Hampton boys basketball poised to rebound with multi-sport athletes

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Sunday, December 5, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton boys basketball team will try to bounce back from one of the worst seasons in program history with a bunch of players who have won a lot lately.

The Talbots, coming off a 4-16 season, have a roster dotted with versatile athletes who enjoyed success in other sports in the months since last year’s disappointing basketball season wrapped up.

“I have a lot more multi-sport kids than I have had in a long time,” said coach Joe Lafko, entering his 26th season. “We’re thrilled with all of the athletes that we have.”

From the 11-win conference champion football team to the PIAA Class 3A champion soccer team, Hampton hopes the winning mentality rubs off on the basketball court. The Talbots return every player from last season, which ended with a lopsided loss to McKeesport in the opening round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“We just weren’t happy with how last year went,” said all-Section 4-5A senior guard Matt DeMatteo, a quarterback/defensive back who this past fall helped guide the football team to its best-ever season. “We had a pretty good (football) season, and I think we are all ready to continue that winning and carry that onto basketball.”

DeMatteo, who averaged a team-high 12.3 points last basketball season, is joined in the starting five by junior guard Brennan Murray (3.6 apg), senior guard Zander Plizga, a starter on the state championship soccer team, and sophomore forwards Liam Mignogna, a 6-foot-8, 240-pounder, and Robert Coll.

The top reserves include 6-4 junior center Braxton Eastly (6.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg), junior guard/forward Jaden McMeekin and another pair of football players, senior guard/forward Bobby Oliver and junior guard Eric Weeks.

The abundance of multi-sport athletes — sophomore Brock Borgo, a 1,000-yard rusher, and junior Joey Mayer, two-way football starter, joined the basketball team for the first time — prevented the Talbots from getting a lot of offseason workouts as a group. They competed in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club summer and fall leagues, but the lineups and attendance fluctuated.

Lafko, a former three-sport athlete himself at Frazier and a WPIAL Hall of Famer, understands the give and take.

“Compared to some of my other years, where teams have played 30 games together in the offseason, this team has not,” he said. “Not that we haven’t attempted to play. But we haven’t played together. … This group in particular has some catching up to do.”

Also fighting for playing time are junior forward Matt Moser and a quartet of sophomores — guards Alex Nyilas and AJ Prodente, guard/forward Keegan Thompson and forward Gabe Gannelli, another football player making his basketball varsity debut.

“We definitely have a lot of athletic, skilled kids on our team, so I think it will be hard for other teams to keep up with our athleticism,” DeMatteo said. “And we have some size inside, too.”

Lafko, who is 486-310 in 31 seasons, has only three seniors on the 20-man roster, with six juniors and 11 sophomores. One of the promising youngsters is Mignogna, the cousin of former Hampton stars Ryan and Collin Luther. Mignogna made the varsity football roster this past fall and benefited from the extra work. He excelled on both sides of the court in preseason scrimmages against Fox Chapel and Thomas Jefferson, Lafko said.

“Liam has grown,” Lafko said. “Not just physical size, but maturity in dealing with certain things. Compared to where we were this time last year is noticable.”

The Talbots are looking to extend their run of 17 consecutive trips to the WPIAL playoffs, a streak that survived last year only because the district held an open tournament during the covid-impacted season.

Lafko said the team’s growth and performance this summer and fall gives him reason for optimism.

“We were definitely more successful in the offseason than we were last year,” he said. “We’re still not yet to a championship-level team. But we have marked improvements in a lot of areas. Those are all positive signs to continue to build on. And we’re still pretty young.”

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