Trib HSSN 2022-23 WPIAL Class 4A boys basketball preseason breakdown

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022 | 6:01 AM


A high school career that began with a storybook WPIAL championship in 2020 ends this season as Laurel Highlands’ Rodney Gallagher plays his senior year for the Mustangs.

Gallagher burst onto the scene when he scored 24 points and won a duel with Mars senior Michael Carmody in an unforgettable WPIAL final in 2020, giving the Mustangs their first district championship since 1968.

Gallagher scored 26 points and hit a pair of free throws with less than a second left as Laurel Highlands beat New Castle in two overtimes for the WPIAL 5A crown last season.

The Mustangs now drop into Class 4A, but by no means are they likely to run away with a championship. Lincoln Park, especially, has as much talent as anyone in the WPIAL.

Preseason Player of the Year

Rodney Gallagher, Laurel Highlands

6-0, sr., guard

18.6 points per game last season

Players to watch

Keondre DeShields, Laurel Highlands

6-3, sr., forward

Bryce Epps, South Allegheny

5-11, sr. guard

Meleek Thomas, Lincoln Park

6-4, so., forward

Brandin Cummings, Lincoln Park

6-3, jr., guard

Jimmy Kunst, Highlands

6-2, sr., guard

Preseason Top 5

1. Laurel Highlands (27-1 last season)

Rodney Galagher’s quest for a third WPIAL title took a hit when point guard Brandon Davis left for Keystone Athletic Academy, but 6-3 Keondre DeShields returns to give him a big-time running mate.

2. Lincoln Park (18-8)

When it comes to attracting the attention of college scouts, the Leopards might be No. 1 in the entire WPIAL. Meleek Thomas, the smooth, 6-4 sophomore, has scores of Division I programs knocking on his DMs. So too does 6-3 junior Brandin Cummings. The rest of the rotation is deep and talented. All Lincoln Park has to do is put it all together.

3. North Catholic (18-4)

Realignment has moved North Catholic into the same section as Lincoln Park — a daunting draw, though the Trojans look to be up to the task. Good luck finding a more accomplished trio than seniors Max Rottmann and Andrew Maddalon and junior Max Hurray.

4. Highlands (19-8)

After the Golden Rams ran into Laurel Highlands in the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA second round last season, they dropped down to Class 4A this season, only to find the Mustangs dropping down alongside them. No matter. With Jimmy Kunst, a 21-point scorer last season, leading the way and 6-8 Brayden Foster inside, they should contend again.

5. Belle Vernon (20-5)

Elusive point guard Devin Whitlock has graduated, but Belle Vernon, which reached the 4A semifinals last season, still should be a tough out. Ballyhooed football recruit Quinton Martin is legit on the hardwood too, and the supporting cast is deep and experienced.

Notable

• Class 4A welcomed a huge crop of 10 new teams this season, with Hampton, Highlands, Indiana, Albert Gallatin, Laurel Highlands and West Mifflin dropping down from 5A, Avonworth, East Allegheny and South Allegheny bumping up from 3A, and Greensburg Salem coming in from 6A. Departing teams are Burrell, Deer Lakes, Keystone Oaks, Derry, Yough, Mt. Pleasant and South Park.

• The end result is 25 teams in four sections instead of 22 teams in three sections.

Hampton is a team to watch in Section 1. Peter Kramer, a 6-4 shooting guard who led Shady Side Academy to a WPIAL 3A title last season, has transferred back after attending elementary and middle school in the district. In September, the WPIAL ruled him ineligible for postseason competition, however.

• Lincoln Park and North Catholic duking it out at the top of Section 2 might be the best show in the WPIAL this season, but Section 2 is loaded even beyond that. Beaver has oustanding depth, Jayvin Thompson is a star for Central Valley, and Zach Oliver is likewise for Blackhawk. Hopewell features Tom Pipkins III, son of the WPIAL’s all-time leading scorer from Valley.

• In Section 3, rival Uniontown is capable of giving Laurel Highlands all it can handle. Notorious Grooms, a 19-point scorer, is one of the WPIAL’s top sophomores.

Quaker Valley went on a magical run to a WPIAL title last season, but with Adou Thiero (Kentucky) and Markus Frank (Shippensburg) playing in college, Section 4 looks to be wide open. Montour made the finals last season, but graduation hit the Spartans hard as well. With 22-point scorer Bryce Epps, South Allegheny is a team to watch. Point guard Rowan Carmichaels, who took the WPIAL playoffs by storm as a freshman last season, leads Avonworth into contention.

Alignment

Section 1: Freeport, Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Highlands, Indiana, Knoch

Section 2: Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell, Lincoln Park, North Catholic

Section 3: Albert Gallatin, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands, Southmoreland, Uniontown

Section 4: Avonworth, East Allegheny, Montour, Quaker Valley, South Allegheny, West Mifflin

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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