Highlands’ Johnny Crise named Valley News Dispatch Boys Basketball Player of the Year

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Saturday, April 6, 2019 | 5:14 PM


Valley News Dispatch Boys Basketball Player of the Year

Johnny Crise

Jr., F, Highlands

Johnny Crise can be difficult to miss on the basketball court. Not only does the Highlands junior stand 6-foot-7, but he spends a significant amount of time above the rim — throwing down any sort of flashy dunk, ripping down a rebound or swatting away an opponent’s shot.

Crise did all of that frequently this season for Highlands, averaging a double-double with 16.8 points and 11.3 rebounds, adding in 1.7 blocks for good measure as the Golden Rams won a share of the Section 1-4A title with Knoch and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA playoffs for a second consecutive season.

He stepped up that production even more in the playoffs: 29 points and 16 rebounds in a WPIAL Class 4A first-round win over Belle Vernon, 22 and 18 in a quarterfinal victory over Uniontown and 22 and 19 in the semifinal loss to New Castle.

Capable of making both the highlight plays and the hustle plays, Crise also stepped up as a leader for the young Golden Rams, who should go into next season as a WPIAL favorite again as they return most of their contributors. He has a pair of Division I offers in hand for basketball (Robert Morris and USC Upstate) and is drawing Division I interest in football, where he set some of Highlands’ receiving records this season.

Crise was selected as the Valley News Dispatch’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year. He edged out Deer Lakes senior Brad Perrotte, who led the Lancers to unprecedented heights. But Crise ultimately rose above.

How did you feel about the year the team had?

I feel like we had a great year. It was a good year for the younger kids that really stepped up and got a lot of varsity games under their belt. That was a really good thing. We didn’t really lose a lot of seniors, so that was a really good thing. I think that this year was a learning year, kind of, and we still went pretty far. It was a good year.

What was the best moment?

I’d have to say beating Knoch at their house after they beat us.

What was the playoff run like?

The playoffs, I just didn’t want to let my team down. We really came together in that time, and we just started clicking. I know coach (Tyler Stoczynski) said during the season there was going to be bad times and good times, and coming up in the season it was going to click together. I felt during that playoff time area, that click happened.

How much can you build on this season?

I feel like we’ll have a great season next year as long as the guys stay in the gym and work. They’ve just got to take this year, take it in under their belt, move on from it, learn from it and just make their game better for next year and hopefully make a deeper run.

How would you grade your season?

I did OK this season. I could have done better earlier in the season. But I just did what my team needed me to do.

What are you looking to get better at in the offseason?

Definitely ball-handling because I know I’m not the best shooter, but if I can get to the rim, that will help me a lot. Shooting also.

You improved your free-throw shooting over the course of the year?

Yeah. I don’t recall the game, but I missed all of my free throws and I had like nine or 10 attempts. After the game I had to clear my head and rethink everything, so I asked Stosh to open up the gym. After that game it was 10 or 11 (p.m.), and me and (assistant coach Corey Dotchin) were just shooting free throws. It was like a “calm down, you’ve got this,” type of deal.

What’s your relationship like with (junior point guard) Luke Cochran?

Me and Luke have been playing ever since I can remember. Now that we’re taking it to the next level, we’re starting to know each other’s strengths, know each other’s weaknesses and really just tap on each other and be the best that we can from each other. I know from us working out, if the workout’s not going good and I’m missing a lot of shots, he’s always picking me up. I’ve always got his back. When you’ve got a connection like that between two players, you’ve got something special.

How do you feel you grew as a leader?

I grew a little bit. There’s definitely more improving. But I knew when the team was looking down, because I knew the team looked up to me and Luke, if they saw (me) down, they were going to go down too. So I took that to heart and didn’t want my younger guys looking down and having their head down, I always had to be that guy to pick them up, always tell them, “Hey, keep shooting, you’ll knock them down, they’ll fall.” When they start losing their confidence in the game, it shows — if you can boost the confidence, then they’ll play better.

What do you think was your best dunk this year?

They’ve all been good, but my windmill against Freeport was probably my most energetic one. That’s when I think the community started coming together more to come watch the games.

Do you have a favorite dunk?

My sophomore year, coming in at the beginning of the season, I did a 180 and for some reason I started calling it “The Dot Supreme” (after assistant Corey Dotchin). I started sticking with that. I haven’t done it in a game yet, but it’ll come. That’s a strong connection between me and Dot.

