The Hampton boys basketball team had to face two WPIAL Class AAAA playoff teams from last season in Penn-Trafford and Peters Township and the No. 2-ranked team in WPIAL Class AAA, Mars, in its first five games.
The Talbots were without returning all-section guard/forward Collin Luther for the majority of those games because of a concussion he sustained during football season.
Yet the Talbots (6-0, 2-0) remain unbeaten, showing why they are one of the top teams in the WPIAL.
"Any time you have a player of [Collin's] caliber unable to play, other players have to step up," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said.
Luther, a 6-foot-7 junior, missed the team's first three games against Penn-Trafford, Norwin and Mars Area. This past weekend, however, Luther was eased back into the lineup against North Hills and Peters Township, playing a few minutes each quarter.
The Talbots were able to succeed in Luther's absence because of their wealth of talent.
Ryan Luther, Collin's twin, was also an all-section player after averaging 15.2 points per game last season. He has already received Division I interest, picking up a scholarship offer from Dayton during the summer.
So far this season, Luther has scored in double figures in each game, including a 31-point effort in the win against North Hills last Friday. He also hit the winning shot in a one-point win against Mars.
He also had 26 in a 49-47 victory against Butler Tuesday.
Ryan Luther said teams this season have defended him differently, especially in his brother's absence, but that his teammates' play has helped him continue to thrive.
"Without Collin, teams seem to focus on me a bit more," Ryan Luther said. "But my teammates have really done a good job of knocking down shots and making plays. That opens up things for me."
Sophomore guard David Huber has been one of the Talbots taking the pressure off Ryan Luther. He scored 55 points in three games last week, including a 25-point performance against the Indians when he hit four 3-pointers.
Huber started as a freshman last season on a Hampton team that advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA final before losing to New Castle. But Lafko said he sees a different level of confidence from Huber this season.
"As a freshman, he was a little less willing to step up and take some shots," Lafko said. "This year, he isn't as passive. He has a lot more confidence."
The Talbots are also getting solid contributions from starting guards, junior Jon Floss and sophomore Joey Lafko, the coach's son. Trace McConnell, a junior, has started in place of Collin Luther.
But the Talbots are more than just their starting five. Ryan Luther said the team can go "10 or 11 deep without there being a dropoff."
The abundance of talent has Lafko dressing more players for varsity games than he ever has in his 17 years as Hampton's coach.
"One of our strengths is our depth," Lafko said. "We are dressing 16 varsity players, and I've never had that many before.
"It makes for more competitive practices. You can never have the type of intensity you have in a game, but it has helped."
The depth could also help the Talbots as they endure a grueling section slate in their first season in Class AAAA.
New Castle and Hampton, last season's WPIAL Class AAA finalists and the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams, respectively, right now in WPIAL Class AAAA, were both added to Section 3-AAAA.
Last season, Section 3-AAAA became the first in WPIAL history to have five teams advance to the district quarterfinals. Only one of those five teams, Central Catholic, has left the conference.
"You have to come to play every game or you'll get beat," Ryan Luther said. "It's the toughest section in the WPIAL."
And as the season progresses and attrition comes into play around the league, Hampton's strength in numbers could be a big benefit.
"In years past, we weren't this deep," Ryan Luther said. "I think it should help down the road."
The Talbots will get its next section test Friday when it travels to Shaler Area to face Penn State recruit Geno Thorpe and the Titans.
First Published December 20, 2012 5:00 AM