Boys basketball preview: Hampton getting ready for season unlike any other

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Saturday, November 28, 2020 | 11:01 AM


There are a lot of new faces on the Hampton boys basketball team, even if coach Joe Lafko can’t quite see them right now.

“This year is so different from any year that I’ve experienced,” said Lafko, a WPIAL Hall of Famer entering his 25th season at Hampton, “and it’s solely with the covid situation that we’ve had to deal with.”

While the pandemic wiped out the spring and summer leagues and forced the players to wear face coverings at practice, Lafko is encouraged by early workouts.

The Talbots return two starters — senior guards Seth Koontz and Quinn Morrow — as they seek to reach the WPIAL playoffs for the 17th consecutive season. Hampton is scheduled to open the season Dec. 11 in the North Hills tipoff tournament.

“Considering everything that we have in place right now, especially with the mask requirement at practices, the energy and the effort has been really good,” Lafko said. “But we’re young. We have a lot of inexperience.”

The Talbots graduated their entire frontcourt, including first-team all-section forward Ben Ringeisen, who last season averaged a team-best 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, and forward Colby Mignogna, a second-team all-section pick.

“Ben was the focus of our offense the last two years,” Lafko said. “We don’t have that this year. So we are looking at utilizing some of our other strengths, which is on the perimeter.”

Koontz, a 6-foot-3 wing who last season averaged 10.9 points per game, is the team’s top shooter. He shot 90% from the free-throw line last season (27 of 30) and spent many hours on the half-court basketball hoop in his backyard during the offseason.

“Every day I try to shoot about 500 shots,” he said. “That’s definitely how you improve your jump shot.”

Said Lafko: “Seth is going to have to score for us, and we are counting on him to do that. He’s a very good shooter. There’s no doubt about it.”

Lafko is undoubtedly a very good coach. He owns a career mark of 423-214 at Hampton with only two losing seasons in the past 21 years.

But the past two seasons, by Hampton’s standards, have been mild letdowns. The Talbots went a combined 23-21 and lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs each year. Prior to the mini-slump, the Talbots had won at least one playoff game in 10 consecutive seasons with six WPIAL championship game appearances.

“This year the goal is definitely to make playoffs, and my personal goal is I want to at least win the first round of playoffs,” Koontz said. “I think we have a pretty good team. We have really good chemistry. I think we will have a pretty decent season.”

Other returning players vying for starting jobs include junior guard Matt DeMatteo, the school’s starting quarterback, and sophomore guards Brennan Murray and Eric Weeks.

While Lafko is “still unsure about who will be in the exact starting five,” he said juniors Bobby Oliver and Zander Plizga, sophomore Matt Moser and freshmen Robert Coll and Liam Mignogna, a 6-foot-7 forward, also are in the mix.

Other varsity newcomers include sophomore forward Braxton Eastly and sophomore wing Jaden McMeekin.

“This is wide open as far as players earning some playing time,” Lafko said. “Part of that is due to the lack of being able to play many games in the offseason.

“Because we lost the spring and the summer — and everybody is in a similar situation — this year in particular there are a lot of question marks leading into the season as far as who is going to earn those minutes.”

The Talbots, who played a nine-game schedule in an outdoor fall league, are now part of Section 4-5A along with section mainstays Armstrong, Indiana, Mars, Plum and Shaler. Highlands is a newcomer, while Franklin Regional and Kiski Area were moved out as part of the WPIAL realignment.

“I think the potential for this year’s team is really good,” Lafko said. “I think we will improve tremendously as the season wears on. I am a little concerned about early season success because of the lack of experience and the lack of time we’ve been able to have with the group, but I am looking forward to really having this team develop as the season progresses.”

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