East Xtra: Jeannette figures to be a contender

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Mostly known as one of the elite football programs in the WPIAL, Jeannette has shown that the gridiron isn’t the only athletic venue that matters in recent years.

The Jayhawks boys basketball team has been a frequent WPIAL playoff participant over the past decade, and is primed to continue the streak this year.

Although Jeannette has been fortunate enough to play deep into February and March, the past four years has been a slight dropoff for Adrian Batts’ squad as compared to the Terrelle Pryor years.

The Jayhawks have been ousted in the WPIAL quarterfinals the past four years and lost in the first or second round of the PIAA playoffs in each of those years.

Jeannette stood at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Class AA Section 3 after winning its first home game of the season on Dec. 20 against Springdale, 56-17. They were scheduled to play Clairton Thursday in the Gateway Hoops Classic.

“Our section is pretty competitive from top to bottom,” Batts said. “It is going to be a grind every night. Right now we just have to play one game at a time. It is not going to be easy. We can’t afford to look ahead.”

The Jayhawks are in third place in the section behind Serra Catholic and the favorite, Greensburg Central Catholic.

“[Greensburg Central Catholic is] clearly the best team,” Batts said. “They have some very good players. They are just basketball players. They don’t play other sports. You are going to have to play your best basketball against them and hopefully they make some mistakes along the way.”

One of the reasons for the Jayhawks fast start is the balanced play, led by three year starter Julian Batts, the coach’s son.

“It is a thrill [to coach him],” coach Batts said. “Obviously I am a little harder on him than the other guys. As a dad, I am proud of him. He is a solid student. As a basketball player he works on the game. He wants to play college basketball.

“I knew he would take a lot of the responsibilities that come with being a three year starter. He plays some of the best competition in AAU. I expect him to have a breakout year and hopefully it continues. His leadership abilities in playing football has helped us on the court.”

A 5-foot-11 junior guard, Batts is averaging 23.6 points per game and is closing in on 1,000 points in his career. He currently sits 163 points shy of the milestone after his 19-point effort in the Jayhawks last game against Springdale. Batts has shown he cane do more than score for the Jayhawks, averaging eight assists and five rebounds per game.

“He doesn’t want to be one-dimensional,” Batts said. “He is a basketball player and is a team guy. I have a really close-knit group.”

Also averaging in double digits in the young season is 6-5 senior forward Miles Sunder. Sunder is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game.

“He just does a great job on the opposing team’s best player,” Batts said. “He does a lot of things that don’t show up statistically.”

The Jayhawks have also received contributions from Zach Altieri, Damone Morton, Michael Wise and Terrel Canady.

“Every game has been a total team effort,” Batts said. “Every guy is contributing in a lot of ways to help us win. I am pleased so far.”

Adrian Batts prefers to look at the big picture and hasn’t put a lot of stock into winning the section title.

“We always want to be in the top tier teams in Class AA,” Batts said. “I want to finish one or two in the section. After the WPIAL playoffs begin, the section title means nothing. In the playoffs it is a different mindset. We want to get to Palumbo and have a chance to play for a [WPIAL] title and make the state playoffs.”

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