“It’s difficult because I have kids that are trying out and may have the illusion that they have a chance (of taking a football player’s place),” the veteran coach said. “As a coach, you just have to bide your time and wait and see what happens.”

When the football players are back in the fold, there is no question that Belle Vernon boasts one of the most talented rosters in Class 4A. Led by a quartet of seniors and a dynamic sophomore, the Leps will be a handful for any opponent, so long as they play together.

“Hopefully we can play like a team and do whatever it takes to win ballgames,” Salvino said. “I didn’t see any selfishness last year, and I don’t think that there will be any this year.”

Leading the charge for Belle Vernon will be the backcourt duo of Devin Whitlock and Daniel Gordon, who each averaged over 20 points a contest last season. A pair of returning starters underneath in Joe Klanchar and Tyler Kovatch will guard the rim and clean up the glass.

Then there’s sophomore Quinton Martin, who has already garnered attention from multiple colleges for his athletic abilities. He has six scholarship offers for football.

While mum on the who, Salvino says there is plenty of depth behind the starting five.

“I do have some young kids that I think are going to come up and help us out as freshmen,” he said.

As good as the Leopards will be offensively, they could be even better on defense. As a matter of fact, one could help feed the other.

“If we play defensively as well as we are capable of, the defense can feed into the offense,” Salvino said. “We can get out into fast breaks and get layups, get steals and do the things we need to do on the defensive end.”

If the team comes together and the youth infusion is complementary, Belle Vernon can be a very good team. But it will have to come one step at a time.

“We’ll go at it like we always do. Our main objective right now is to try to win the section,” Salvino said. “Then we will get into the playoffs and hopefully that championship game.

“Getting into the playoffs and making the championship game is a long way away. But first and foremost, we want to win the section.”

The section slate for Belle Vernon includes games with Elizabeth Forward, Mt. Pleasant, South Park, Southmoreland, Uniontown and Yough. The Leopards open section play Dec. 17.

“Elizabeth Forward has a pretty nice team coming back,” Salvino said. “Uniontown always has athletes and should be pretty good. South Park has a new coach and things may be changing there a little bit.”

Salvino also expects stiff competition from the other teams in the section as it could be a challenging road for the Leps to notch another undefeated section season.

“We’re going to have to play every game and we can’t take anybody lightly,” he said. “Every game we play should be played like it’s our last.”

Belle Vernon has made deep playoff runs the last two seasons. Two years ago, the Leopards lost the WPIAL final to Highlands and dropped a heartbreaker to Lancaster Catholic in the second round of the PIAA tournament. Last season, the Leopards fell to North Catholic at home by a point.

This season could produce more success, but Salvino says it’s a wait-and-see proposition.

“I think we can make a run, but time will tell,” he said.

Belle Vernon boys at a glance

Coach: Joe Salvino

Last year’s record: 13-2 (9-0 Section 3-4A)

Returning starters: Devin Whitlock (Sr., G), Daniel Gordon (Sr., G), Tyler Kovatch (Sr., F), Joe Klanchar (Sr., F)

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