Trib HSSN 2021-22 WPIAL Class 5A boys basketball preseason breakdown

Sunday, December 5, 2021 | 3:23 PM

New Castle’s boys basketball team moved up to Class 5A from 4A last season but continued its dominance over WPIAL opponents, claiming a record 14th district championship.

The Red Hurricanes have won titles in seven of the past 10 seasons, including Class 4A titles in 2013, ’14, ’17, ’18 and ’19.

With a talented lineup returning, veteran coach Ralph Blundo and the Red Hurricanes could again be adding to the school’s trophy case.

Here is a rundown of players to watch, top five teams and other notables in WPIAL 5A boys basketball this season.

Preseason player of the year

Rodney Gallagher

Laurel Highlands

6-0, Jr., point guard

19.4 ppg last season

Players to watch

Scott Bilovus

West Allegheny

6-2, Sr., G, 19.0 ppg

Keondre DeShields

Laurel Highlands

6-3, Jr., G/F, 16.6 ppg

Will Kromka


6-3, Sr., F, 16.0 ppg

Jimmy Kunst


6-3, Jr., G, 17.5 ppg

Mike Wells

New Castle

6-4, Sr., G, 17.5 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. New Castle (21-3 last season)

The defending WPIAL champions again have the look of a contender. Back in the starting lineup are senior guard Michael Graham, junior guard Isaiah Boice and senior guard Mike Wells, who was third-team all-state last year after averaging 17.5 points. The Red Hurricanes lost to Cathedral Prep in the PIAA quarterfinals a year ago.

2. Laurel Highlands (14-4)

The Mustangs return three all-section players — juniors Rodney Gallagher (19.4 ppg), Brandon Davis (11.7 ppg) and Keondre DeShields (16.6 ppg) — from a team that reached the WPIAL semifinals a year after winning the district title.

3. Penn Hills (13-5)

The defending Section 3 champion Indians reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last season before falling to Laurel Highlands. They graduated forward Wes Kropp (Allegheny) but return junior Daemar Kelly, a 6-foot-5 all-section forward who averaged 11.3 points a year ago. Football standouts Jaden Dugger and Julian Dugger also return, along with guards George Mitchell and Tim Bottoms.

4. Mars (16-4)

The WPIAL semifinalist Fightin’ Planets graduated all-section guard Mihali Sfanos (17.1 ppg), but junior guard Tasso Sfanos returns after averaging 11.7 points and earning all-section recognition. Mars won WPIAL titles in 2018 and ’19 and was the runner-up in 2020. It has reached at least the district quarterfinals every year since 2012.

5. Chartiers Valley (22-4)

The Colts tied New Castle for the Section 2 title last season at 9-1 but lost to the Red Hurricanes, 61-45, in the WPIAL finals. First-team all-state guard Brayden Reynolds (24.9) and four other key seniors graduated, but the Colts return a deep senior class. They will be without senior Anthony Mackey, who will miss the season while rehabbing an injury suffered during football season.


• Gallagher, a two-time all-state selection, led Laurel Highlands to the WPIAL title as a freshman two seasons ago and has continued to gain the attention of college scouts since. He has scholarship offers for basketball from Florida, George Mason, Hampton, Illinois, Penn State, Pitt, Rhode Island, Wake Forest and West Virginia. He also is a four-star football prospect with 15 Division I offers.

• Twenty-two teams chose to participate in the WPIAL’s open playoff tournament last season, which was expanded to accommodate for teams that dealt with covid protocols during the season. The four WPIAL semifinalists – Chartiers Valley, New Castle, Laurel Highlands and Mars were all top 5 seeds. No. 4 Highlands lost in the first round. Only the WPIAL champion, New Castle, advanced to the condensed PIAA tournament bracket that included district champs.

• Former assistant coach Corey Dotchin takes over coaching duties for Section 4 champion Highlands (13-6) and will lean on the scoring of junior guard Jimmy Kunst, who averaged 17.5 points and earned all-section honors last season. Guard Carter Leri and forward Chandler Thimons also return.

• Four starters are back for Gateway (9-8), which reached the WPIAL quarterfinals. The group includes senior forward Will Kromka, an all-section pick who averaged 16.4 ppg. He was sidelined with a wrist injury in the quarterfinal loss to Chartiers Valley. Senior Ryan Greggerson, a 6-7 forward, averaged 9.5 points and 7.0 rebounds.

• Jesse Reed takes over for Steve Scorpion as head coach for Franklin Regional (8-8), which has reached the WPIAL playoffs six straight seasons. Senior guard/forward Caden Smith returns to the starting lineup for the Panthers.

• Shaler (8-5) has eight players returning with starting experience, including senior forward Logan Bernesser (15.0 ppg, 8 rpg), who was an all-section performer last year.

• Trinity (10-9) reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last season behind Mike Dunn, a second-team all-state selection who graduated.

• Hampton coach Joe Lafko enters his 26th season with a team trying to bounce back after finishing 4-16. Senior guard Matt DeMatteo averaged 12.3 points a year ago.

• Corey Smith is the new head coach at his alma mater, Kiski Area (5-15). He led Leechburg to the WPIAL playoffs three times and a trip to the PIAA postseason during his three-year tenure (2017-19).

2021-22 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 or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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