It's mid-January and most WPIAL teams are in the thick of their seasons, having already played more than a dozen games and half of their section schedule.
Not so for Clairton.
The Bears have played only six games -- the fewest in the WPIAL -- so in some ways they are just getting their season started.
The past few seasons, Clairton didn't schedule any games until at least the third week of December due to the success of its football team. The Bears played in five consecutive PIAA football championship games, meaning their season didn't conclude until the middle of that month. Most of the team's basketball players were also on the football team.
The plan was the same this year, but Clairton saw its football season end much earlier, with the Bears falling in the WPIAL semifinals. By that time, however, the basketball schedule was already in place. The Bears didn't even have any scrimmages. Throw in some postponements due to inclement weather, and the Bears are a little behind schedule.
"In a lot of ways, it's kind of like the preseason," Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. "The back end of our schedule is loaded. We have like 10 games in 14 days. But I think we're starting to come around. It's a slow process, but things are coming around."
Clairton was the WPIAL Class A runner-up last season, but graduated all five of its starters and several key reserves. This season, the Bears are 4-2 overall and 2-0 in Section 3-A.
Geletko has a long, athletic lineup that includes 6-0 junior guard Ryan Williams, 6-5 senior guard Isaiah Hollis, 6-5 sophomore forward Aaron Mathews, 6-2 senior forward JoJuan Bray and 6-2 senior forward Rashead Pacley.
Hollis is off to a great start. In a 77-46 win against Avella last Friday -- Clairton's first home game and section game -- Hollis knocked down five 3-pointers and scored a career-high 30 points.
Mathews is the team's most experienced player and likely its most talented. He showed a lot of promise coming off the bench last season.
You can bet many of the Clairton players have been looking forward to Friday's game at Monessen for quite some time. Not only was Monessen the preseason favorite to win the section title, but many of its players were on the Greyhounds football team that ended Clairton's 66-game winning streak this past fall.
"In about another month, I'm hoping we're at least competing for a section title. That's a definite possibility," Geletko said.
BVA's Slagus shines
Belle Vernon Area's Kaitlyn Slagus -- who stands 6-2 -- said the hardest thing about being a tall girl is trying to fit in.
She certainly doesn't fit in with other girls on the court.
Slagus, a junior forward, is standing out in a big way for Belle Vernon, which is 9-3 overall (4-2 in Section 4) and ranked No. 3 in Class AAA. Slagus is averaging 23.1 points per game, which ranks fifth in the WPIAL. That mark tops all South Xtra players, girls or boys.
In addition, she's pulling down a whopping 18.1 rebounds per game to go along with 2.1 blocked shots. The Post-Gazette doesn't keep rebounding statistics, but it's probably safe to say she's among the WPIAL leaders in that category.
In a game against Laurel Highlands last month, Slagus had 37 points, 18 rebounds and 6 blocks. A few weeks earlier, she set a school single-game record with 38 points.
Slagus comes from a tall family. Her sister, Jessica, is 6-1 and plays at Seton Hill. Their father, Jim, is 6-8.
Here are a few boys games to keep an eye on this week:
Elizabeth Forward at Steel Valley, Friday, 7:30 p.m. -- Steel Valley has had revenge on its mind ever since Elizabeth Forward handed the Ironmen a 69-64 overtime loss Dec. 13. It was a game in which Steel Valley had led by 15 points late in the third quarter. Elizabeth Forward (13-1, 6-0) holds the Class AAA Section 4 lead, but Steel Valley (8-2, 3-2 before a game Wednesday night against West Mifflin) is within striking distance.
Upper St. Clair at Bethel Park, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. -- Bethel Park has won its past four home meetings with Upper St. Clair and is 6-0 at home this season. Upper St. Clair (9-4, 5-1) is tied for the Class AAAA Section 4 lead with the Black Hawks (10-2, 5-1), however, and can take a big step toward winning the section title with a win. The Panthers defeated the Black Hawks, 58-51, Dec. 17.