Boys basketball preview: Valley wants redemption after missing playoffs

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Monday, December 7, 2020 | 6:34 PM


After three straight trips to the WPIAL playoffs, the Valley boys basketball team was not as fortunate last season as it skidded to a 4-17 overall record and a 3-9 mark in Section 3-3A.

But veteran coach Mark Faulx sees a different path for the Vikings this year with several returning letterwinners and others who are ready to step into bigger roles.

“The guys gained a lot of good experience last year in order to be better in what they want to do,” said Faulx, who is energized with a group led by starting experience from seniors Adisun Jackson (forward), Thomas Albert (guard) and Javon Keys (forward), as well junior Ben Aftanas (guard).

“We’ve had several one-on-one conversations talking about what we learned and how we can apply that to the team. The guys have really invested in that experience and responded with a lot of good practices.”

Faulx said that like in any year, early-season preparation centers around taking care of the ball, creating good shots, strong rebounding at both ends of the floor and sound defense.

“Each year, that takes on different characteristics based on your personnel,” he said. “We’re still figuring a lot of that out, but the guys are coming along in all of those areas.”

Covid scheduling issues cost the Vikings a scrimmage last week, but they are ready to test their mettle at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at Hempfield. Faulx said it will be a good measuring stick to see where the team stands heading into the start of the season Friday at home against Riverview.

“It’s been a little tricky,” Faulx said. “Any time we play, we’re going to collect information, look for ways to be better, tweak our system of play or see who we might be able to play more.”

Valley was slated to play in the annual Plum tournament this weekend, but that also was canceled. December’s schedule, Faulx said, still is a work in progress. But he and his players are looking forward to an upcoming Section 3-3A matchup against defending section champion South Allegheny, a WPIAL semifinalist and PIAA qualifier last year. The Vikings and Gladiators are scheduled to play Dec. 22.

“I keep stressing that we have to be able to be fluid with things that might come up or change,” Faulx said. “Right now, you’re just looking one day at a time. If you get a week-long lens into things, you are pretty lucky. But I’ve been really impressed with the kids and they way they have adjusted. It makes it easier when we have a group who is working well together to make this season possible.”

Faulx said the team is benefiting from a larger-than-usual senior group, which includes expected contributions from forward Tristan Howser and guard Shane Demharter.

“That experience and maturity is helpful as they know what we are doing and can help the younger kids and adjust on the fly a little better than in the past,” Faulx said. “I am really excited for our senior leadership.”

Others back hoping to make an impact this year, Faulx said, are juniors Tyreece Swindler (forward), B.J. Harvey (guard) and sophomore Xavier Wilson (forward).

“I think we will see a similar balanced attack to last year where we’re moving the ball, sharing the ball and trying to get shots for each other,” Faulx said. “I like when we are playing unselfish basketball.”

Jackson, who averaged 15 points last season, also led the team with nearly nine rebounds a contest.

“Everybody is excited and working hard to try and get a starting spot,” Jackson said. “Guys know that coach is going to put the best five out there. When their name is called, they will be ready.”

In addition to South Allegheny, Valley again will match up in Section 3 with East Allegheny, Shady Side Academy and Steel Valley. Deer Lakes and Burrell left the section and were replaced by an experienced Apollo-Ridge team and a Ligonier Valley squad looking to make its mark as a WPIAL newcomer.

Ligonier Valley, 23-4 last year, reached the District 6 Class 3A championship game each of the past two seasons. The Rams won the title in 2018.

“South Allegheny should be good again,” Faulx said. “They return everybody. That should be a big challenge. Every night in the section is expected to be that way. I expect all our opponents to give us everything we can handle, so we have to be ready.”

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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