North Xtra: North Catholic hoping to have special season

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The Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School athletic program already has achieved plenty of milestones in the 2013-14 school year.

When the football team won the WPIAL and PIAA Class A football championships, that accomplishment represented a major achievement for the proud school that has had a solid athletic tradition.

But there is plenty of work to be done at the Troy Hill-based school, which will relocate to southern Butler County not long after the spring semester concludes. That means there are just five boys and four girls basketball games remaining to be played at Graham Court.

The gym that has been home to Trojans' basketball teams since the school opened in 1939 and to the Trojanettes' basketball program that was started in the fall of 1973 when the previously all-male school merged with Domenec High School.

The Troy Hill segment of the North Catholic story is coming to an end, and for boys coach Dave Long, the passage of each game brings about the realization that the school is moving. A huge chapter in the life of the school -- and his own -- is coming to a close.

"Gosh, to put it into words with the whole move [to Cranberry] and saying goodbye to this great facility is difficult," he said shortly before his Trojans lost to Mars Area, 74-65, this past Saturday in the final Don Graham Classic game at Graham Court.

He's not certain if he will be joining his team in Cranberry when the squad gets ready for the 2014-15 season.

"That's a question I haven't completely come to terms with," he said. "Being grandpa and just coaching, I do the fetching and am the baby-sitter and bottle washer. Sometimes, a family has needs that need to be met.

"Regardless of whether I'm there or not, I have great assistants who could step up and take over. Who knows? I might just switch things up and let one of them be head coach and I'll be an assistant. I'm keeping an open mind.

"Sometimes in life you get so emotionally attached to things that it doesn't work out for us and we're left with a little bit of disappointment. This way, I'm on the fence. If it happens, it was meant to happen. If it doesn't, then maybe the guy upstairs has a different plan for me."

Long, a 1970 North Catholic graduate, did not play for Graham. But he was his top assistant for 18 years, and he has been the school's coach for the past 12 seasons.

"When you start to layer it on with this great [Don Graham] Classic that we have and seeing younger [coaches] come here and bring their teams and play on this court, it's tough," he said. "There's a lot of nostalgia associated with Don Graham as a person and a coach and this facility in general and the time that I've been involved with coaching here.

"It's extremely difficult to put into words with all that's transpiring this year and all that lies ahead."

Still, Long and his staff have to gear up for a potential playoff run that began with the first of two meetings with Vincentian Academy scheduled for Monday night at Avonworth. Vincentian was using the Antelopes court as a home facility because its gym was too small to accommodate what they expected would be a large crowd for the game.

The Trojans entered the game with a 4-5 record and were 1-0 in Section 2-A. Vincentian was 10-0 overall entering the game, and also had an identical 1-0 section record.

One of Long's biggest tasks is getting the five players who also competed on the football team in "basketball shape."

He said the players -- which include starters P.J. Fulmore, Ryan Kirby and Timon Gribbin -- still have a way to go.

"They're absolutely not in basketball shape," he said. "But that just gives me an excuse to be a little more difficult on them."

Through the first nine games, Dominic Robb has been the Trojans' most potent threat. A 6-foot-6 senior forward is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds per game.

The Trojans had to postpone games with Greensburg Central Catholic, Keystone Oaks and Seton-LaSalle while the football team was earning its state championship. No date has been set for the game at Keystone Oaks, but the game at Seton-LaSalle will be played on Jan. 22. The rescheduled game with Greensburg Central will be played on Feb. 10, and it will be the last basketball game -- boys or girls -- played at Graham Court.

North already has played Greensburg Central once, and that was in the Gateway tournament, where the Centurions rolled to a 74-52 victory.

Long believes a second meeting with the Centurions will benefit the Trojans.

"It will be a good assessment to see how well we've moved on through the season since we played them and whether the football players have made the proper adjustment through that transitional period," he said. "We're looking forward to playing [Greensburg Central Catholic] again a day prior to the seedings meeting."

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