‘Sigh of relief’ as City League basketball teams ready for delayed season openers

Sunday, February 7, 2021 | 12:01 AM

Snow days are sometimes enjoyable but not when you’re a high school basketball player who has waited weeks for a game, and then winter weather extends that wait a few days longer.

Just ask Sayon Bennett, a top player in Pittsburgh’s City League.

“We’re just kind of rolling with the punches right now,” said Bennett, a standout point guard, who has patiently waited for his senior season to start. “That’s how our coach preaches to us. We deal with whatever comes our way. This year, obviously, it’s a lot more than basketball.”

The good news is their wait is almost over.

Bennett and his Obama Academy teammates will start their season Tuesday afternoon hosting Allderdice in a rematch of last year’s City League championship.

Elsewhere, the Carrick boys visit Perry on Tuesday, and Westinghouse hosts Brashear. The girls have an opposite schedule with Perry at Carrick, and Westinghouse at Brashear.

Snow was the latest reason their opening day was delay.

The teams were scheduled to start play last week, but a snow day interrupted City League practices, leaving all teams short of PIAA requirements for preseason workouts. Most of their WPIAL counterparts started play at least five weeks ago, but late is better than never.

For a while this winter, “never” seemed like a real possibility after Pittsburgh Public Schools delayed the season twice.

“To be honest with you, it’s a sigh of relief,” Bennett said, “because it was so questioned before. We had to do so much and fight so hard and do all of these things just to be able to hear something back from the district.

“Now that they’ve finally gave us a green light, it’s just a happy feeling. I’m excited to get to play.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools had postponed sports while teaching classes entirely online. However, the district administration agreed last month to let teams start practice Jan. 25.

“The kids are really excited to play,” Allderdice coach Devin Crummie said. “They haven’t been in school even, so this is their first chance to get out and do some sort of school activity other than online schooling.”

Athletes found creative ways to stay in shape while practices were paused. Bennett said his mother helped him build a small gym in their Brookline basement and he went for runs outside. Eventually, he found a private trainer who had access to a gym.

“There were a lot of guys reaching out to me all the time asking what can they do at home,” said first-year Obama coach Naron Jackson, a former Eagles assistant.

“There’s not much you can do but ball handling,” he added. “If it’s a nice day, you can go run or get some shots up outside. It was kind of hard to figure out if we were going to have the season. I know I was kind of nervous about it, but you couldn’t tell them.”

Jackson was promoted to replace boys coach Devas Simmons in the fall. But because of the pandemic, Jackson wasn’t certain who he would have on his roster this season. When practice eventually started, some athletes he had expected to see chose not to play.

“It’s a tough time because everyone’s parents and households are attacking (the pandemic) a different way,” said Jackson, a former Schenley standout. “We don’t have a lot of the guys we thought were going to come out and play. We have a lot of younger guys that we’ll depend on. You’ve just got to respect it and go with the flow of it.”

City League games are scheduled through March 5. Playoffs would start March 8, with finals March 10. All regular-season home games start at 3:15 p.m.

Some teams already have added non-league opponents to their schedules. The only schedule restriction was they can’t play opponents from outside Allegheny County.

The Allderdice boys got an early start by visiting Penn Hills on Sunday afternoon. The Dragons also have games scheduled with WPIAL teams Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair and West Mifflin.

“We have to be ready,” Crummie said. “We tried to have some pretty demanding practices because we know what’s in store for us.”

But first his coaching staff had to pick their rosters. Teams hadn’t work out together in months, so the first couple of practices were essentially tryouts.

“We were trying to pick a team and practice,” Crummie said. “We knew most of the freshmen who were going to be there because we were able to have some fall workouts, but we didn’t know all of them.”

Allderdice returns a couple of key seniors in Cam Butcher and Kiere Henning.

A year ago, Obama defeated Allderdice, 50-39, in the boys championship, ending the Dragons’ streak of six consecutive City League titles. After a long layoff, a rematch is a good way to jump start the season.

“Of course, that’s always a highly anticipated game for the City League,” said Bennett, Obama’s point guard. “I’m definitely looking forward to it. I know they’re going to come in a little angry.”

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 charlan@triblive.com.

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