St. Joseph boys basketball eyes return to postseason after down year

Sunday, December 6, 2020 | 4:58 PM

Andrew Sullivan remembers the feeling two years ago when the St. Joseph boys basketball team won 18 games and advanced to the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 1A playoffs.

Eight seniors graduated from that team, and a younger and less experienced Spartans squad slipped to six wins last season.

With numerous letterwinners returning, including four starters, Sullivan feels the team can return to prominence and make it back to the playoffs.

“Last year was tough at times for us, but we got a lot of experience under our belts as a young team,” said Sullivan, who averaged a team-best 22 points to go with 4.5 steals, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

“This year, we’re ready to take it all on. We’ve had a lot of time to build more chemistry. We’ve all made it clear that we have to take every rep and every drill seriously so we can get the most out of every practice and be ready for the season.”

Second-year St. Joseph coach Hart Coleman likes what he sees from his team thus far.

“We really didn’t have a lot of varsity minutes going into last year other than Andrew,” Coleman said. “We have several guys back with significant playing experience. We’ve really seen their growth through the open gyms and now the practices.”

St. Joseph is scheduled to open its season Friday at home. The Spartans hope to play two games as part of their tip-off tournament, but because of covid-related defections, Propel Braddock Hills, as of Friday, is the only team coming to the Natrona Heights school.

Coleman said the search continues for two teams to join the tournament. Propel and the Spartans are slated to play a single game Friday.

“The guys really value every minute they are on the court together because they just don’t know if any part of the season could be taken away,” Coleman said. “They are working very hard to make sure that when we get to the start of the season, they are prepared.”

Sullivan scored 25 or more points 10 times last winter, with his season and career high of 35 coming in an 82-72 victory over Aquinas Academy on Jan 31. He was selected as a Valley News Dispatch third-team all-star.

“I have improved on making moves and drives to the hoop, not only for myself but to also open up other people,” Sullivan said. “I feel I see the court a lot better. I am not a player who needs to score a lot. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Joining Sullivan as returning starters are senior center Zach Szep and junior swingmen Rylan Zale and Anthony Kuhns.

Zale averaged 6.2 points last year, second to Sullivan among the returners. Kuhns and Szep averaged 5.6 and 4.2 points, respectively, and Szep was second to graduate Tyler Wood in rebounds (4.2 rpg).

Coleman said a pair of guards, senior Paul Shadle and sophomore Ethan Zale, have been the top contenders for the fifth starting spot.

Zale was the point guard on last year’s JV team.

“Ethan looks like a totally different kid,” Coleman said. “He’s grown and gotten a lot stronger. He’s become more vocal in terms of leadership from the point guard spot.”

Also looking for increased roles are senior forward Hayden Mallin, junior forward/center Trevor Greenwald and sophomore forward Damian Moore.

Coleman said he saw some good things from last week’s scrimmage against 2020 playoff qualifier Nazareth Prep.

He hopes to see additional positives from Tuesday’s scrimmage at Burrell.

St. Joseph again will play in Section 3-1A with fellow section holdovers Imani Christian, Leechburg, Aquinas and Propel Andrew Street. Newcomers to the section are Eden Christian and Neighborhood Academy.

“It is a tough section, but I feel we’ll be fighting for one of the top spots,” Sullivan said.

Imani finished tied with Greensburg Central Catholic for last year’s Section 3 title. The Saints advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals and qualified for states.

Eden Christian also was a 2020 WPIAL quarterfinalist.

“With the changes, I think the section is strong, evenly matched from top to bottom and will be fairly wide open. There is no clear-cut favorite,” Coleman said.

“Imani, I think, is returning a majority of their team. I also coached a couple of their players over the summer, so I am familiar with some of them. We played Eden Christian last year, and they were a very tough team. I know they have some underclassmen who are pretty talented. I am excited to see where we are going to fit in. I feel we will be able to hold our own.”

At a glance

Coach: Hart Coleman

Last year’s record: 6-16 (4-10 Section 3-1A)

Returning starters: Andrew Sullivan (Sr., G), Rylan Zale (Jr., G/F), Zach Szep (Sr., C), Anthony Kuhns (Jr., G/F)

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


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