This time last season, the Jeannette boys basketball team was caught in a rut, one it was forced to find its way out of. A Jayhawks team that had six players who were freshmen or sophomores had lost four of seven games after a 5-0 start. While the team rebounded and made it to the second round of the PIAA playoffs, this season's edition of the Jayhawks has had no such midseason slump. Jeannette has built an impressive 12-2 record, including a 5-1 mark in Section 3-AA. Its losses came on Dec. 28 to a team from Tennessee and to Greensburg Central Catholic, 65-61, on Tuesday. The victory gives the Centurions an edge in the two rivals' quest for the section title, especially considering that the Jayhawks lost on their home court. They'll get a chance to even the score when the teams meet again on Feb. 8.
SUCCEEDING WITH A FLAIR
As impressive as Jeannette's early success this season is, the record fails to paint the full picture of how good the team has been. Yes, the Jayhawks have won games, but what's been more eye-opening is how they have won so convincingly. The margin between their average points per game and points per game allowed this season is 19.2, the highest mark of any Section 3 team. In fact, of the 133 teams in the WPIAL, only eight have a larger margin in average scoring than the Jayhawks.
When scanning the Jeannette roster, it's hard not to pick out a player with the same last name as the team's coach, a reality that is not a coincidence. Julian Batts is a sophomore guard for the Jayhawks. The son of coach Adrian Batts, he also is one of the best sophomores in the WPIAL. Julian is averaging 16.8 points per game, the second-highest mark on the team, and scored a game-high 20 last week in a 61-56 win against Latrobe. For Adrian, it's easy to be a coach and a father with his son. "It's a thrill, as a dad, to see him mature as a young man. He's growing up, he's a good student and a solid young man. It's great as a dad, but as a basketball coach, he's really worked on his game."
A NOTABLE ALUM
Terrelle Pryor may be best known as the former Ohio State and current Oakland Raiders quarterback, and, while many locally can recall his extraordinary performances on the football field for Jeannette, he also was a standout basketball player. As a senior in 2008, Pryor helped lead the Jayhawks to WPIAL and PIAA titles, with Batts on the sideline as an assistant coach. Batts said Pryor still comes back to visit, supporting both the boys and girls teams at the school, and that he would have had a bright future in basketball, as well. "If he didn't take the route of playing quarterback, I think he would have been an NBA player," Batts said. "He understood the game and knew how to play. That's a rare combination."
THE DUKE OF JEANNETTE
At the center of the Jayhawks' offense this season has been senior guard Duke Brown, who is averaging a team-high 19.6 points per game. That places him among the top 25 scorers in the WPIAL. Brown has received interest from several Division II schools, and Batts has lauded Brown's improvement in his all-around game. "If he continues to grow as a player, I think that interest will turn into offers," Batts said.
"A CLOSE-KNIT GROUP"
Team chemistry is one of those hard-to-define, yet easy-to-see intangibles, something Batts said his team has in abundance. Of the 14 players on the roster, 10 played together on the football team, something which Batts said made them "a close-knit group." Looking at the group of Jayhawks who play both sports, none stand out to Batts more than senior guard Jordan Edmunds, who is averaging around 13 points per game while being a key defensive presence. "Jordan Edmunds has been the heart and soul of our team," Batts said. "I have him guard each team's best player. He's done a phenomenal job accepting that role. He has all the intangibles to be successful. I'm so proud of that young man."
Craig Meyer: email@example.com