Innovative offense sparks Pine-Richland basketball’s streak

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Friday, January 11, 2019 | 8:24 PM


Three games into this WPIAL boys basketball season, Pine-Richland (11-2, 4-0), thought to be one of the favorites in Class 6A, was sporting a 1-2 record. With former big men Phil Jurkovec and Andrew Kristofic gone, coach Jeff Ackermann’s team struggled find its rhythm while maintaining the same offensive system it employed in the past.

Then, the 17-year coaching veteran with 324 wins, five WPIAL championships and one state title under his belt decided to get creative. So far, the results have been promising.

Ackermann’s adjustment centers on a willingness to scrap traditional basketball ideas, shunning the high-low game and conventional big-man play in favor of an almost position-less style of basketball that suits the talents of the team’s perimeter players. The results? Eight consecutive wins and an average scoring output of 77.3 points, the highest mark in the WPIAL.

“To me, trying to have guys post up that aren’t post-up players is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Let’s not do that. Instead, let’s play to their strengths,” Ackermann said.

“Early on, we tried to go a little bigger with our lineup and maybe tried to get that center position filled. We just weren’t jelling that well. So, after we lost to Upper St. Clair, we made some changes and we’ve shot the ball well since. I’m hoping we can ride it for the next two months here and keep it going.”

Pine-Richland’s offensive tempo isn’t just fast, it’s blistering. The Rams have topped 80 points in five of their last eight games. Dan Petcash leads the way at 20.3 points, Greg Shulkosky checks in at 16.9, Logan Murray adds 15.7 and Kyle Polce chips in 15.3 per contest.

Those numbers aren’t a coincidence as Ackermann said the team wants to utilize floor spacing and ball movement to maximize the skill set of its guard-heavy team. Putting four players in double-figures is a priority and a signifier the team’s offensive sets are working well.

“We really benefit from having unselfish players. I’m very big on sharing the ball. I preach it a lot. We let the guys know that we’re a better team when we get four guys in double-figures. Our winning percentage when we do that is 90 percent,” Ackermann said.

“This is one of my smaller teams at Pine-Richland, so we wanted to try to play extra fast to try to negate our height. We’re trying to play faster, and so far we’ve been able to do it. The games that we haven’t played fast, we’ve lost.”

Another key to the Rams’ ability to explode as an offense has been a fearlessness when it comes to the 3-point shot. Many teams embrace the long-range shot, but it’s a fulcrum to the Pine-Richland gameplan. Even the team’s tallest members — guard Petcash, forward Colin Luellen and forward Patrick Shanahan, each standing around 6-foot-4 — exude confidence from downtown.

“This year, we don’t really have guys that have a post-up game where we want to throw the ball right into them. It might not be totally suited for them. We can try to force it, but they’re just not going to be comfortable with it. Just because they’re tall doesn’t mean they’re post-up players,” Ackermann said.

“I told the guys, ‘You can set a screen and roll, and if it works then great, but you can also set a screen and pop.’ These guys have the talent to stretch the defense out and hit a 3-point shot off the pick, instead of just automatically rolling to the hoop.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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