Deer Lakes’ Billy Schaeffer leads Valley News Dispatch boys basketball all-stars

Saturday, March 30, 2024 | 11:01 AM

Player of the Year

Billy Schaeffer

6-2, Sr., G, Deer Lakes

Billy Schaeffer was a 3-point artist last year, playing a role that helped Deer Lakes win its first WPIAL basketball championship.

But as the lone returning starter coming into his senior season, he knew he had to evolve his game.

“I recognized that since I was close to a 40% 3-point shooter last year that defenders would be closing out hard on me and focusing on me,” Schaeffer said. “So I had to add that extra wrinkle to my game.”

That wrinkle was to drive the lane with success and have defenders respect his ability to do so.

He accomplished that and more.

Schaeffer averaged 16 points, leading Deer Lakes to a second consecutive WPIAL Class 3A title en route to being named the 2023-24 Valley News Dispatch Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

While becoming more versatile was on the list, the goal at the top was to repeat as WPIAL champs.

The Lancers did so after a thrilling playoff run that culminated in a championship showdown against Alle-Kiski Valley rival Burrell at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Schaeffer had a game-high 20 points, and Deer Lakes beat the Bucs, 55-49, in the 3A final.

“Doing it once is something, but to repeat and do so against our biggest rival is a surreal feeling,” Schaeffer said. “To bring that back to our community after having that support all year … We knew we would do it, but it was amazing to fulfill that.”

Another goal on Schaeffer’s list was to reach 1,000 points. It was a number he wanted to hit since before he stepped on a varsity court.

He accomplished the feat in the second round of the state playoffs against Forest Hills. His 1,000th point came on a free throw in the final minute of the game.

“It was something that I wanted to have with me for the rest of my life,” Schaeffer said. “It was great to finally get it done after playing four years of varsity and starting for three years. I just wanted that number. I had worked so hard with basketball for so long that it was something I felt I could gift myself with.”

Deer Lakes’ run in the PIAA playoffs ended in the quarterfinals with a loss to Franklin, which ended up being the state runner-up.

Though the Lancers fell short of a return to Hershey, Schaeffer ended his high school career with two district gold medals and a PIAA silver.

He’s still deciding whether he’ll continue his basketball career in college. He said he’s being recruited by the United States Merchant Marine Academy and has a visit scheduled there. The Merchant Marine Academy plays in NCAA Division III.

Whether he chooses the Merchant Marine Academy or not, his plan is to join the military, something his family has deep roots in.

“First and foremost, I want to serve my country,” Schaeffer said. “My parents both did, my grandparents did, and I want to follow in their footsteps. I love the challenge that comes with it, constantly pushing yourself both mentally and physically. It helps you transition from adolescence to adulthood and become a strong man, father and adult in general.”

First team

Macky Bennis

6-1, Sr., G, Burrell

Part of a dynamic duo in the backcourt, Bennis helped Burrell make it to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game as a No. 11 seed. Bennis had a team-best 20 points in a semifinal victory over Mohawk and reached the 1,000-point mark against Apollo-Ridge on Jan. 12.

Tucker Bitar

6-0, Jr., G, Burrell

The other half of Burrell’s talented guard tandem, Bitar scored 15 points and dished out five assists per game. He provided plenty of key moments during Burrell’s playoff run, including scoring 21 points in the Bucs’ first round upset of Seton LaSalle.

Bradyn Foster

6-8, Sr., F, Highlands

Foster averaged 21.3 points this season, leading the Golden Rams to a playoff berth. He eclipsed 1,000 points on Dec. 12 against Shady Side Academy and will continue his basketball career at Penn.

Isaiah Gonzalez

6-2, Sr., G, Kiski Area

Gonzalez led the Cavaliers to their first playoff victory since 2014, an upset over Peters Township in the WPIAL 5A first round. He averaged a little over 19 points per game and finished his career with 1,259 points.

Nathaniel Moore

6-4, Jr., F, Deer Lakes

After missing the first part of the season due to a football injury, Moore established himself as a force in the paint. He averaged a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and helped the Lancers return to the WPIAL 3A championship game by scoring 23 points in the semifinals against Neshannock.

Second team

Jackson Bauman

6-2, So., G, Knoch

Cam Reigard

6-2, Sr., G, Highlands

Grant Rochkind

6-5, Sr., F, Cheswick Christian

Nate Sprajcar

6-5, Sr., G, Riverview

Brady Sullivan

6-0, Sr., G, Freeport

Third team

Teegan Finucan

6-2, So., G, Knoch

Mason Gent

6-4, Sr., F, Springdale

Wayne Love

6-3, Sr., F, Deer Lakes

Jefferson Moorefield-Brown

6-0, Sr., G, Fox Chapel

Jordyn Tavarez

6-1, Sr., G, Highlands

Honorable mention

John Hughes, Sr., G, Springdale; Colin Keller, Jr., G, Kiski Area; Derek Lang, So, F, Knoch; Collin Rodgers, So., G, Deer Lakes; Will Siegel, Sr., F, Fox Chapel

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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