Reuben Coleman can't help but be a little enthusiastic about his Wilkinsburg High School boys basketball team this season.
"I certainly think it's going to be an interesting season," the second-year Tigers coach said. "My boys are out to prove that they deserve respect.
"I see a lot of heart and class in these boys, which sometimes is rare from a group of kids. I also see a group that is going to leave it all out there [on the court].
"This is going to be an exciting year."
With 11 senior lettermen, including four returning starters, Coleman's Tigers entered the season ranked No. 4 in the Post-Gazette's boys Class AA rankings.
Wilkinsburg (2-0) earned a pair of victories at Fort Cherry's tip-off tournament this past weekend. The Tigers topped South Fayette, 47-42, on Friday before beating host Fort Cherry, 52-36.
"Against South Fayette, we did some things well, but there are a lot of things we still need to do better, like take care of the ball," Coleman said. "Once we got comfortable, we used our speed, moved the ball and caused some turnovers.
"I'm pleased with how we played in the tournament. We still need to turn up our play and make sure we get better and better every day."
Senior guard Elijah Hill and senior guard/forward Rasheed Howard were both selected to the all-tournament team. Hill averaged 16 points and was named tournament MVP.
"We still distributed our points," Coleman said. "Everyone contributes. That's what I love about our team. Teams won't be able to focus on one player because everyone can score."
Hill and his twin brother, senior Elisha, as well as Howard, 6-foot-6 senior center Jordan Howard (no relation to Rasheed) and senior guard/forward Eddie Morgan round out the Tigers' starting five.
"The twins are the catalyst of our team," Coleman said. "Either one of them can play point guard or shooting guard. We feed off them. They are going to be important to our success and game plan.
"They have to stay focused and keep being leaders."
Coleman also expects senior guard Marc Williams and 6-4 senior forward Kyle Kregan to chip in off the bench.
"Our bench gives us some depth," he said. "We're going to look to them to add some scoring and contribute to our overall scheme."
Last season, Wilkinsburg went 10-2 in Section 3-AA and finished its campaign 18-7 overall. The Tigers lost three times to section-rival Monessen, including a 48-44 decision in the WPIAL semifinals.
"Last year, we expected to win a championship and this year we expect the same thing," said Coleman, whose team had its season end against Beaver Falls last year in the second round of the PIAA playoffs. "This year, we know we have to work hard one game at a time in order to put ourselves in position to win a championship.
"What we're going for [this year] is a WPIAL title. We know we have to put ourselves in position to compete for that."
The Tigers open Section 3-AA play Friday when they travel to Brentwood.
"The section is going to be competitive," Coleman said. "Everyone can beat anybody any given day, and we know we can't take anyone lightly.
"Obviously, Monessen is the team to beat. They have a rich tradition of being successful. Seton-LaSalle has some nice players, too. It's going to be interesting on how things turn out this year."
Considering No. 3 Monessen, which is the defending WPIAL champion in Class AA, beat the Tigers three times last season, Coleman knows his team is anxious to face the Greyhounds again this year.
The first meeting between the two is scheduled for Jan. 3 at Monessen.
"Monessen has definitely turned into a rivalry," Coleman said. "There is mutual respect between the two teams. They love to compete and it's a good thing.
"My boys are definitely looking forward to that game. They are looking for some redemption, so it's going to be a good game."
Coleman, however, knows Monessen represents just one of many obstacles Wilkinsburg needs to overcome this season.
"We need to take care of the ball and make sure we take that right shot selection," Coleman said. "That's what I've been stressing to my guys. We have to play smart and make sure we stick to our plan while staying aggressive the entire game.
"We have to go strong all four quarters and go hard against our opponents from tip-off to final buzzer. We have to take care of the ball and continue to raise our basketball IQ."
First Published December 15, 2011 5:00 AM