Freeport boys basketball building chemistry in St. Joseph Summer League

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Tuesday, June 14, 2022 | 11:24 AM


Freeport made the WPIAL Class 4A boys basketball playoffs this past season as the No. 11 seed and upset Uniontown to secure the program’s first playoff victory in 12 years.

“It felt really good with that upset against Uniontown,” rising senior Dean Furer said. “That brought a lot of belief into the program and what Coach (Sean) Devinney is starting to do with building a program around Freeport and getting our name out there. We should expect some big things this season.”

Devinney said the team wants to continue its success, and the first step in doing so was joining the St. Joseph Basketball Summer League, which is running through June 30 and also includes teams from Kiski Area, Valley, Leechburg, Armstrong, St. Joseph, Burrell and Springdale.

Devinney, who is a Pittsburgh firefighter, was in his first season as coach last year and helped guide the team to a 13-10 record and the playoff victory. The Yellowjackets won just nine games the previous two seasons combined.

The WPIAL playoff win was crucial for the program, and Devinney wants to continue the success. He knows the players want more success and sees the summer league as an opportunity to showcase what the team has in store for next season.

“The taste of success we got last year was nice, but I don’t think anybody is full. We have an appetite for bigger and better things, so I would say our guys are pretty excited,” Devinney said. “I know that (the summer league) was their first opportunity to show what we’re going to bring to the table next year.”

Freeport won its first three games and held opponents to under 40 points.

Defense is the team’s main focus for improvement. Devinney realizes that in the offseason players focus on their offensive game whether that is shooting or ball-handling. Nonetheless, Devinney wants the players to improve on defense too.

Their success in the summer league and last season was built on defense, but after having a few months off, the Yellowjackets had to readjust to their defensive strategy.

“The only thing needed was just reeling them in and reassuring that these guys know how we’re going to defend, how we defended, and the expectation to the level that we’re going to defend,” Devinney said. “That took a little bit getting them back, but it didn’t take too long for them to realize, ‘hey, this is who we are and this is what we’re going to do.’ ”

Furer said the team has a defense-first mindset. He said Devinney’s coaching and philosophy helped shift the program in the right direction.

“What Coach Devinney pushes a lot is just defense and really if you want it or not,” Furer said. “That’s really what he’s put in place for our team last year, and if you really want to, you’re going to go get it. That’s the mindset he’s installed in us. We’re always about the defense.”

The Yellowjackets graduated four seniors and have begun the process of adjusting to a new core of leaders.

Eight players entering their senior year will be counted on to absorb those minutes, and Furer knows how much team chemistry will impact progress.

“We’ve been playing together since we were in fourth grade competitively on the AAU circuit,” Furer said. “That’s helped tremendously. We hang out on and off the court, and the team chemistry is really there for us.”

Devinney said the familiarity was on display in the opening games of the summer league and that the senior class of Furer, Zach Clark, Parker Lucas, Gavin Croney, Brady Stivenson, Garrett Risch, Dylan Stonebraker and Payton Westendorf has the potential to continue the success from last season.

Devinney highlighted Clark’s leadership and the versatility of the senior class, made up of bigs and talented defensive players with varsity experience.

The team also has six rising juniors.

Devinney mentioned the contributions of Gavin Glista and Brady Sullivan early on.

“We call them Batman and Robin in our program,” Devinney said. “They’ve been in a bunch of our open gyms and I’ve seen them grow, whether it’s in our open gyms and they both play AAU as well. Both have been fantastic in the early parts of spring.”

Devinney looks forward to watching the team grow over the summer and said he enjoys coaching the players and can’t wait to see them develop on and off the court.

“The leadership that guys also showed this year has been great,” he said. “When guys can hold each other accountable, it makes your job so much easier, and you’re able to kind of focus on different things and gonna go deeper into the next-level stuff.”

Furer spoke highly of Devinney.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Furer said. “He brought a new sense of energy to that program. He’s an intense defensive dude who just really wants to work hard when you get in the gym with him. He’s just an amazing dude who really truly does care about his players and holds you accountable as well.”

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