Deep roster helps Monessen boys basketball go on late-season tear

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Thursday, February 3, 2022 | 6:00 PM


A winning streak can be euphoric and demanding, enjoyable and stressful.

Teams savor the sensation but crave more. They can’t let up.

Monessen’s boys basketball team has won 10 in a row and has moved into the Trib HSSN Top 5 in Class 2A.

The fifth-ranked Greyhounds (13-4) aren’t ready for the fun to stop in what has been a season of streaks.

They started 0-3 before winning three in a row. Then came section play where they have yet to be beaten (7-0).

“We have an unselfish group of kids that move and share the basketball, which makes the game fun for everyone,” fourth-year coach Dan Bosnic said. “We have a deep rotation. We have a lot players on the bench that have played really well all year.”

Bosnic, a former standout quarterback at Laurel Highlands who converted to tight end at Temple and then Cal (Pa.), said defense has played a key part in the late-season run. Pressure is working in the Greyhounds’ favor, forcing turnovers and creating transition points.

They were allowing a Section 4-low 48.9 points a game.

Senior 6-foot-4 guard Kody Kuhns also is seeing the dividends from a deep bench.

“The main thing we are doing well consistently is sharing the ball,” Kuhns said. “We are passing very well and everyone is scoring because of it. That’s also what makes us tough to defend. We also have such a deep bench that we have 10 guys who can come in and score really well.”

Monessen has clinched its 41st straight WPIAL playoff berth. Last year, of course, messed with playoff streaks because the WPIAL had an open tournament where anyone could participate.

Still, the Greyhounds have a proud tradition and are a postseason staple. They have eight WPIAL titles and two PIAA championships.

“We are doing a good job of keeping that alive,” Kuhns said.

Bosnic said he and many others expected the Greyhounds to compete for third place in the section behind senior-heavy Carmichaels and Jefferson-Morgan.

Monessen swept Jefferson-Morgan (69-43 and 59-42), and has one win over Carmichaels (65-59), its closest section game so far.

“We came into the season with only one guy having significant varsity experience (Kuhns),” the coach said. “We knew we had played a lot of basketball over the spring and summer and we were slowly progressing. We have good young players and knew that they could develop once they had some varsity experience.”

Three seniors have been effective in Kuhns, Kiantae Robinson and Jack Sacco, while juniors Jaisean Blackman, Dante DeFelices, Devontae Ross and Trey Thompson have also provided key minutes. Sophomores Leonaj Thomas and Lorenzo Gardner and freshmen Davontae Robinson and Timmy Kershaw also have figured into the mix.

Gardner was averaging a team-best 19 points a game. (And you thought Gardner Points were for football.)

Kuhns (11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) plays a do-it-all role, and Blackman “does a lot of the little things,” Bosnic said, referring to tasks like getting tough rebounds and taking charges.

DeFelices and Thomas are also starters.

It starts with Kuhns, who embraces the sleep-on-us theme.

“Kody does whatever the team needs him to do on a particular night,” Bosnic said. “He’s probably capable of scoring 20 a game, but that’s not what he’s about. He doesn’t care if he scores two points; all he cares about is winning. I believe our seniors from last year (Chas Mrlack, Angelo Mauro and Sonny Thomas) impacted him. We weren’t as talented last year, but they had the same mentality.”

Bosnic said the offense is predicated on a quality-over-quantity approach. Discipline often leads to fruitful possessions.

“We don’t shoot many shots that we aren’t capable of making at a high percentage,” he said.

When Monessen beat California, 64-50, on Tuesday, balanced scoring was the order of the day: Gardner and Blackman had 18 points apiece, Kuhns added 12, and Ross chimed in with 10.

Bosnic can’t help but dwell on what could have been had a wave of talent not transferred to Belle Vernon.

Devin Whitlock, Quinton Martin and Alonzo Wade all have Monessen roots.

Imagine this team with those players. Bosnic tries not to. His focus is on the players who are here.

“My first two years at Monessen, we lost two all-state players in consecutive years in Lyndon Henderson and then Devin,” Bosnic said.

Henderson transferred to a school in Michigan.

“I root for the Monessen kids elsewhere because I know they all have those traits of toughness, grit and a will to win like Monessen kids seem to always have,” Bosnic said. “Especially Devin because I coached him his freshman year and I know what type of kid and competitor he is.

“To be completely honest, I just hope it stops. I am tired of having to hear about what good young Monessen players are being recruited now. As coaches, we use it as a cautionary tale for our kids now.”

Whitlock helped lead Monessen to the WPIAL and PIAA semifinals. He was a freshman when the Greyhounds won their last section title in 2018-19.

“For as special as all those Monessen kids are elsewhere, and for how much they elevate everyone else around them to look much better, I don’t see how it’s been some great benefit to the kids from Monessen,” Bosnic said. “Hopefully all of kids will stay here now and we’ll get to see how good we can be.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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