The season is not over for several high school basketball teams across the state of Pennsylvania, but with the last remaining teams falling last week in the second round of the PIAA tournament, no squad is representing the East Xtra region in the state semifinals.
With the season over for these teams, it provides a chance to look back on what transpired over the past several months. A full body of work has been presented to be analyzed, so it also gives an opportunity to look at what players, teams and coaches helped shape this WPIAL basketball season.
Typically for these awards, there's some sort of title that derives from a play on words of the selector's name, so on the basketball side, I present the first-annual Craig's List:
Offensive Player of the Year
Boys: Brian Graytock, Greensburg Central Catholic
The Centurions were among the highest-scoring teams in not only Class AA this season, but the entire WPIAL, averaging 67.7 points per game. A big reason for that was the play of Graytok, who led the team, averaging 21.5 points per game in the regular season, a mark that put him 12th among WPIAL players and first among players in the East Xtra area. Perhaps most impressively, Graytok still managed to put up impressive numbers despite being far from a one-man show -- his teammate Zach Herman averaged 20.7 points per game in the regular season. The best news for Greensburg Central Catholic as it looks to replicate its success next season? Graytok was only a junior this year.
Girls: Ciara Gregory, Jeannette
Not too many accolades can be heaped upon Gregory that haven't already been used, and while this award could have easily gone to players such as Sierra Fordham and Sydnee Abernathy of Allderdice, simply no player in the area (both boys and girls) could score the ball like the Jayhawks' senior. This season, she led the WPIAL in scoring with 30.4 points per game, regularly putting up stat lines worthy of a double take. She will take her scoring acumen with her to the college level next season, where she will play for Charlotte.
Team of the Year
Boys: Greensburg Central Catholic
The way that this award works is a little tricky, so first, a disclaimer. The team of the year is not meant to award what team would win if you matched up all of the region's squads in a bracket and saw who came out on top. What it is meant to do is reward a team that, in its own section and class, performed the best this season. Judging under these restrictions, the Centurions were the best team. Greg Bisignani's team went 23-3 and finished 12-0 in Section 3 games while outscoring opponents by an average of 15 points per game. Yes, they fell short in the WPIAL playoffs, getting upset by Burrell in the quarterfinals, but the Centurions still made the PIAA tournament and had the most impressive regular season of any boys' team in the East Xtra area.
Girls: Tie: Gateway and Burrell
A tie can be a cop-out sometimes and in this case, it's too hard to choose between one of these two teams, as both had very impressive seasons at their respective levels of the WPIAL. Both teams were dominant in their sections, with Gateway finishing 10-2 and Burrell going 10-0, and made it far into the PIAA playoffs, with the Gators falling in the second round and the Buccaneers making it further than any team in the region by losing in the quarterfinals last week.
Coach of the Year
Boys: Tie: Rob Niederberger, Burrell; Tariq Francis, Westinghouse
Yes, another tie, but it bears repeating -- while they did so at different levels of area basketball, it's hard to select one over the other based on what they were able to accomplish. Niederberger led Burrell on an unexpected postseason run that brought the Buccaneers to their first WPIAL championship game appearance since 1979 and Francis got the Bulldogs their first City League championship since 1998. For schools that did not have much recent success, it's hard to ignore those feats.
Girls: Bernie Pucka, Plum
There were a number of possibilities for this award, but what Pucka was able to achieve this season clearly stands out. The Mustangs' first-round exit in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs may look modest to some, but their 17 wins are the most that the program has recorded since the 1983-84 season, as far back as the Post-Gazette's girls' basketball records go.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org orTwitter: @craig_a_meyer