Depth, height help Bethel Park boys basketball to strong start

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Saturday, January 22, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Bethel Park’s tall and talented boys basketball team made noise on the court early and often in the first half of the 2021-22 season.

The Black Hawks won 10 of their first 11 games, including a 48-44 section victory Jan. 11 at home against Upper St. Clair.

“Our greatest strength is our togetherness,” coach Josh Bears said. “The individuals have bought in for each other. There isn’t any selfishness or jealously about scoring, minutes or roles being played. This enables us to play a unique, defensive style of basketball. We are able to capitalize on our length and athleticism because nobody cares about how many points they are scoring individually.

“It’s cliché, but we are really taking it one game at a time. This section is wide open to the point that any team can beat another on any given night. With only 10 section games, it makes them all big. We can’t get caught looking ahead.”

Bears added that it was difficult to gauge how this year’s team would respond as a group following the covid-hampered 2020-21 season.

“It was difficult to set many specific expectations,” he said, “being that last year’s season wasn’t a typical season. We hadn’t played three of the teams in our section in two years. There were really too many unknowns to formulate anything specific. But we knew we had some talent and a unique style.

“We focused on setting our own expectations around our team culture. We wanted to be unselfish, work hard and be tough. If we could consistently develop those attributes, we could put ourselves in a position to be successful.”

Dolan Waldo, an athletic 6-foot-6 senior forward and IUP commit, has been rounding into playoff form for the Black Hawks, averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in recent games.

“I am satisfied with our team’s success so far,” Waldo said. “We have a strong team this year. I really think we could win the section and make a huge playoff run and compete for the WPIAL title.

“Our defensive presence is definitely a huge factor. Also, we can pound the ball inside on offense and we have guys who can hit the 3.”

The Black Hawks’ seven-game winning streak was snapped Jan. 14 in a double-overtime loss at Mt. Lebanon. Waldo netted a team-high 17 points in that contest.

“We got off to a great start this year and we all feel like we are going to hit our stride at the perfect time,” said Max Blanc, a senior forward and Youngstown State quarterback recruit. “Learning how to win in different ways has been the key of late. (The loss against Mt. Lebanon) gave us another scenario that we can go back and look at and learn from.

“With that being said, all of our goals of winning the section and making a deep run in the WPIAL playoffs still remain solid as ever.”

Bethel Park ended the first half of its Section 2-6A schedule tied for first place with Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon and Baldwin.

The Black Hawks fell to 10-3 overall after suffering a second consecutive section defeat Jan. 18 at home against Baldwin.

Bethel Park’s starting lineup usually consists of Waldo, senior forwards Blanc and Jaden Goodman, senior guard Anthony Watson and junior guard Ben Guffey.

Three players attained double figures against Baldwin, led by Guffey with 18 points, followed by Waldo with 14, and Watson, who added 11.

Watson praised the camaraderie and togetherness among the athletes on this year’s team.

“All of us love playing together and seeing each other succeed,” he said. ”I’ve never been on a team that’s more connected to each other than ours. We have no selfish player on our team. We all play for each other.”

Bears rotates several players in and out of the lineup, with junior guards Austin Caye and Aidan Currie providing backcourt depth and a trio of forwards — senior Joe Thimons, junior Tyler Stewart and sophomore Shawn Davis — helping out on the boards.

“This is a strong group of young men that have been through a lot individually and as a team,” Bears said. “Their experience makes them who they are. They have had to fight for this chance in many different ways.

“I’m really proud of them, and excited to see how far they can take this team.”

All of the athletes in the Black Hawks’ rotation are 6-foot or taller except for Caye, who’s listed at 5-10.

The team’s top rebounders consist of Waldo, Blanc and Goodman, both 6-5 forwards, the 6-2 Watson, along with Thimons, Stewart and Davis.

“Our strengths have been our length, our toughness and our versatility in finding many ways to win,” said Blanc, a three-sport standout.

The Bethel Park hoopsters took first place at their holiday tournament in December, defeating McDowell, 35-25, and Shaler, 70-65, on back-to-back nights.

The Black Hawks were led in the championship game by Waldo with 19 points, including 15 in the first half, Guffey (13), Stewart (12) and Watson (11).

Bethel Park connected eight times from 3-point range against the Titans, as Guffey registered four triples.

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