Montour High School basketball coach Adam Kaufman appreciates the tenacious defense his Spartans have exhibited en route to a 5-0 record heading into a trip to Mars yesterday.
Next week, the Spartans meet Beaver Falls and Hempfield in the Montour Holiday Tournament on Dec. 27 and 28.
"We've been defending really well," the fifth-year Spartans coach said. "We don't have a big man to rely on [for interior defense], so we've had to extend it a little bit."
Kaufman's belief in man-to-man defense has been a big part of Montour's basketball success in recent seasons.
"We're just using a different style," the coach said. "In the past, we tried to make people shoot over us. Now we're using a little more pressure, trying to create more turnovers and get our transition game going."
The philosophy is working just fine for the Spartans, who were yielding 43 points while scoring 70.8 points a game before the matchup with Mars last night.
What's also helped: Some key starters have returned from a 2011-12 Montour team that aced Section 5-AAA with a 12-0 record and finished with an overall mark of 24-5. The Spartans did not win the WPIAL title a year ago, but they performed quite well in the PIAA Class AAA tournament, advancing all the way to the championship game, where they dropped a 48-45 decision to Philadelphia Catholic League power Neumann-Goretti.
Because the Spartans lack a dominant inside strength, Kaufman has been employing what he terms a "four outside, one inside" approach to offense. Thus far, it's working: Montour had raced to a 5-0 start, including a 75-34 victory over Waynesburg Central in the Section 5-AAA opener last Friday night and an 80-35 drubbing of McGuffey Tuesday.
"Our two returning starters are Devin Wilson, who is averaging 20.75 points a game, and Kevin Sciulli, a shooting guard who is averaging 14 points a game," Kaufman said.
Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound senior from Kennedy, is averaging 7 rebounds and 9 assists a game, Kaufman said.
"He's had a bunch of Division I offers for basketball, and some for football," the coach noted. "He's been through the battles, and he's played in the last two state championship games, so he knows what he's doing."
Sciulli, a 5-10 senior and a Robinson resident, is the Spartans' zone-buster who has shot more than 200 3-point goals as a three-year starter. He had 95 3-point goals as a junior and 75 as a sophomore.
"He broke the school record of 132 3-point goals set by Alan Seretti, who is now the men's basketball coach at Dickinson College in Carlisle," Kaufman said. "He's also a three-year starter and played through a lot of pressure-filled moments."
The returning starters have blended well with the Spartans' three new starters. Kaufman likes what he has seen.
Justin Hill, a 6-2 senior from Robinson, has been versatile on the wing, and he's dropped down low to guard an opposing team's post player.
"He's averaging 10.5 points a game, and I like he way he can handle three positions on offense," the coach said. "In a close game where we might have a lot of foul trouble, he can play a lot of positions."
Kaufman said Rob Julian, a 6-0 senior from Ingram, also shoots well from the perimeter.
"He's averaging around 12 points a game, but he had 20 in our last game [against Waynesburg]," he said. "He just shoots the basketball well."
Kyle Kutchman, a 6-1 junior from Robinson, is the team's fifth starter.
Wilson was the leading scorer in two of the first four games, and two other Montour players had scoring honors in the other two. Kaufman said this group of seniors has been together for a while.
"They've been playing together since they were in fourth or fifth grade," he said. "There is no selfishness."
And Kaufman's task has been eased a bit by Wilson's leadership.
"Sometimes, he's like a coach with the kids," he said. "There are times where a coach might say something, and the players will just shut down. But if a peer walks up and delivers the same message, it sinks in. That's what Devin has done for us.
"He's been starting since he was a freshman, and he's heard everything I've said, and he knows how I coach. It helps a lot to have a kid like that with all of his experience and the respect of the team. It's a huge advantage for us."