North Hills boys basketball’s young roster showing potential

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Saturday, January 20, 2024 | 11:01 AM


As with any young team, North Hills has dealt with growing pains through the first half of the WPIAL boys basketball season. But there have also been flashes of potential greatness that have the Indians in the hunt in mid-January.

Through Jan. 16, North Hills sat at 6-7 and 2-3 in Section 4-5A – arguably the WPIAL’s most difficult section from top to bottom.

“We’re still going through the ups and downs of being young,” said Indians coach Buzz Gabos. “We’re still growing that leadership, toughness and togetherness – all those things you need when you’re inexperienced and playing a number of freshmen and a sophomore.”

While there have been some setbacks, like a 21-point loss to Shaler and the three section defeats, North Hills’ season has certainly had bright spots.

Out of section, the Indians picked up a win in an always important rivalry matchup, taking down North Allegheny, 75-68, four days before Christmas. North Hills also defeated a strong Class 6A team on the road in a 73-71 overtime win over Butler.

“The schedule, we’re not doing ourselves any favors with our inexperience and who we’re playing,” Gabos said. “The Butler game was big early because, right after that, Shaler gave it to us pretty good. So you’re like, ‘Uh oh, what’s going to happen here?’ But to get that one was good to keep some momentum.

“Butler and North Allegheny, it’s always good to compete against them. And winning against them feels good.”

With just three seniors on the roster, and having to deal with the losses of both of the team’s starting forwards — Marquette recruit Royce Parham transferred out of state and Jake Pollaro is not playing to focus on baseball — the Indians have been smaller and younger.

Offensively, they’ve been led by sophomore Eric James, who is scoring over 20 points per game. Right behind him is Pollaro’s brother, Zach, who is over 19 points per contest in his junior season despite dealing with an early injury and an in-season illness that took him out for over a week.

“We’ve had good balance,” Gabos said. “The two of them have been scoring it. It’s something we talk about. When you have just one guy that teams can really lean on, then it makes it hard. But when you have two guys who can go out and give you 30 points on any given night, they should be able to play off of each other.”

The Indians have picked up section wins over West Allegheny and Chartiers Valley and have losses to Mars, Moon and South Fayette — the three teams leading Section 4-5A.

Gabos can identify what needs to be improved to get payback when they meet those teams again.

“Well, the defense is coming, but it’s probably our rebounding,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of size. Our biggest guy is probably 6-foot-2. We have to put bodies on people, and we have lapses. Against Moon (a 73-60 overtime loss), we did a good job in the first half. And then they just gashed us on the glass. We guarded them well, but they killed us with second chances.

“Our section’s really, really competitive. South Fayette, Moon and Mars … I think they’re three of the better teams in 5A. So we’ve had some tough losses.”

Those defeats, however, have perhaps had silver linings. The Indians have tinkered with their style, backing off from a continuous defensive press that had mixed results through Christmas.

Plus, with five freshmen on the roster who Gabos is very high on, there’s been plenty of opportunity for young guys to get key minutes.

“Through the last couple of games, we’re learning to compete more and learning what it takes,” he added. “We’re improving and we need to continue to improve. The one nice thing is that, if you’re young or old, if you’ve got guys who can play, we know that we’re going to improve. We have young guys who we know have a lot of ability.”

Looking forward, Gabos may pull out a quote from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, and ask for his team to “stack wins.”

The Indians, through Jan. 16, had yet to win consecutive games. And that’s something that will have to change if North Hills is to break into what may be a very open Class 5A postseason.

“We were 5-7 going into the Chartiers Valley game and had just lost a tough one at South Fayette,” Gabos said. “But to come back and get one, you just want to keep that momentum, keep winning enough games so that they keep believing and keep seeing good things.

“(Class) 5A’s tough. There’s a lot of really good teams and a lot of stars. There’s a lot of guys who can go off and get 35. But we’ll take a shot. That’s our hope. Can we get in with what we have, and then take it a day at a time.”

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