North Xtra: New Shaler basketball coach begins the process

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The Shaler Area boys basketball team made an impressive run to the Class AAAA WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals in 2012.

Though it reads as just over a year-and-a-half ago on paper, the period of time that has passed since Shaler made its mark seems much longer.

Gone are most of the players who contributed to Shaler's run, while the 2012-13 season ended with the Titans near the bottom of highly competitive Section 3-AAAA and outside of the WPIAL playoff picture.

Notably, Geno Thorpe, arguably the WPIAL's most talented player last year and inarguably its top scorer, graduated. He's now earning playing time as a freshman at Penn State.

Along with the expected attrition-by-graduation, fifth-year head coach Paul Holzshu resigned, taking with him more than 40 years of coaching experience.

So it is with an essentially blank slate at the varsity level that first-year coach Brian Bibey steps in.

"When you're taking over any program, in my opinion, it's important to get [everyone] on the same page, from the lowest level to the highest level," he said. "Things such as terminology and style of play need to be consistent."

If it sounds as though Bibey knows a thing or two about what he's doing, it's because he's been to this dance before.

A 33-year-old Moon Township resident, he already has a decade of coaching experience at the college level on his resume, featuring a six-year spell at the University of Pittsburgh Titusville as head men's basketball coach and director of athletics and spells as an assistant at Mount Union and Washington & Jefferson.

He cited being closer to his family as a major reason for interest in taking over at Shaler.

Assistant coaches Jerry McMeekin and Chris Visgitis round out Shaler's new coaching staff and provide collegiate and high school experience as both players and coaches.

While interviewing for the position, Bibey and Holzshu, who retained his post as Shaler's athletic director, reached a certain synergy in terms of how the basketball program needed to be shaped going forward.

"I voiced my desire to get involved at the lowest levels of basketball in the community, as to build from that point up," he said. "We've already been able to get our hands on the youth programs and build relationships with some of the folks who run it."

That's where terminology and style of play come into the equation. As young Shaler basketball players mature, they'll ideally fit in seamlessly at the higher levels.

But program-building takes time, and it may be years before the over-arching message that's being preached bears fruit. This year's varsity team, meanwhile, is less than two weeks away from hitting the court.

Bibey said he wants to give every player a fresh start heading into this season, and that all of his evaluations will be based purely on what he and his staff see in practice and in scrimmages.

That said, he does expect to rely on the Titans' four returning seniors: guards Kevin Mincher, Zach Weaver and Austin Critchlow and forward Jacob Mathias.

"Those are the guys who've been around, been part of successful teams at Shaler," he said. "Those are the guys we're going to lean on. They know what it takes to win."

Bibey feels that the road to a strong season must be paved now, before a game has even been played. And to return to prominence in one of the strongest sections in the WPIAL will take time, effort, commitment and, ultimately, growth as a team.

"Our goal right now is pretty simple: We want to compete each day and get better against each other in practice," he said. "We want improvement. Constant, daily improvement. We feel that if we do that, winning [and] being successful is going to be a product of that."

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