Boys basketball preview: Burrell confident improvement is around corner

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020 | 6:07 PM


The Burrell boys basketball team won just one game last year, although it came close to adding to the win total on several occasions.

Second-year coach Mike Fantuzzo sees a bright future in a collection of returning players, including four starters, and some newcomers as the Bucs seek to turn around their fortunes.

“We came in with no varsity experience last year, and as the season went on, we really progressed, and it showed with how close we were in several games,” Fantuzzo said.

“At that point, we just couldn’t get past that hump to get the ‘W.’ They continued to work very hard in practice despite losing those many games in a row. I was impressed with their resilience and determination, and those things have really pushed them to where they are today and the opportunity to win games.”

Burrell’s lone win came in its Section 3-3A opener against Shady Side Academy, 40-35.

“We knew how young and inexperienced we were, but we also saw the good things that were developing throughout the year, and that really helped us look ahead to this year and even next year,” said junior guard Brandon Coury, the team’s leading scorer last year at 14.5 points a game.

Coury tallied a career-best 30 points in a 77-64 late-season loss to playoff-bound Steel Valley.

Fantuzzo said he appreciated the way the returning players and others stepped up in the offseason.

“They were working out on their own in the spring and early summer when we couldn’t do anything (because of covid shutdowns),” he said. “When I saw them for the first time in July, you could see how much bigger and stronger they were. We played some AAU games over the summer down in Monroeville and some other places. Seeing them hang with some really good teams and beating some of them, it really shot up their confidence.”

Fantuzzo said he is eager to also see the development of several returning starters: junior forward Caden DiCaprio (4.5 ppg.), junior guard Donovan Callahan (4.3) and senior guard Brayden Callahan.

Fantuzzo said junior 6-foot-3 forward/center Gavynn Thompson is expected to make an impact inside, and junior guard Travis Bitar (4.5 ppg. last year) should provide perimeter shooting.

Senior guard/forward Alex Arledge, the record-setting quarterback for the Burrell football team, also will look to make a difference in his first year out for basketball.

Fantuzzo said he hopes freshman guard Macky Bennis can have a breakout first season.

“I think we can go nine or 10 deep with people mixing in and out,” Fantuzzo said. “There are some kids who might not have started or saw a lot of playing time last year who have really improved and will get their chance.”

Burrell, along with Deer Lakes, Keystone Oaks and North Catholic, made the move up to Class 4A and will join holdovers Derry, Freeport and Knoch in Section 1.

Knoch tied Highlands for the Section 1 title last year.

“I spent seven years as an assistant at Knoch, so I am very familiar with the Freeports and the Deer Lakes,” Fantuzzo said. “It’s not going to be easy. We were in a fairly difficult section last year with South Allegheny going to the semifinals, and East Allegheny was pretty good. Now, stepping up against these bigger schools with bigger kids, established coaches and solid programs, we are ready for the challenge. We feel like we can compete.”

Burrell is slated to open its season Dec. 11-12 as the host of its tipoff tournament.

The Bucs face Laurel on Friday and Kiski Area on Saturday.

“We’ve been anticipating the start to the season and have been understanding of what might happen,” Fantuzzo said. “As long as they get to play, they’re ready to do whatever they need to do.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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