New blood in backcourt makes impact for Jeannette boys

Thursday, January 26, 2023 | 5:22 PM

Jeannette knew it would have length and experience with seniors Shane Mickens and Jalen Bass along with sophomore Lonnie Greene returning for basketball season.

Mickens and Bass are 6-foot-3, and Greene stands 6-4.

The trio often plays big. They’re moth-to-a-light rebounders and long-armed defenders.

Junior guard Isaiah Mallich also brought leadership and shooting to the backcourt.

But three newcomers have figured into the mix and have helped the Jayhawks push for a playoff spot.

The continued fusion of those players with the regulars could be what pushes the team forward down the stretch — and possibly beyond.

“That’s three new guards coming in,” coach Adrian Batts said. “We knew Isaiah was a shooter, but we needed to be able to handle the ball. We needed guys who could get it to our bigs.”

Junior Noah Sanders didn’t play last season, senior Giovanni Merola was at Penn-Trafford and Kymone Brown is a freshman.

All three have found roles, whether it is bringing the ball up the floor, dumping the ball down low or popping out for offense from the perimeter.

Jeannette is 10-5 overall, 5-3 and in second place in Section 3-2A, and has won five of its last seven.

“We really molded to each other fast,” said Merola, who was a key guard at Penn-Trafford before he transferred in the offseason for family reasons. “We’re all getting acclimated to one another. There are less kids here. I feel more comfortable here.

“Coach Batts said I needed seven games before I could be called a Jeannette kid.”

Merola had 23 points in Wednesday’s 69-65 win over Leechburg in overtime, the team’s third OT game this season.

Jeannette had four players averaging close to double digits in scoring: Merola was leading at 12.5 points per game, Mickens 10.5, Mallich 9.2 and Bass 8.5.

Jeannette’s defense was leading Section 3-2A in points allowed at 47.6 a game.

Batts said the Jayhawks have struggled to produce offense on given nights because they are working so hard on the defensive end.

“They understand who they need to stop,” Batts said. “We try to take away the other team’s best players.

“It takes effort and will. You have to be accountable defensively. We do a defensive drill every day.”

Jeannette hopes defense can help elicit momentum as it builds toward the closing stretch, including an always-interesting late-season rematch Jan. 31 against rival Greensburg Central Catholic, the section leader.

GCC won 75-60 earlier, the most points the Jayhawks have allowed this season.

Many opponents haven’t reached half of that total.

Jeannette held Batts’ alma mater, Steel Valley, and Greensburg Salem to 39 points, limited Apollo-Ridge to 33, Mt. Pleasant to 23, Clairton to 34 and Springdale to 28.

“I think once we get everyone locked in, we’re going to be a tough team to beat,” Batts said. “Defense, rebounds, free throws and layups win high school basketball games. Possessions are huge in the second half. I tell our guys, ‘We’re playing for something today,’ every day.”

The Jayhawks have overtime wins against Serra Catholic and Riverview.

Serra Catholic rallied in the rematch from 19 down, though, to beat the Jayhawks, 48-45. Merola shot the Eagles out of their 2-3 zone with a hot first quarter, but the game turned when Serra went man-to-man.

The bounce-back win over Leechburg quelled any troubling concerns from the loss.

Jeannette’s other defeats are to Class 3A Yough (47-42), Leechburg (60-56) and 6A Norwin (65-39).

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


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