New coach aims to make game fun again for Plum boys basketball

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Thursday, November 24, 2022 | 9:59 AM


Justin Walther, a familiar face around WPIAL circles, is the new coach of the Plum boys basketball team.

Walther was hired at the end of June and replaces Mark Marino, who went 23-25 in three seasons as the Mustangs coach.

Walther graduated from Central Catholic in 1995 as the second-leading scorer in school history. He then went to Robert Morris before transferring to Pitt-Johnstown, where he set the UPJ career scoring record with 2,073 points and in 2013 was inducted into the school’s hall of fame.

He coached four years at Serra Catholic, compiling a 58-36 record including a 21-5 mark in 2018-19 that featured a trip to the WPIAL finals. Walther’s teams advanced to the postseason three times.

He then coached two seasons at Winchester Thurston, where the Bears qualified for the WPIAL playoffs twice and advanced to the PIAA tournament last year for only the second time in school history.

Plum’s new floor boss isn’t referring to this season as a rebuild. He was asked about his coaching philosophy.

“I’m not married to any,” Walther said. “I adapt to my players. I try to push my players to give their very best.”

Five seniors on last year’s team, including four starters, moved on to graduation. Adam Kotvas, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, is the lone returning starter. He is anticipating a successful season.

“We expect to have a much better season than last year and are working together as a team, getting everyone on the court involved,” Kotvas said. “We have a bunch of underclassmen and new guys joining us, so we are expecting to add them into the mix.

“Our strengths are the team chemistry we have and ball movement. These are two key things that will help us succeed this year. We are looking forward to the season and hoping to improve from last year.”

Kotvas is one of six seniors on this year’s squad, along with guard Andrew Thompson, 6-5 center Nate Yohman and forwards Griff Oresic, Santino Saccone and Kade Thomas.

Walther described what he knew about this year’s team prior to the start of preseason practice.

“Not much, to be honest,” he said. “I know my point guard is returning, and I have some seniors that will work hard, and I’m hoping they lead the underclassmen in a positive manner.”

Three leading sophomore candidates include Will Beckner, Max Grice and Darian Nelson. Owen Proskin is a top freshman.

After starting out 3-0 last season, including winning the Plum tip-off tournament, the Mustangs lost nine of their next 10 games and ended up 6-15 overall.

“My early expectations are to get this team back to respectability and playing hard-nosed, competitive basketball,” Walther said. “We have no immediate goals per say, other than to get these boys to have fun again. We will take this game by game and continue to see improvement throughout the season.”

Plum is a member of Section 4-5A again along with Armstrong, Hampton, Highlands, Indiana, Mars and Shaler.

Each of the four playoff qualifiers — Mars, Highlands, Shaler and Hampton — won at least one game in the postseason. Highlands advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA second round.

“I’m l looking forward to seeing how we perform (this season),” Walther said. “I think these boys see their new staff and see coaches who genuinely care and want them to succeed.

“In previous seasons, they would get down and the game would be over in that instance. That mentality needs to change. And myself and my staff look forward to changing that quickly.”

Walther is assisted by Scott Walker and John Kraemer.

At a glance

Coach: Justin Walther

Last year’s record: 6-15 (2-10 Section 4-5A)

Returning starter: Adam Kotvas (Sr., PG)

Key newcomers: Darian Nelson (Soph., G), Owen Proskin (Fr., F)

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