Boys basketball preview: Derry faces long road trips, tough competition in new section

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020 | 4:29 PM


When Derry boys basketball coach Tom Esposito stepped into the gymnasium on Monday, he didn’t know what to expect.

“I didn’t know if 15 players would show up for the first day of practice or 25,” Esposito said. “I told them we should cherish every moment and every game we get to play. We have to treat every section game as a playoff game.”

Derry got bounced to a new section, Section 1-4A. The closest road game, Burrell, is 45 minutes away. The rest of the section schedule consists of games more than an hour away — North Catholic, Keystone Oaks, Deer Lakes, Freeport and Knoch.

“We’ll play anyone, but every year we try to predict where (the WPIAL) will put Derry,” Esposito said. “We play against one Westmoreland County team. The other Westmoreland County teams (Belle Vernon, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland and Yough) are in the same section.

“I feel as long as the WPIAL continues to take four playoff teams, we will be in the running for a playoff spot.”

Derry finished 7-15 overall and 4-6 in the section in 2019-20. The Trojans lost to WPIAL finalist Belle Vernon, 65-41, in the opening round of the playoffs.

Esposito has been coaching at Derry for 24 years, 19 years as head coach, has four starters returning — seniors Ryan Bushey, Sam Jones and Josh Ulery and junior Tyson Webb. Ulery and Webb alternated after Justin Huss was lost for the season with a leg injury.

“Josh and Tyson picked up valuable playing time when Justin got hurt,” Esposito said. “It’s going to be a challenging season. We’re installing a new offense, but I was pleased with how they picked it up during the first day of practice.”

Esposito must replace the 20.8 points per game that Aiden Bushey averaged last season. Huss was averaging 20 points per game when he went down in the fourth game. Tanner Nicely averaged 11.2 points per game.

Ryan Bushey averaged 8.8 points per game.

“We weren’t able to get together in the summer or fall,” Esposito said. “We have to cram things in. Hopefully we stay out of foul trouble and we get into good shape. Conditioning is important for us.

“We’re still looking for the right combination of players seven through 13. The six returning must carry us.”

Esposito said the season will be a grind. He’s not sure how many games his team will actually get to play.

But he praised the work of district’s administration and athletic director Brett Miller for doing their best to get the season started.

“We have lots of work to do,” Esposito said. “There were positives and some glaring weaknesses I saw at practice. We have to continue to work hard. We have a long way to go.”

If his team continues to work hard, Esposito is confident Derry will be in every game.

Derry boys at a glance

Coach: Tom Esposito

Last year’s record: 7-15 (4-6 Section 1-4A)

Returning starters: Ryan Bushey (Sr., 5-7, G), Sam Jones (Sr., 6-4, C), Tyson Webb (Jr., 5-11, G), Josh Ulery (Sr., 5-11, G)

Returning lettermen: Nick Detore (Sr., 6-2, G), Grant Hudson (Sr., 6-2, F)

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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