Latrobe boys basketball wants to reap benefits of adversity

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Monday, November 21, 2022 | 7:49 PM


To experience the pleasure of the WPIAL postseason again, Latrobe had to endure a little pain.

A few lean years — extra lean by the Wildcats’ standards — kept the boys basketball team out of the postseason in 2019-20 and 2021-22.

Latrobe won just six games last year (6-15) and finished last in Section 3-5A.

(In 2020-21, the WPIAL had an open tournament where any team could play).

But consider how many underclassmen were playing, and the growing pains were bound to show through.

“We got through some of that last year,” Wildcats coach Brad Wetzel said. “We played some young guys and rolled with it. Part of the price was paid.

“We’ve been (to the playoffs) 17 or 18 of 21 years. We want to get back there.”

A talented sophomore group with more experience under its collective belt is primed to push the program forward, possibly back to chasing section titles again.

It is expected to fuse with a mix of seniors and juniors to create depth.

The Wildcats have numerous lettermen.

“Dare I say it, we could maybe go 10 deep,” Wetzel said. “I’ve only done that once, in 2009.

“We’re very far from a starting five, but I hope that will be one of our strengths. We’ve had a lot of energy at practice. Our guys like to compete, man.”

Senior guard Landon Butler returns to lead the scoring. He averaged 20 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4 assists as a junior. Butler has Division II offers from West Liberty and Walsh.

“We want to be able to get him the ball when we cross midcourt and get him some space to create,” Wetzel said. “I’ll tell you what, though. If he scores as much as he did last year, we might be in trouble. We want to get more (balance).”

Tyler Mondock also returns as a starting forward.

Latrobe likes to play fast, and an athletic backcourt will allow that pace to continue.

Sophomore point guard John Wetzel, the quarterback of the football team, will guide the team down the floor. His backcourt mates include sophomore Max Butler and junior Darius Davis.

Junior JaTawn Williams also brings skill to the backcourt.

Sophomore Alex Tatsch is the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-3.

“In two decades, I have never had a true center,” Wetzel said. “Alex isn’t really one, either, but he’ll play some inside. We have some guards who can post up other guards.”

Another key sophomore is Jack Drnjevich, who brings a physical nature to the power forward spot.

Senior guard Drew Kozuch also returns, as does senior Dante Basciano, to strengthen the rotation.

Newcomers include sophomores Brady Prohovic and Kyle McNeil, along with freshman Ian DeCerb.

Brad Wetzel said Max Butler and Prohovic also can play the point, with Williams more of an off-guard.

The Wildcats coach hopes to pull some positive vibes from his football players — nine in total, 9-12 — who experienced a winning season and a playoff win under new coach Ron Prady.

“Ron has been great to work with in terms of us (sharing) players and allowing them to play both sports without issue,” Wetzel said.

Latrobe opens Dec. 2 at the Pitt-Johnstown tournament against Richland.

“We’ll figure out the right mix that works,” Wetzel said. “We’ll learn on the fly.”

Latrobe averaged 60.6 points last season, but allowed 70.3.

At a glance

Coach: Brad Wetzel

Last year’s record: 6-15 (2-10 Section 3-5A)

Returning starters: Landon Butler (Sr., G), Tyler Mondock (Sr., G-F)

Top newcomers: Max Butler (So., G), Darius Davis (Jr., G), Drew Kozuch (Sr., G), John Wetzel (So., G), Alex Tatsch (Sr., F), JaTawn Williams (Jr. G)

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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