Soon after the Lincoln Park boys basketball team walked off Clarion University's Tippin Gymnasium floor last March following a season-ending loss in the PIAA Class A tournament, Ryan Skovranko quickly began thinking about this season.
"Getting back to the WPIAL championship [game] and playing for a state title has been our focus since then," Skovranko said. "It's our main priority this year and we talk about it every day."
A 6-foot-7 senior guard/forward, Skovranko has already helped point the Leopards (5-0) in the right direction this season. Ranked as the Post-Gazette's No. 1 WPIAL Class A team, Lincoln Park entered its holiday break following a 79-26 non-section win against Serra Catholic on Dec. 19.
"Basically, we've come out and have done what we know we need to do," Skovranko said. "We've set our minds to play better defensively and we're using all of our abilities, height and length to our advantage to execute both on offense and defense."
Skovranko, who transferred to Lincoln Park in Midland from West Mifflin Area High School after his freshman season, averaged 16 points as a sophomore and 11 as a junior. Although he still lives in Duquesne, Skovranko spends a lot of time during the season staying with teammate Antonio Kellem's family in Conway.
"When scouts and college coaches came to see him play as a sophomore, some were drooling at the mouth at his potential," said Mike Bariski, an assistant basketball coach for the Leopards and the school's athletic director. "He had the length, speed and jumping ability all as a sophomore.
"Last year, he played well, but with the group of players we had, he had adjustments he had to make and kind of faded a little."
Skovranko scored a season-high 27 points against Serra to get within three points of reaching the 1,000-career point plateau.
"This season he's back to the player he was as a sophomore," Bariski said. "He's been in double figures scoring every game and playing exceptional basketball now. He has his swagger and confidence back.
"He's really playing to his full potential through rebounding, playing the floor and scoring."
Expected to be the program's fourth player to reach 1,000 points, Skovranko also scored 26 points earlier this season against Central Catholic.
Lincoln Park alumni David McCauley, Devontae Watson and Chaquille Pratt also reached the 1,000-point scoring mark over the course of the program's six-year history.
"I've really been impressed with his ability to get to the basket," Bariski said. "I think he used to think he had to rely on his outside shot, but he's figured out going to the basket is the way to go. He's seeing others are having a tough time stopping him when he's attacking the rim."
Skovranko and Kellem, a 6-1 junior guard, as well as 6-9 senior forward Elijah Minnie and 6-7 sophomore guard Maverick Rowan are regular starters this season. Chris Pipkin, a 6-5 senior center, and freshman guard Rennell Cummings also rotate to make up the Leopards' starting five.
Junior forward Chase Tomassetti and 6-7 sophomore forward/center Dermotti Welling have added depth off the bench.
"Ryan is a team leader and he really stepped into that role this year," Bariski said. "He knows what guys need to do and where to be on the court. We haven't had a strong voice before who brings out the best in the other guys.
"Ryan has become one of those guys."
The Leopards went 22-7 last season after losing to Clairton in the WPIAL semifinals and District 9 Johnsonburg in the PIAA semifinals. Lincoln Park last won a WPIAL title in 2011.
"Our team chemistry is the best I've seen in the three years I've been here," Skovranko said. "No one is ever worried about getting recognition in the newspapers or being the high scorer a certain night."
Skovranko, Minnie and Rowan are each receiving a lot of interest from many Division I programs. While Rowan has already committed to Pitt, Skovranko said he's still gaining attention from a variety of schools, including Duquesne, Virginia Tech, UCLA, LSU and Liberty.
"Ryan has to show that he's aggressive," Bariski said. "He's a leader and he's aggressive, and he's shown that this year.
"When Division I coaches come see you play, they already know you can play. They want to see if they have heart, are a leader and a good teammate. Ryan has shown exactly that."