Derry boys installing up-tempo offense

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019 | 6:21 PM


Coming off its first winning season since 2001 and its first WPIAL playoff trip since 2008, the Derry boys basketball team has the experience and senior leadership to make another postseason push.

This could be the Trojans team that finally wins a playoff game. Maybe the first to make back-to-back playoff trips. Or the one that wins the school’s first section title since 1957.

Could happen.

But the players are turning their backs on their coach.

No, there is not a problem in the locker room. Derry is changing the way it plays.

“We’re going to have five guys facing the basket,” coach Tom Esposito said. “It’s going to take some time for them to develop patience and run this offense. Our goal is to work on it and get better at it every day. They got a taste of the success last year. Now we just want to grow as a team.”

Derry, which went 12-8 last season and lost to Blackhawk, 59-45, in the Class 4A first round, will play a more fast-paced style, using a dribble-drive attack to better utilize its shooters.

“We’re hoping to take 15-20 3-pointers a game,” Esposito said. “That might be 75% of our offense.”

The genesis of the change: the Trojans lost one senior but he was a big one — literally.

John Kerr was a 6-foot-6 center who blocked just about every shot that came his way in the paint.

Kerr, who averaged 16.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 5.0 blocks, is now playing volleyball at Penn State.

“You could count on a double-double, maybe a triple-double, from John every night,” Esposito said.

Back, though, are four talented starters in seniors Aidan Bushey (10.5 ppg), Justin Huss (10.6 ppg) and Tanner Nicely (9.8 ppg) and junior Ryan Bushey (7 ppg, 7 assists per game).

“We have some veteran guys coming back, great young men,” Esposito said. “Aidan was a state regional qualifier and section MVP in golf and Justin and Tanner did in four years of football what nobody here has done. Justin was an offensive MVP and Tanner a first-team safety. They are like fifth-year seniors because they played as freshmen. I expect a lot out of them.”

Ryan Bushey will run the point and help orchestrate the run-and-gun system that Esposito used to employ when he coached Homer-Center.

“Ryan is a junior, but we’ll depend on him as a leader,” the coach said. “He plays with no fear. He has a great basketball IQ and lets the game come to him.”

With the dribble-drive often catering to the hot hand, Derry might have a different leading scorer each game. Esposito hopes to get his players accustomed to the strategy, wind them up and let them go.

“There is no reason all five guys can’t pop 10 a night,” Esposito said. “If everyone accepts their roles, one night a guy who doesn’t start might score 8 to 12 and the next night get two or four.”

The fifth starter has not been determined yet, but Esposito said the bench could stretch “eight or nine deep.”

Sophomore 6-foot-4 forward Ryan Hood is back after an injury, and 6-4 junior Sam Jones also bolsters the Trojans’ frontcourt.

Other players looking to provide minutes include 6-2 junior forward Grant Hudson, junior guards Nick Detore, Darius Hudspath and Josh Ulery, and sophomore guards Tyson Webb and Chance White.

Highlands is the favorite to take Section 1 — and maybe a lot more.

“They might win a WPIAL championship,” Esposito said.

The coach also expects Knoch and “the rest of us” to compete for playoff spots in the section.

Defensively, Derry hopes to “wear teams down,” Esposito said.

WPIAL Class A champion Nazareth Prep is in Derry’s season-opening tournament, while Riverview, Connellsville and South Park are on the nonsection schedule.

Esposito added a new assistant coach in Ryan DeMary, who is Derry’s all-time leading scorer with 1,328 points. He joins Don Bushey and Matt Polinsky.

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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