Derry boys basketball deals with loss, focuses on playoffs

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Saturday, February 15, 2020 | 7:25 PM


Misfortune has hit the Derry boys basketball team this season in waves.

“To say we’ve been through a lot in the past two weeks — (along with) Justin Huss’s injury — is an understatement,” Trojans coach Tom Esposito said. “In 24 seasons of coaching, I’ve never had a season of adversity like this. I’m extremely proud of our coaching staff and young men for how they have handled everything.”

Esposito said the team has attended three funerals in about a week. His father-in-law died and, as a result, Esposito missed the Trojans’ game against Greensburg Central Catholic at the Shootout at Seton Hill. Assistant Don Bushey filled in.

Then, the mother of junior forward Sam Jones, died after a battle with cancer. Another close friend of the team also passed away.

The coaches and players rallied around one another, their families and friends with hugs and condolences, support and reinforcement.

“There have been so many life lessons learned for all of us, but most importantly, situations our guys will learn from and use to their advantage as they grow into successful young men,” Esposito said. “And they will carry it with them as they become successful employees, great husbands and great fathers in the future.”

Huss went down with a season-ending leg injury in late December, leaving a large void in the Trojans’ backcourt. Huss not only could zip up and down the floor with his speed, but he was a scorer, rebounder and key defender.

Sophomore Ryan Hood also has missed time with an injury. Esposito estimates Derry has had a healthy lineup for “13 minutes and 16 seconds.”

He said senior leaders Aidan Bushey and Tanner Nicely have done their part to hold the team together.

“We’re fortunate that Aidan and Tanner led by (Huss’s) example, and the rest of our core followed,” he said. “AB has handled being suffocated, double-teamed and played through gimmick defenses to put up some big numbers for us. As I’ve always said about Tanner, ‘If you’re watching us play and have limited basketball knowledge, you won’t notice the big things ‘T-Nice’ does for us.’ ”

Nicely said the team has tried its best to keep a sharp focus.

“These past couple weeks have been tough for everyone in the Derry community,” Nicely said. “We lost some great people. We’ve been working hard in practice and staying focused. Huss was a big part of the team, but I think we bounced back well after his injury and came together.”

The Trojans (7-14) will open the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Belle Vernon (16-6) at Fox Chapel.

Derry also will need a backup to drive them to the game: The team bus driver broke her hand.

“We will be very prepared, play hard and leave it all between the lines regardless of who we play,” Esposito said. “There’s always that one team in the playoffs that flies under the radar, and maybe we’ll finally catch a good break and find some luck that every team needs to be successful in the playoffs.”

Derry had higher hopes for its section finish and a new, dribble-drive offense in place to showcase its quick guards.

With the season taking a wrong turn, the Trojans regrouped and took fourth in a section that houses the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the playoffs in Highlands (19-3) and Knoch (19-3).

“We lost some close games to some tough teams, so I think that will help us in the playoffs,” Nicely said. “I think we’ll be ready for our playoff game with our coaches putting together a great gameplan. We’re looking forward to Wednesday.”

And to think how special a win would be: Derry never has won a playoff game in boys basketball.

“I do know this,” Esposito said, “We’re going to give it all we have and have fun.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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