Trib HSSN Head of the Class: Best of WPIAL boys basketball 2022-23

Friday, March 31, 2023 | 10:07 PM

There were a lot of players and coaches who put in plenty of time on the basketball court this season to be the best that they could be.

While we salute all of those who participated in a memorable 2022-23 boys high school basketball campaign, we have a special seat in the front of the classroom for those who were a cut above.

The following six players and coaches will fill those seats after being named the Trib HSSN Head of the Class for the 2022-2023 season in each of the six classifications.

Class 6A

Player of the Year: Dante DePante, Central Catholic

Four years of hard work finally paid off for this Central Catholic senior. After averaging over 16 points per game during the regular season, Dante DePante and the Vikings got hot in the district postseason. DePante scored 34 points in a quarterfinal win over Baldwin, 25 points in the semifinal victory against Upper St. Clair and 29 points in leading Central Catholic past New Castle in the 6A title game, 61-52. It was the Vikings’ second WPIAL championship and first in 15 years. He has not made a decision on his college choice.

Coach of the Year: Ralph Blundo, New Castle

It is easy to take this program for granted. New Castle has now played in the WPIAL basketball championship game nine times in the last 12 years, and in the three years it didn’t reach the finals, it lost in the semifinals. Ralph Blundo is the architect behind the Red Hurricane success. This season, they were the top team in 6A with only two regular season losses despite some key injuries. New Castle lost to Central Catholic in the WPIAL title game and reached the PIAA quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champion Reading.

Class 5A

Player of the Year: Royce Parham, North Hills

The Rolls Royce of the WPIAL played a big part as a sophomore in 2022 on a title-game run for top-seeded North Hills. The Indians lost to Fox Chapel in the finals a year ago and lost some key parts to that team to graduation. But Royce Parham lifted his teammates all season with his sensational play, averaging nearly 30 points per game as the Indians won 20 games and captured the tough Section 4-5A title. North Hills reached the 5A semifinals before losing to eventual champion Penn Hills. His college choice between many big time suitors will be one of the big stories heading into his senior year.

Coach of the Year: Joe Urmann, Peters Township

What a difference a year and a drop in classification made. Joe Urmann completed his second year at Peters Township in 2022 with the Indians finishing with a record of 8-14 overall and in last place in Section 2-6A. After realignment dropped Peters Township into Section 1-5A, the Indians responded with a dominant season that included 24 wins, a 15-game winning streak, a section crown and a district runner-up trophy after Peters Township lost to Penn Hills in the 5A finals, 70-65. The Indians season ended with a loss in the PIAA quarterfinals.

Class 4A

Player of the Year: Meleek Thomas, Lincoln Park

The future is very bright for this sensational sophomore. On a team full of talent, Meleek Thomas was a cut above. He combined with junior Brandin Cummings to form one of the top duos the district has seen in years. Thomas averaged over 23 points per game and had a double-double in the WPIAL 4A title game with 25 points and 14 rebounds in the win over North Catholic. In the state finals, he had 22 points, including the winning basket in a 62-58 victory over Neumann-Goretti. His eventual college choice will be newsworthy across the nation.

Coach of the Year: Mike Bariski, Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park took on many challengers in and out of the WPIAL and conquered all but one of them on its way to double gold. The Leopards beat WPIAL champion Aliquippa and Imani Christian and their only loss was to 6A winner Central Catholic. Lincoln Park won its first 12 games and then finished the season winning 18 consecutive contests. Mike Bariski celebrated his 14th season as head coach of the Leopards by winning the school’s sixth WPIAL boys basketball championship and third PIAA state crown under his tutelage.

Class 3A

Player of the Year: Makhai Valentine, Steel Valley

Steel Valley brought plenty of love to the hardcourt, because every time they played, it turned into Valentine’s day. Senior Makhai Valentine was an unstoppable force in helping the Ironmen win the Section 2-3A title and earn the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL 3A playoffs. Valentine was the second-leading scorer in the district this winter with an average of 36.6 points per game and is the all-time leading scorer in Steel Valley history. He delivered a thrilling game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Seton LaSalle in the quarterfinals and nearly repeated that feat in a loss to Deer Lakes in the semifinals. His college choice is undecided.

Coach of the Year: Albie Fletcher, Deer Lakes

Talk about setting the bar high. Albie Fletcher is a Deer Lakes lifer. He went to school there, was as assistant coach there and was named head boys basketball coach after Terrance Parham stepped down following the 2021-22 season. The Lancers were co-champions with Shady Side Academy in Section 3-3A and were the No.5 seed in the 3A playoffs before making history by beating Ellwood City, Mohawk, No. 1 Steel Valley and four-time defending champion OLSH to win the school’s first district basketball crown. To prove that was no fluke, Deer Lakes knocked off Seneca, Loyalsock Township, Neshannock and Penn Cambria to earn a spot in the 3A state finals before losing to West Catholic.

Class 2A

Players of the Year: Shea Champine, Bishop Canevin

With some key losses from last year’s district and state championship boys basketball team, Bishop Canevin raised a glass for their senior leader who would then toast Crusaders opponents. With teams keying on slowing down Shea Champine, he never met a defense he couldn’t frustrate. Champine was the fourth-leading scorer in the WPIAL, averaging over 30 points per game. He helped the Crusaders win the Section 2-2A championship and Bishop Canevin was the No. 2 seed in the 2A tournament. Bishop Canevin lost to Northgate in the district semifinals and Aliquippa in the PIAA quarterfinals. Champine had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the setback to the Flames and 25 points in the loss to the Quips. He is undecided on his college.

Coach of the Year: Nick Lackovich, Aliquippa

Now in his third year in his second stint as Aliquippa boys basketball coach, Nick Lackovich has earned the nickname Medal Man. In his combined six years as Quips head coach. Lackovich has led his team to three WPIAL championships, one state title and three PIAA runner-up trophies. This year marked the third time in his six seasons that the Quips claimed medals in both the district and state playoffs. Aliquippa won the WPIAL 2A crown with a 52-40 win over Northgate then earned silver in the PIAA postseason after falling to Lancaster Mennonite, 60-44.

Class A

Player of the Year: Vinnie Cugini, Aquinas Academy

There may be better players in the WPIAL, but nobody tops Vinnie Cugini when it comes to scoring the basketball. In fact, nobody is better than the Aquinas Academy senior in the history of WPIAL hoops. For the fourth straight year, Cugini led the WPIAL in scoring with a mind-numbing average of 43.3 points per game and nearly 12 rebounds per game. Cugini broke the 30-year scoring record of Tom Pipkins of Valley and became the all-time scoring leader in the district. He finished with 3,189 points. He also guided the Crusaders to their first playoff victory this season. Cugini is a Pitt-Johnstown recruit.

Coach of the Year: Omar Foster, Imani Christian

In only his third year as head coach at Imani Christian, Omar Foster may be on the verge of a dynasty. The Saints went marching through the district and the state to capture the school’s first WPIAL and PIAA boys basketball championships, and they did it with a roster filled with underclassmen. Foster guided Imani Christian to a 23-6 record with a starting five made up of one junior and four sophomores. One of those 10th graders, Dame Givner, led the team in the WPIAL finals with 17 points while another sophomore, Alier Maluk, led the Saints with 22 points in the state title game.

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