Penn Hills boys focus on fundamentals while reloading after WPIAL championship run

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Sunday, November 26, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Chris Giles doesn’t need to look at the returning players or incoming freshmen to know what the plan is. The veteran Penn Hills boys basketball coach is going to focus on the fundamentals.

While this year’s version of the Indians will be missing key pieces from their WPIAL Class 5A championship team from last season, things in the preseason weren’t much different.

“My message never changes,” Giles said. “I want them to trust their fundamentals. We work on them every day. We work on those in the offseason and fall and want them to refine what they are being taught.”

Making improvements on the floor will be important for many players in Penn Hills’ lineup. The Indians will need to fill the void left by Daemar Kelly, a 1,000-point scorer who now plays at Quinnipiac.

Penn Hills will also be without senior Julian Dugger. Dugger, a Pitt commit, is planning to enroll in college early and won’t play for the Indians this winter.

“It is going to be an adjustment,” senior guard Robby Thomas said. “I believe in our coaching staff that they will find ways to help us win.”

Penn Hills will open the season Dec. 8 at the Twyman Tip-Off Tournament at Central Catholic. The Indians, who are the defending Section 2-5A champions, will be in a section with Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Plum, Shaler and Woodland Hills.

Giles said the Indians have been working on being better shooters in the offseason.

“That’s the fundamental piece,” Giles said. “We work on fundamentals and the defensive end. Can you dribble, pass and shoot? Can you rebound on the defensive end? We take pride in fundamentals with the coaching staff. That’s what we teach.”

Penn Hills won the program’s fifth WPIAL championship last season. The Indians reached the PIAA quarterfinals for the second straight season before losing to Cathedral Prep and wrapping up the season 23-4.

Thomas and Lamire Redman are both returning this season. Both benefited from getting the experience of playing in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs games.

“We want to play together as a team,” Thomas said. “We want to communicate well and not get frustrated with each other.”

Giles said Khalil Wall, who has started games for Penn Hills in the past, will also return.

While the group returning is an inexperienced one, Giles believes they will be driven to try to follow in the footsteps of the teams from the past few seasons.

“Can they do what previous groups have done?” Giles said. “All they do is compete at Penn Hills. I like our first couple practices. They want to continue the tradition of winning the section and competing for WPIAL championships. Once you get a taste of it, they see the atmosphere at the state playoffs, they want their own taste of it.”

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