With Royce Parham gone, North Hills boys turn to up-tempo approach

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Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 11:01 AM


When a team loses a generational talent, and loses him earlier than expected, a reinvention of sorts may have to take place. And that will be the case with the North Hills boys basketball team this season.

Following the summer departure of rising senior Royce Parham, a 6-foot-8, four-star Marquette recruit who scored nearly 30 points per game last season and was the WPIAL’s preeminent shot blocker, Indians coach Buzz Gabos will change the way his team attacks opponents on both ends of the floor this season.

“We’re going to have to play a little faster and trap a little more,” said Gabos, who enters his 18th season. “The mindset has to change, and it’s probably going to take us until Christmas to do that.”

On top of the loss of Parham, a 1,600-point scorer who transferred to Ohio-based Western Reserve Academy following the Indians’ 20-7 campaign last year, North Hills also lost its other big man in 6-foot-4 senior Jake Pollaro, who chose to not play basketball in order to focus on baseball.

“We lost two starters and lost all of our size,” Gabos said. “So we’re trying to figure some stuff out.”

That “stuff” is – Gabos hopes – a chaotic defensive press that will require a deep group of athletic players in order for it to work.

He feels as if the younger players in the program will actually be better equipped to handle the up-tempo brand than some of the returners, but that the older ones will, in time, excel in the system.

“We’ve always been fast, but we haven’t trapped and pressed in a long time,” Gabos said. “But we like the guys we have, the mix and the camaraderie. I think we’ll be OK. … Unfortunately, the schedule’s not going to help us because we’re going to get tested here in December.”

And that was the case throughout last year, when the Indians finished 8-2 in Section 4-5A before falling to Penn Hills in the WPIAL semifinals and Mechanicsburg in the PIAA first round.

North Hills would have returned its entire starting five and likely been the Class 5A favorite had Parham and Pollaro hung around. Instead, the team will focus on a trio of talented guards to lead, starting with Pollaro’s younger brother Zach, who received second team all-section honors last year.

“He’s the point guard and the guy who is going to direct everything for us,” Gabos said. “He’s bigger. He’s grown quite a bit. He’s obviously stronger and playing at a faster speed and realizing that he can do a few more things. And he can shoot it.”

Sophomore Eric James, who missed a few section games with an injury, also returns after a promising first year of high school basketball. Logan Johnson, a senior, will be another starter and brings back plenty of experience.

“Those three, we’re really relying on them to give us everything,” Gabos said. “We’re going to play some young guys, some freshmen. They’re going to take their lumps at times, so we need Eric, Zack and Logan to be leaders for us.”

The freshman group has Gabos really excited about the immediate future of the program, and what’s to come down the line.

“We moved five freshmen up (from the freshman team to junior varsity/varsity),” Gabos said. “They play together a ton in the offseason. … They’re familiar with our system and are very talented. All five of them can play. … We don’t want to rush things too quickly with them though. We want them to settle in.”

A year ago, North Hills faced one of the more rigorous schedules in the WPIAL, and that won’t change this year. The nonsection is challenging, with games against Butler, Shaler, Montour, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and Penn-Trafford. And Section 4-5A could very well be the district’s best from top to bottom.

Moon is, I think, probably the best 5A team,” Gabos said. “They might be the best in 5A or 6A. They’re really, really good and return just about everybody. Chartiers Valley is not really big, but they play hard, and they’ve got guys.”

Gabos also sees incredibly strong section foes at Mars, South Fayette and West Allegheny – three experienced teams with high-caliber coaching this season.

“We get no breaks,” Gabos said with a laugh.

In time, he hopes his team’s opponents will feel the same when facing the Indians.

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