Boys basketball preview: Highlands ready to take on challenges

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020 | 5:15 PM


The Highlands boys basketball team is ready for the challenge. Multiple challenges actually.

On Monday night, Highlands School District reversed a decision it made earlier this month and approved winter sports to move forward after recently delaying them until mid-January.

So the Golden Rams are behind in terms of preparing for the season. They also are jumping up to Class 5A and were placed in a section with Armstrong, Hampton, Indiana, Shaler, Plum, and Mars.

“We feel good, and we’re confident in our abilities,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “The standard doesn’t change, and we’re not looking to change what we do because we have some really familiar faces that have been around our program for a long time.”

The challenges don’t stop there, though. Stoczynski and the Golden Rams will have to find a way to replace seniors Luke Cochran, Johnny Crise, and Korry Myers. All three averaged in the double digits last season and were major contributors to Highlands’ first WPIAL title since 1995.

Stoczynski said replacing them will be a challenge, but it’s something that will have to be done by committee.

“I think it becomes a responsibility thing,” Stoczynski said. “Everyone is going to have a little more responsibility that they have to take on. Those three guys, they covered and patched up a lot of issues that we might have had that just weren’t really apparent because of what they were able to bring to our team, and now we are going to have to have more guys create for us. We just need to be stronger together.”

After starting last year as a freshman, Jimmy Kunst is back and will lead the charge. Despite his youth, he played a vital role last season. He caused problems as a defender distributed the ball well offensively, but Stoczynski believes he could have played an even bigger role last year if he had to.

“He was our point guard last year and probably had the ability to do a little more last year, but he was such an unselfish player that he was constantly distributing the basketball,” Stoczynski said. “Whereas this year, we are going to look for him to do a few more things and ask more of him.”

Stoczynski also will rely on several other players take on bigger roles this season. Big man Wahkeem Room, senior swingman Antoine McDaniel, and junior Carter Leri played bit roles behind the three seniors and will see an increase in time.

After playing a big role as a sophomore and not being able to play last year, senior Dominic Pesci is back, and Stoczynski is expecting him to be a big part of the Golden Rams’ success. Sophomore Chandler Thimons and senior Trent Bielak also could see increased time to shore up the frontcourt.

“The great thing about this team is that we have a lot of guys that can contribute, and it’s going to be up to them,” Stoczynski said. “We’ve always been a team, that we’re going to play the guys that give us an opportunity to win and it doesn’t really matter on the grade level or anything like that.”

After the late start, the Golden Rams must hold 15 practices before being able to play their first game, but getting back in the gym is a good start.

“We have a lot of jelling to do, so we are just excited to get back into the gym and start that process of getting back together,” Stoczynski said.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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