If you could build an ultimate dunk contest including yourself, who’s in it?

That’s a tough question. I’d definitely put (Duke’s Zion Williamson) in this. (The Atlanta Hawks’) Vince Carter, just to show age can’t do anything if you stay on the grind. (The Chicago Bulls’) Zach LaVine. We’ll put me in there. And I’d probably put (the Los Angeles Lakers’) LeBron (James) in there because I don’t think he shows off his special dunking ability as much. I’d put LeBron in there just to see what he can do.

Do you a favorite team and player?

My favorite college team would probably be Duke. Not because of how good they are, but because of off the court how they carry themselves. They’re always about the brotherhood. I really like them for that. After the loss they just had (in the Elite Eight), I saw a video and everybody was picking each other up. And Zion Williamson, he’s so humble. He’s something great, and he’s not letting anything affect that. He’s staying to his roots and who he is, and he gets my respect for that.

Did you pick a bracket?

Actually, I didn’t pick a bracket this year. Last year me and my friends did that, and it just got too hectic. This year we wanted to enjoy it.

Who’s your national champion now?

I’d say Michigan State.

You’re playing baseball now. How’s that going?

It’s going OK. I’ve got to knock the rust off. I stopped playing in middle school. But it’s fun. I played with a couple of those guys my whole little kid life, growing up with them. To get back out there and play with a couple of them, it’s something special.

You’ve said before you’re a big wings fan. What’s your favorite place?

Quaker Steak and Lube, ever since they stopped having wing night, we just stopped going. That was my sophomore season; we had Romello Freeman, Seth Cohen, Noah Gillette, we’d have all those guys go out there.

You don’t go there anymore?

Not as frequently. We’ve talked in the past when everyone gets home to go to another one.

Who puts away the most wings?

It’s close between Seth and Romello. They can get 12 down each.

What’s your go-to sauce?

I’m more of a sweet barbecue, garlic type of wings.

Bone-in or boneless?

Boneless. But I mix it up.

First team

Luke Cochran

Highlands

6-2, Jr., Guard

Steady, heady point guard kept Highlands cool in high-stress situations, leading Rams to WPIAL Class 4A semifinals and averaging team-high 18.9 ppg.

Scott Fraser

Knoch

6-3, Jr., Guard

Could score from outside but was also adept at getting to the basket, leading team with 16 ppg and also averaging 7 rebounds for WPIAL quarterfinalists.

Brad Perrotte

Deer Lakes

5-10, Sr., Guard

The A-K Valley’s leading scorer at 20.1 ppg, he took the Lancers to new heights: a section title, their first playoff win since 1985 and their first two state playoff victories ever.

Andrew Sullivan

St. Joseph

6-0, So., Guard

Averaged a team-high 15.5 ppg and also was his team’s top perimeter defender, leading the Spartans to a section title and a WPIAL quarterfinal appearance.

Arnold Vento

Fox Chapel

6-2, Jr., Guard

Part of a strong backcourt, he helped Fox Chapel rise from an unknown quantity to a WPIAL quarterfinalist and PIAA qualifier, averaging 14.8 points and 4.6 rebounds.

Second team

Jake Blumer

Leechburg, jr., 6-1, F

Averaged team-best 14.5 points and 9.6 rebounds for WPIAL quarterfinalists, PIAA qualifiers.

Jalen Brown

Freeport, sr., 5-11, G

La Roche recruit did it all for playoff team, averaging 15.9 points, 4.9 assists and 2.5 steals.

Ryan Kerr

Fox Chapel, sr., 6-2, F

Led Foxes in scoring after missing last season to injury, averaging 15.1 ppg and 3.4 rebounds.

Keighton Reese

Apollo-Ridge, so., 5-10, G

Prolific shooter set a school record with 80 3-pointers, including 10 in a game. Averaged 16.3 ppg.

Mike Zolnierczyk

Springdale, sr., 6-4, G

Team captain helped injury-plagued Dynamos reach WPIAL playoffs, averaging 19.6 ppg.

Third team

Grant Bendis

St. Joseph, sr., 6-2, F

Nyjewel Carter

Valley, sr., 6-0, G

Demitri Fritch

Springdale, so., 5-11, G

Jack Hollibaugh

Deer Lakes, jr., 6-1, F

Lamar Whiting

Plum, sr., 6-0, G

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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