Unusual Plum boys roster packed with senior leadership but lacking experience

Thursday, November 28, 2019 | 4:42 PM

With plenty of seniors on the roster, it might look like the Plum boys basketball team has a lot of experience. In reality, almost everyone will be new to varsity this winter.

The Mustangs graduated seven seniors who got the bulk of the playing time last season and have only one returning starter, junior Connor Moss.

That gives new coach Mark Marino an almost-clean slate to work with. His goals at practice have been to instill a tough mindset and to push the team to play at a faster pace in drills to get ready for the speed of the varsity game.

“We have a really good group of seniors this year, but they are kind of unique because none of them have varsity playing time,” Marino said. “They were successful in JV, but they were behind upperclassmen that were ahead of them for varsity time. This will be a little bit new to them, playing on a bigger stage.”

Marino spent the last three years at Brownsville and replaces Hart Coleman, who is at St. Joseph.

Moss was a third-team all-section player last season, when the Mustangs went 5-17 overall and 5-9 in Section 3-5A. He will be surrounded by people he has played with before but not at the varsity level.

Seniors Nick Flinko, Tyler Kolankowski and Luke Pupilli as well as junior Ta’Rasi Means will see playing time. Kolankowski was a first-team all-section soccer player this fall for the Mustangs’ WPIAL semifinalist.

The Plum JVs were 16-5 last season, so the current group has experienced winning. Now the challenge is taking that with them against more experienced teams and players.

“I think we’ve seen growth each time we’ve come in the gym,” Marino said. “We’re getting more consistent in what we want. We have to learn how to win, and learning how to win is valuing the ball, doing your job and buying into what we’re doing as a team. They understand that if we’re going to win more than five or six games this year, we need to make sure we execute a little more consistently.”

Marino has been impressed with the vocal leadership of Flinko and Kolankowski during practices. Being vocal is something he has encouraged.

“They are making sure we are playing to the tempo and focused on what we need to do,” Marino said. “Now, we need that attitude to kind of spread to more guys on the team and have them step up to be leaders. You can lead by example, and it’s good to have those vocal guys to help direct things at practice.”

Flinko said it is natural for him to be vocal, so he has embraced that role as he gets ready to leap into the starting lineup.

“I think the main thing is getting used to having more responsibility,” Flinko said. “There are a lot of things I need to look after and a lot people I need to make sure are doing the right thing. Coach (Marino) is helping me along, and I’m getting it, so I’m excited for the new season.”

Plum opens with Seton LaSalle on Dec. 5 at the Peters Township tournament.

Two-time defending WPIAL champion Mars, Franklin Regional, Shaler and Hampton were playoff teams in Section 3 last season. Plum finished fifth ahead of Kiski Area, Armstrong and Indiana.

An element that Marino wants every team he coaches to have is toughness. The Mustangs want to make that their identity to prepare for section play.

“I know that Ron Richards for years and years built this program on toughness, and I firmly believe in that same philosophy of being physically tough,” Marino said. “That’s the one thing I really hope we pride ourselves on night in and night out is the toughness we bring.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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