Despite the latest ‘pause,’ A-K Valley basketball players look to grow into bigger roles this season

Monday, December 28, 2020 | 6:18 PM

En route to its first WPIAL Class 4A boys basketball championship since 1995 last season, Highlands relied on a trio of seniors to lead the way.

But as the Golden Rams jump up a classification, they will have to rely on a young roster, and sophomore Jimmy Kunst is one of the players who is primed to take a major step forward.

“I’m definitely going to have to raise all aspects of my game,” Kunst said. “I know last year I was more of a distributor and facilitator on the court, but I’m going to have to score a lot more and do a lot more things because I’m going to be relied on more this season.”

Kunst started as a freshman and could have contributed even more than he did, but he deferred to his older teammates. Now, Kunst will be given the keys to the castle, but the most recent high school athletics “pause” has interrupted any rhythm he might have developed with his teammates, which hasn’t made it any easier to become accustomed to his new role.

He is not alone.

Knoch’s Ryan Lang and Fox Chapel’s Eli Yofan, both juniors, also will play bigger roles after their respective teams lost big senior classes.

While Kunst barely had any “official” practices to get up to speed, Lang and Yofan have had multiple practices and a game.

Lang started for the Knights last year and came up big in a lot of games. But, on top of scoring, distributing, and communicating on both ends of court more, Lang also needs to be a leader.

“Last year I was more of an underdog, the inexperienced one,” Lang said. “Now this year I’ll have more experience than most of my teammates.”

Yofan averaged 15.7 points and was the only sophomore starter for the Foxes. He will be expected to contribute in other ways after the graduation of three seniors: handling the ball, distributing and scoring even more. Although the pause disrupted what the Foxes had established, Yofan still felt comfortable in his role.

“It’s pretty much been the same and I felt like everything is pretty similar to last year,” Yofan said. “I mean I’m probably going to have to score a little bit more this year, but there are definitely going to be other people who will step up and score too. Also defensively I’ll probably have to guard the best play on the other team. Things are a little different but it feels pretty much the same because I was in a similar role.”

Outside of scoring, Lang played somewhat of a smaller role than Yofan, as he wasn’t relied upon to do a lot of different things. He could let the game flow through him and pick his spots.

That won’t be the same this year. Through the first few weeks of practices and the Knights’ first matchup with Mars, when he scored 29 points, Lang felt like he got comfortable.

“But I think we got into a pretty good rhythm, and our team bond was pretty strong going into the layoff,” Lang said. “I don’t think anything will change too much other than we just haven’t been able to practice together. I think once we’re able to get back and get a few practices under our belt, we’ll be pretty good again.”

The Golden Rams have had to deal with a few pauses this season. Early in December, the school winter sports until the middle of January. Then, the Monday before Gov. Tom Wolf put high school athletic on pause, Highlands School Board approved winter sports to start practicing again.

Highlands wasn’t able to get any practices in when the restart was approved, so Kunst is relying on what he and his teammates were able to establish in offseason workouts.

“Once everything hit again it was devastating, and it’s just kind of hard knowing that we really don’t know what roles some kids are going to have to play,” Kunst said. “We’re going to have to prepare for the worst, and everyone is going to have prepare themselves as much as they can.”

High school sports are set to restart on Jan. 4 and Lang, Yofan and Kunst are looking forward to the opportunity of getting back on the court and getting more comfortable in their roles.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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