North Allegheny basketball teams adjust to early start to season

Saturday, November 19, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Starting basketball season a week earlier than usual probably doesn’t excite WPIAL coaches, but the idea of a less-compact regular season maybe does.

Their 22 games will be stretched over 10 weeks this winter instead of nine.

“There are gaps in the schedule and I’m looking forward to those,” North Allegheny girls basketball coach Spencer Stefko said. “As silly as it sounds, I already have plans for those gaps.”

In one mid-January stretch, his Tigers twice have a week between section games, with contests Jan. 12, 19 and 26. There a nonsection game or two around those dates, but there’s more time to focus on the contests that matter most.

“I love the idea of gaps in the schedule,” said Stefko, adding that teams will have more time to assess and adjust. “Man, we are getting killed in this facet of the game, but for five days we’re going to minicamp on whatever this thing is that needs to be fixed. For five days we’re going to camp on our spacing or transition D or ball pressure.

“I love the idea of having time.”

However, the big tradeoff is one fewer week of preseason preparation, which is a concern for some. The PIAA in the past mandated three weeks of preseason practice, but that requirement was reduced to two.

That left the PIAA with a decision to make.

Should teams start practice a week later, end the playoffs a week earlier or add that extra week to the middle? The PIAA chose that third option, a slightly longer regular season.

Opening day is Dec. 2, and section play must be completed by Feb. 11. A year ago, the regular season started Dec. 10.

“Do I like it? No,” said North Allegheny boys coach Dave DeGregorio of the earlier season openers. “Does it impact us as much? No, because our section play doesn’t start until after the holidays. The teams that start section games a week into the season, you’re not going to be ready.”

Teams started practice Nov. 18.

The North Allegheny boys and girls begin section play the first week of January. However, nine girls sections and seven boys sections jump into league play Dec. 15-16.

That’s a quicker-than-usual start after only two weeks of practice. Sure, many teams have already been working together for months in summer and fall leagues or open gyms, DeGregorio said, but there’s a much different focus there.

“We just play,” he said. “We don’t run any out-of-bounds plays. We try to improve individually and start doing team stuff once the season starts. There are some concepts that you’re doing, but you don’t have time for all of the other stuff.

“And you’re not going to have time in two weeks when you’re trying to get all of the fundamentals in.”

The NA boys start their season at the Allderdice tipoff tournament Dec. 2-3. They then have five nonsection games and another two-day tournament before their section opener Jan. 3 at New Castle.

The NA girls start at home with a two-day tipoff tournament, play two more nonsection games and then head to Florida for a three-day event Dec. 27-29.

Stefko agreed that two weeks of practice really isn’t enough time to be fully prepared for a season opener, but said three weeks probably didn’t feel much different to him.

“If you put all of the coaches on truth serum and even the seniors,” Stefko said, “I don’t know how many of them really feel they’re ready for the first game no matter what.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at


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