The first time new Washington High School boys' basketball coach Mark Gaither was able to see most of his new players wasn't while they were playing basketball but during a football speed-training session last week.
Although he didn't get to see the players who will make up the core of his first Prexies team shoot a jump shot or grab a rebound, Gaither did see enough to recognize what he liked and that Washington's strength meshed nicely with his philosophy.
"They were getting timed in the [40-yard dash], and man, have we got some quickness," said Gaither, whose game plans involve fast-paced, aggressive play on offense and defense. "We're going to have five guys who can run the floor who can fly. It's going to be a lot of fun working with them."
A 1993 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, Gaither, 34, was officially hired during a special school board meeting June 30 to replace longtime coach Ron Faust, who retired at the end of this past school year after 28 seasons and more than 500 victories. Faust also served as athletic director.
Washington won 16 section titles, three WPIAL championships and two PIAA crowns under Faust and is coming off a season in which it went 25-4 while advancing to the PIAA semifinals.
"I'm very, very excited," said Gaither, who has compiled a 46-73 record in five seasons as a coach in the WPIAL. "It's just a great place and a wonderful group of kids, and it's a great school. The school board and everyone are real supportive out here.
"I'm looking forward to getting started, getting going, following in the footsteps of someone like coach Faust and being part of trying to continue the success of one of the most storied programs in the WPIAL."
Gaither, who lives in the South Hills, coached the past two seasons at Bethel Park and three years at Ringgold prior to that. He began his coaching career in the area as the associate head coach at Sewickley Academy, on the staff when the Panthers won the 2004 WPIAL Class A title and played in the PIAA championship game.
"I think we have a great candidate here," new Washington High athletic director Joe Nicolella said. "We had some quality candidates, but Mark had the top score after the interviewing process by the activities committee. We've been very impressed with how he's handled himself -- he's very personable -- and with the vision he has for this program."
Gaither, whose day job is as chief operating officer for JAWS marketing, played basketball at Asbury College in Kentucky. Taking over for the legendary Faust shouldn't faze him. When Gaither was hired at Bethel Park, the Black Hawks were fresh off a WPIAL Class AAAA championship.
He replaced Mike Mastroianni there and had taken over at Ringgold for Phil Pergola, who has more than 500 career wins himself and a PIAA title to his credit.
Faust might be gone, but the Prexies will carry on part of their past in Nicolella, who was asked by Gaither to stay on as an assistant coach. Nicolella has been with the Washington boys' basketball program for 30 years and was a varsity assistant for the past 19.
"I'm very happy I was able to convince Joe to stay on," Gaither said. "He's been a great coach, and I wanted to have somebody who knows the kids and knows the school."
Nicolella wasn't planning on staying involved in coaching, but he said Gaither won him over.
"He's been very interested in how our teams have played defense," Nicolella said. "He knows that defense has been a hallmark of our teams that have had success in the past.
"He's enthusiastic and committed to doing things the right way."
This week, Gaither was able to see many of his team's main cast of characters play in the Bronson House summer league.
His goals for the program are lofty.
"We want to compete for championships and continue to play at the successful level they have had in the past," Gaither said. "Every time we step on the floor, we'll compete. We want to compete for section titles, defend that title from this past season, get into the playoffs and compete for WPIAL and state championships. The goals are not going to change.
"I keep telling everyone, I just can't wait for November to get here."