Mt. Pleasant boys basketball enters season under new leadership

Thursday, December 3, 2020 | 1:11 PM

T.J. Kravits had just finished his season coaching at Marion Center. Being a basketball fan, he looked at the schedule and decided to take a trip to Mt. Pleasant to see a game against Geibel.

At the time he didn’t know he was seeing his future team play, but he left the gym that February night impressed with the potential of the Vikings.

A few months later, Kravits was hired to replace Allan Billinsky, who resigned after two seasons.

Kravits said the timing of the hiring amid the coronavirus pandemic has provided some challenges, but that has been offset some by having a veteran team.

“There’s always a silver lining, and ours is that we have seven seniors that are all going to get time,” Kravits said. “These are seasoned players and they made the playoffs last year, so it could be a lot worse.”

Of those seven seniors are three returning starters — Jonas King, Lucas Toohey and Tyler Salvatore. Jake Bungard is back healthy after missing the second half of last season recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident, and Nathan Kubasky returns after sitting out last season.

“Jake is the real deal,” Kravits said. “He’s 6-4, and he’s a mismatch for people because of his versatility. He can shoot. He can dribble. He can post up, and he’s pretty much back to normal. I’m very grateful to see that. Nathan was on track to be a 1,000-point scorer before he took the year off, and he’s as good as advertised. When you combine that with the other returning starters, we have enough pieces there inside and out to do something.”

The Vikings made the playoffs last year and lost to New Castle in the first round. They lost Jake Johnson to graduation and Luke Brandner, who transferred to Connellsville.

Kravits plans to take advantage of the Vikings’ speed, especially with four players who played on the Mt. Pleasant soccer team that reached the WPIAL semifinals — Toohey, Salvatore, Kubasky and Nathan Saloom. That will allow them to play an up-tempo style with a pressing defense at times.

Kravits doesn’t describe himself as a system coach, but he has three tenets he wants every team to have: strong defense, minimal turnovers and good shot selection.

“Defense will keep you in games,” Kravits said. “You’re not always going to shoot well every night. If we limit our turnovers, we can play with high intensity on defense. I want us to be fluid on offense but get high-percentage shots. Those three things will carry over from year to year, but the style of defense and offense that you play that changes based on your personnel.”

Realignment has Mt. Pleasant in a new Section 3-4A with Uniontown, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, South Park, Southmoreland and Yough. Kravits spoke highly of the tradition at Belle Vernon and Uniontown, and his goal is to turn Mt. Pleasant into a program that can compete for a section title every year.

“Belle Vernon has been rolling since they made the coaching change a couple years ago, and Coach (Joe) Salvino is a great coach,” Kravits said. “Obviously, Uniontown has been led by Coach (Rob) Kezmarsky for a long time and they have a tremendous history of success.

“There’s always going to be tough competition, and Mt. Pleasant has had a ton of success in boys basketball, but there’s an opportunity here to capture some interest. It’ll obviously be more challenging this year with the covid situation, but I want to set a solid foundation and build a culture going forward. The group I have this year I feel will go a long way towards that.”

Mt. Pleasant boys basketball at a glance

Coach: T.J. Kravits

Last year’s record: 12-11 (5-5 Section 1-4A)

Returning starters: Jonas King (Sr., F), Lucas Toohey (Sr., G), Tyler Salvatore (Sr., G)

Top newcomers: Nathan Kubasky (Sr., G/F)

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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