Coach’s milestone win just the 1st step for Hampton boys

Saturday, December 3, 2022 | 11:01 AM

At some point early this winter, Hampton boys basketball coach Joe Lafko will achieve something “that’s been a career goal with me forever.”

The WPIAL Hall of Famer will earn his 500th victory spanning 32-plus seasons, including the past 26 at Hampton.

Lafko, 56, will celebrate with his players, his family and friends, and then everyone will turn their attention to something just as important.

Career win No. 501.

“It’s an awesome achievement and he’s a great coach,” 6-foot-8 junior forward Liam Mignogna said, “but we’ve got to win each and every individual game.”

Lafko, who entered the 2022-23 season with a 499-322 career mark, has a team capable of winning many more games.

The Talbots return four starters, including 6-foot-3 senior point guard Brennan Murray, a three-year starter, and a pair of second-team all-section picks, Mignogna (11.4 ppg) and senior guard Eric Weeks (12.9 ppg). They also welcome 6-4 junior shooting guard Peter Kramer, who returned to his hometown school after two years at defending WPIAL Class 3A champion Shady Side Academy. Robert Coll, a junior forward, rounds out the starting five.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Lafko said. “But it’s encouraging.”

The Talbots, who dropped from Class 5A to Class 4A during the WPIAL offseason realignment, were scheduled to open the 2022-23 season Dec. 2 against Seneca Valley at the two-day North Hills tip-off tournament. They travel to Peters Township on Dec. 9 before their home opener against Deer Lakes on Dec. 13.

The Talbots’ new home, Section 1-4A, also includes returning WPIAL Class 5A semifinalist Highlands, along with Freeport, Greensburg Salem, Indiana and Knoch.

“I think we look amazing,” Murray said. “We have a lot of great shooters. The chemistry is building well. We have a good outlook for this year.”

Kramer averaged nearly 16 points a game last season at Shady Side Academy, highlighted by an 18-point, eight-assist effort in the WPIAL title game against Avonworth.

He is ineligible for the 2022-23 postseason because of PIAA transfer rules, but he will handle a key role in helping Hampton try to reach the WPIAL playoffs for the 19th consecutive season. Kramer played with many of his current teammates through eighth grade at Hampton and on AAU teams.

“Obviously, he’s a great player, a great shooter, a great defender,” Murray said. “It’s great to play with him.”

Said Lafko, “This is nothing new for Pete. He’s played with these kids a long time, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have him with us.”

Providing depth for the Talbots will be senior center Braxton Eastly, senior guard/forward Jaden McMeekin, junior guards Alex Nyilas, AJ Prodente and Brock Borgo and junior guard/forward Keegan Thompson.

The Talbots, who went 13-12 last season and lost in the WPIAL Class 5A first round, grew as a team this offseason competing in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club summer and fall leagues.

“We are more ahead this season at this point than we have been for a few years,” Lafko said.

Lafko has come a long way since his first victory, a buzzer-beater over Bradford in 1990 as a 24-year-old first-year coach at District 10 Warren. He spent six years at Warren before arriving at Hampton in 1996. He coached Hampton to the 2009 WPIAL Class AAA title and five other championship game bids in ’06, ’10, ’12, ’13, ’14.

He credited his coaching mentors, his players and his family for his milestone victories.

“Those are things that happen when you have longevity in a career,” he said. “I had hoped for that when I started coaching and if the Lord blesses me, I will continue.”


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