Starting 5: A guide to the Westmoreland County boys high school basketball season

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Thursday, December 5, 2019 | 7:41 PM


STORYLINES

1. Youth movement

Christian Hyland is the new coach at Greensburg Central Catholic and he is barely older than his players. At 24, he is one of the youngest head coaches in the WPIAL. Can he take the experience he honed as an assistant and turn it into wins?

2. City slicker

Buddy Valinsky is used to a different brand of basketball after winning the last six City League titles at Allderdice, but he is adjusting to his new personnel at Norwin. Can he make the Knights a regular contender again? The 6A Knights, who have missed the playoffs three straight times, want to speed up teams and do less standing around on defense. A stark contract to Hyland at GCC, Valinsky is starting a new chapter at 59.

3. Change of scenery

Can a pair of transfers make a fast impact with their new programs? Devin Whitlock could be a game-changer at Belle Vernon after leaving Monessen, while Christian McGowan left one Greensburg school for another — Salem to Central Catholic.

4. Who scores for Latrobe?

The area team that will have to replace the most offensive production is Latrobe, which lost more than 40 points a game from Reed Fenton and Bryce Butler, both college freshmen playing a ton for Lehigh and West Liberty, respectively. Senior Mike Noonan and junior Ryan Sickenberger are among the candidates to fill the scoresheet.

5. Derry on to something?

Derry hopes to catch lightning in a bottle after a strong 2018-19 season that saw the Trojans return to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2008. They return four starters and will be more economy-sized with a guard-oriented lineup, but look for the offense to pick up and the 3-pointers to fly.

TEAMS TO WATCH

1. Belle Vernon

Year 2 under Joe Salvino, the longtime coach at Monessen, looks more promising than the first one for the Class 4A Leopards. Salvino wants to play fast with an athletic lineup that now includes Monessen transfer Devin Whitlock, a dynamic sophomore guard. Also keep an eye on additional backcourt players in Cam Nusser, Hunter Ruokonen and Larry Callaway.

2. Franklin Regional

The Panthers have become a playoff regular under coach Steve Scorpion, but do they have enough around seniors Logan Summerhill and 6-foot-7 Johnny O’Toole to make another playoff push? The development of chemistry will determine that answer.

3. Greensburg Salem

Second-year coach Mark Zahorchak will look to have a more cohesive, senior-guided team in 5A, with players filling roles to complement senior guard Dante Parsons. The Golden Lions will have size around Parsons in Ryan Thomas, Shamar McCoy and Cade Cavanaugh, and help in the backcourt from Jeff Mankins and Jalen Page.

4. Hempfield

The Spartans are known for hanging around teams, even the ones they aren’t expected to compete with, but they are aiming for something better record-wise than the 10-12 mark of a year ago. If the offense can match what the defense did, they should win more games in 6A. An experienced group with a balanced make-up features seniors Mike Gaffney, Drew Coletta, Blake Remaley and Marcus McCarthy, and juniors Christian Zilli and Michael Hosni.

5. Ligonier Valley

Reigning Trib Westmoreland player of the year Marrek Paola is now at Seton Hill, but the Rams, aiming for a third straight trip to the District 6 title game in Class 3A, still feature the goggle-wearing Marinchak brothers, senior Michael and sophomore Matthew. The duo played a key role in a 20-4 season and will look to speed up a smaller lineup.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Riley Comforti

Southmoreland, sr., G: One of area’s better get-to-the-rim threats, he averaged 17 points a game as a junior and will lead a young but deep group.

2. Jake Johnson

Mt. Pleasant, sr., G: Fourth-year starter and one of the WPIAL’s underrated scorers, he averaged 15 points a game last season for the Vikings.

3. Dante Parsons

Greensburg Salem, sr., G: Can score in bucket loads, primarily from the perimeter. Averaged 17.4 points last year and had a 42-point game.

4. Zach Rocco

Penn-Trafford, sr., G: Floor leader has improved each year as a scorer and he will need to provide points as a shooter and on drives to the rim, while also facilitating on dribble-drives.

5. Devin Whitlock

Belle Vernon, so., G: Has knack for big-game heroics, but can his play translate from Monessen to Belle Vernon? Averaged 17.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.4 steals over 28 games as freshman.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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