St. Joseph basketball players adjust to new coach, system during summer workouts

Friday, June 21, 2019 | 5:12 PM

When longtime St. Joseph boys basketball coach Kelly Robinson resigned in April after 21 seasons at the helm, the search began in earnest to find his replacement.

A little less than a month later, the Spartans had their man in Hart Coleman, who led the Plum boys team the past two seasons.

In the weeks since Coleman’s hire, the mix of returning and new players began the building process in a new era for the program.

Rising junior Andrew Sullivan, a returning starter at guard, said things have been progressing well, despite the coaching change, a new system and the loss of several key seniors from last year’s team that went 18-6 overall, won the Section 3-A title and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals.

“It’s been like a fresh start for everyone,” said Sullivan, who led the team in scoring this past season at 15.5 points per game and was named a Valley News Dispatch first-team all-star.

“Last year was amazing, but that doesn’t matter now. It’s a new coach, a new system and a new slate. Everyone has to prove themselves. Nothing is secured. That’s why we’ve been working so hard the past couple of weeks. All the spots are up for grabs, and we have to work to get them.”

In addition to Sullivan, back with varsity experience from last year are rising seniors Eli Swierczewski and Dom Fellows and rising sophomore Rylan Zale.

“I knew right away we were going to do a lot of hard work,” Swierczewski said. “We want to get to where we need to be, no matter what that takes. Coach Coleman wants this team to build and grow, and we have to want that back. He wants to create an environment where the players and coaches understand and feed off each other.”

In the roughly six weeks since he arrived at the Natrona Heights school, Coleman said his players have responded well.

“We’re young, so a lot of growth is necessary,” he said. “From where we were to where we are today, we have a lot of high IQ young men who have taken off by leaps and bounds. They’ve taken heed of what we’ve instituted so far. We have a long way to go, and there’s still a lot to put in, but that’s what’s good about the time together this summer. We have time to build.”

St. Joseph hosted its summer league over the past month, and Coleman said he gleaned a lot of information about his players from the games which, he said, featured a lot of talented teams from inside and outside the A-K Valley.

“The summer league allowed us to try out some different lineups,” Coleman said. “We kind of tore things down and are building from the ground floor, if you will, to see what we can do on the offensive and defensive ends. I admit that I’ve been a little hard on them at times, and that’s just to see how much fight they have in them.”

“We’ve been working to score the ball without all of these set pieces and out-of-bounds plays,” Swierczewski said. “We’ve seen a lot of good things from that. It’s a work in progress for everyone.”

Coleman said defense is going to be key for the growing squad.

“In the league, we were one of the leading teams in terms of points allowed. That’s very promising,” he said.

Coleman said the team will be displaced this week while the floor in the gym is refinished.

“We’ve been looking for places to hold a couple of open gyms,” he said. “The goal is keep the guys working. Hopefully, the gym is still accessible. One of the things we need to do is get stronger physically.”

St. Joseph will return to Section 3 this season and face Clairton, Greensburg Central Catholic, Imani Christian, Leechburg, Propel Andrew Street and WPIAL newcomers Propel Montour and Aquinas Academy.

Greensburg C.C., Leechburg and Clairton also were playoff teams from the section.

“There’s been a lot of young players step up, especially during the summer-league games,” Sullivan said. “We hung with almost every team and picked up a few wins. There is a lot of positive things going on right now, and it gives us hope for next year.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .


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