Wanting to keep family close, Justin Walther accepts Winchester Thurston basketball job

Thursday, June 25, 2020 | 11:28 PM

While searching for a boys basketball job, coach Justin Walther wanted a high school that would treat him like family, but just as importantly, a place he could share with his family.

That became imperative after his mother’s death in early June.

“My parents have been a great part of my basketball career when I played and then as a coach,” said Walther, remembering how Donna and Howie came to his Pitt-Johnstown games, both home and away. “I had to make sure I was coaching somewhere where I was going to be accepted and taken care of.

“And it had to be close to home.”

Walther says he found that combination at Winchester Thurston. The private school’s Shadyside campus is a short drive from Munhall, where Walther lives with his wife and 1-year-old child.

His father also lives in Munhall.

“It just felt right,” Walther said. “Since my mom passed away, I was looking for something close, so my dad can come to the games. We’re approximately 10 or 15 minutes from there. Everything just made sense.”

Walther accepted the job effective July 1.

His new position comes after four seasons at Serra Catholic, where he went 58-36 and led the team to the WPIAL Class 2A finals in 2019. The Eagles went 21-5 that season, 12-0 in the section and finished as WPIAL runners-up.

He resigned in May to find a new job.

“We believe that we hit a home run in hiring Justin Walther,” Winchester Thurston athletic director Cedric Brown said.

“Everyone we talked with talked about how he builds relationships,” Brown added. “Relationships with the players. Relationships with the parents. Relationships in the community. … Those are so very important.”

Brown noted that Walther has a history of successes, including his time at Pitt-Johnstown, where he enjoyed a hall of fame career. The Central Catholic graduate finished as UPJ’s all-time leading scorer.

“My intention is to help Justin in any way that I can to build the same type of program he had at Serra Catholic,” Brown said, “and the type of program that we believe Winchester Thurston School can have.”

Like Walther, Brown is new to the school. He hasn’t officially started as athletic director – his first day is also July 1 – but wanted to be involved in choosing the new boys basketball coach. The previous coach, Jordan Marks, resigned in March with a 47-40 record in four seasons.

The Bears went 12-13 last season and reached the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals. A year earlier, they went 16-6 overall and won the Section 1 title.

“The previous coaching staff left me in a great spot,” Walther said. “I’m just looking to take it to the next level. I know last year they ended up being the 13 seed, got a couple of upsets and made it to the semis.

“That’s something to build off of.”

His mother died June 5, days after being diagnosed with cancer. That reinforced his desire to coach close to home, he said. Winchester Thurston offered him the job last week, a couple of hours after his interview.

The job came with a larger paid coaching staff than at Serra Catholic, and a youth program, something he didn’t have before. Winchester Thurston includes grades kindergarten through 12th.

“I said, ‘Give me a little bit of time to sit down with my wife,’” Walther said. “I called my dad up and he told me ‘Go’ immediately.”

Along with coaching high school, Walther runs Pittsburgh Buckets, an AAU basketball program, and provides individual training for athletes. When Walther left Serra Catholic, he talked about finding a job in one of the largest classifications, but saw those priorities change.

“This was the right move for me,” Walther said, “and it was the right move for my family.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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