Starting 5: A primer for 2023-24 boys basketball season in Westmoreland County

Thursday, November 30, 2023 | 3:43 PM

The WPIAL boys basketball season opens Friday. Here are some of the top storylines, teams and players to watch this season in Westmoreland County:

5 storylines

• Several bruisers on the low block appear to be opting out this season. Some local football players decided to throw their basketball shoes over the telephone lines as they build toward college careers. Among them are big-minute players in Belle Vernon’s Quinton Martin and Braden Laux, Norwin’s Jackson Pons and Samir Crosby of Greensburg Central Catholic.

Martin, a former TribLive Westmoreland basketball player of the year who averaged close to a double-double last season, has committed to play football at Penn State. Laux is going to continue his career at Eastern Michigan.

Martin and Laux led Belle Vernon to its second straight WPIAL 3A football title last week and are two wins away from a PIAA championship repeat.

Pons is enrolling at Miami (Ohio), where he is going to play football. Crosby, a sophomore among that group of seniors, wants to spend the winter getting stronger for next football season.

Cole Sullivan, another local talent who plays at Central Catholic and his committed to Michigan, also is not playing basketball.

Latrobe’s Alex Tatsch, another sought-after college football recruit, is expected to miss the season after having surgery for a football-related injury.

• Teams have seen their last one-and-one free throws, at least for now. A new rule eliminated them in favor of two-shot fouls when teams reach five fouls in a quarter.

Fouls will reset each quarter.

In the past, teams went into the bonus after seven fouls, the double-bonus after 10 in a half.

The new format also is used at the women’s college level.

The rule change came down from the National Federation of State High School Associations, of whom the PIAA follows. The PIAA could have kept the one-and-one rule in place, but opted to go with the national standard.

• Which local team will make the longest playoff run? Bets are on Greensburg Central Catholic, which returns its top two scorers from a team that reached the WPIAL 2A semifinals three straight times.

Watch for Yough and Belle Vernon to make some noise, as well. Yough has most of its starting lineup back from a WPIAL 3A quarterfinal team that also made the PIAA tournament.

Belle Vernon will miss Martin, but the Leopards will be athletic and fast when the rest of the football players get back from a state run.

• Annie Malkowiak will become the first woman to lead a boys basketball team in Westmoreland County when she takes the court with Mt. Pleasant for the first time.

That means she can become the first to win with a boys team.

An Ellwood City native and former Cal (Pa.) standout guard, she is just the fourth woman to coach a boys team in the WPIAL, joining another local coach, Carol Gelet, who led Clairton to a WPIAL title in 1997 with the nickname “Mama Bear.”

Gelet later coached the Pitt-Greensburg women’s team.

Another new coach in the county is Ed Jenkins at Valley.

• Five of the 18 boys teams from Westmoreland County will be in different classifications next year, so they will look to get the most out of this season before moving up or dropping down.

Southmoreland will move from Class 4A to 3A, while Burrell, Derry, Valley and Yough will slide up from 3A to 4A, according to numbers for the next two-year enrollment cycle.

5 teams

• The tandem of senior point guard Tyree Turner and senior forward Franco Alvarez will power experienced Greensburg Central Catholic, which will look to run with a quick and long rotation. Bench development will be a priority as the Centurions form a steady rotation.

Turner and Crosby both made the all-state third team last season.

• With Terek Crosby and Austin Matthews providing a one-two punch, Yough could be primed for another section-title run and a playoff push. The Cougars appear to be stronger and faster, but depth could be the linchpin for coach Jim Nesser’s group.

Crosby was a third-team all-state selection last season.

• All-state third-team guard Zion Moore was one of the top scorers in the WPIAL last season and will lead a talented lineup at Belle Vernon, which may look to a by-committee approach to fill in for Martin. Alonzo Wade could have a big year, and don’t undersell Trevor Kovatch. Coach Joe Salvino has 711 career wins.

• After two years away from the WPIAL 5A playoffs, Latrobe appears to have the talent to make a return to the postseason. John Wetzel, Max Butler and JaTawn Williams are a formidable trio. Tatsch’s absence will hurt around the rim.

Butler is the last of four Butler brothers to play for the Wildcats, joining all-time leading scorer Austin (professional), Bryce (College of Charleston) and Landon (Montevallo).

Monessen has another talented lineup that will look to extend the program’s playoff streak to 42 years. Four starters return, including standout Lorenzo Gardner (1,050 career points). Also watch the Kershaws, Timmy and TyVaughn.

5 players

• Yough will look for a big season from Terek Crosby, a 6-foot-3 senior guard who averaged 22.6 points and has 1,440 career points. He is one of the top dunkers in the WPIAL game.

• Greensburg Central Catholic senior point guard Tyree Turner is a steadying force in the backcourt who can score, pass and defend. A heady leader, he averaged 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals last season.

Franco Alvarez is the top big man in the county and he is coming off a career season. The 6-5 Greensburg Central Catholic senior averaged 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, finishing around the rim with precision.

• Belle Vernon’s Zion Moore, a 6-2 sophomore guard, will lead a quick backcourt after averaging 25.1 points and reaching 1,000 career points in two seasons. Another potential poster-maker in the break.

Ty Keffer, a senior at Southmoreland, should vie for the local scoring title after scoring 22.3 points a game as a junior to bring his career total to 1,124. He had 45 in a game last season.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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