Trib HSSN 2020-21 WPIAL Class 5A boys basketball preseason breakdown

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Sunday, December 6, 2020 | 7:29 PM


This will surely be a boys basketball season like no other.

WPIAL teams are set to tip off Friday and embark on a masked journey through a schedule likely to change many times as the year progresses.

Teams all have hopes of hoisting a WPIAL championship trophy in March, much like last year’s boys basketball champions — Butler (Class 6A), Laurel Highlands (5A), Highlands (4A), North Catholic (3A), OLSH (2A) and Vincentian Academy (A).

Here is a rundown of players to watch, team rankings and other notable facts for Class 5A boys basketball. Check out a breakdown of each class this week on the TribLive High School Sports Network. Click here to see Class 6A.

WPIAL Class 5A

Preseason Player of the Year

Rodney Gallagher

Laurel Highlands

6-0, So., point guard

23.0 ppg in 2019-20

Players to watch

Wes Kropp

Penn Hills

6-5, Sr., F, 16.0 ppg

Connor Moss

Plum

6-2, Sr., G, 22.7 ppg

Brayden Reynolds

Chartiers Valley

6-2, Sr., G, 19.1 ppg

Mihali Sfanos

Mars

6-0, Sr., G, 14.2 ppg

Michael Wells

New Castle

6-3, Jr., G/F, 20.0 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. Laurel Highlands (17-9 last season)

The Mustangs are coming off one of the greatest seasons in program history after they captured their first WPIAL championship since 1968. Point guard Rodney Gallagher (23 ppg) returns after earning first-team all-state honors as a freshman. He scored 24 points, including the game-winning free throws, in a 52-51 win over Mars at Petersen Events Center.

2. Mars (19-7)

Last season’s WPIAL runner-up will miss first-team all-star forward Michael Carmody (19 points, 19.5 rebounds), but three starters return, including all-section guard Mihali Sfanos (14.2 ppg). The Fightin’ Planets have won eight straight section titles and have played in three consecutive WPIAL title games, winning in 2018 and ‘19. Rob Carmody (344-206) enters his 23rd season as head coach.

3. Penn Hills (18-6)

Expectations remain high for the Section 1 champion Indians, who return three all-section performers in senior forward Wes Kropp (16.0 ppg), senior guard Eddie Daniels (12.9 ppg) and sophomore guard Daemar Kelly (8.7 ppg). Senior Deondre Mitchell (10 ppg) also returns. Former Propel Andrew Street coach Chris Giles has taken over for Dan DeRose, who left Penn Hills to coach at North Allegheny.

4. New Castle (17-9)

The Red Hurricanes are among the WPIAL’s most successful and consistent programs under coach Ralph Blundo. New Castle has won five WPIAL titles since 2012, including three straight in Class 4A (2017-19). But Class 5A could provide a new level of competition. Junior all-section guard/forward Michael Wells (20 ppg) returns to lead the Red Hurricanes, who reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA playoffs a year ago.

5. Chartiers Valley (19-6)

Behind Division I recruit Brayden Reynolds (19.1 ppg), the Colts won the Section 2 title and reached the PIAA playoffs last season. Reynolds, who holds an offer from Army and was first-team all-section, is the team’s lone returning starter. Seniors Garrett Alauzen and Socrates Boulis and junior Anthony Mackey also were key contributors.

Notable

• Class 5A has moved from three sections and 23 teams to four sections and 26 teams via realignment. Connellsville, Highlands, Latrobe, New Castle and Ringgold are new to the classification. Greensburg Salem moved up to Class 6A, and Montour dropped to 4A.

• Entering his sophomore basketball season, Gallagher carries basketball scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, Illinois, Rhode Island and Wake Forest. He also has offers to play wide receiver at Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Toledo and William & Mary.

• Jake Pugh, fresh off leading the Thomas Jefferson football team to a PIAA title, returns as the starting all-section point guard for the Jaguars. He averaged 4 assists a year ago.

• Albert Gallatin’s Nate English is nearing 1,000 career points (895). The Colonials also return forward Dylan Shea, who was first-team all-section last year.

• Highlands, which won the WPIAL Class 4A title last year but was hit hard by graduation, isn’t planning to begin winter sports until Jan. 15 while the school operates in remote learning.

2020-21 Alignment

Section 1: Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin

Section 2: Chartiers Valley, Moon, New Castle, South Fayette, Trinity, West Allegheny

Section 3: Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski Area, Latrobe, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills

Section 4: Armstrong, Hampton, Highlands, Indiana, Mars, Plum, Shaler

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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