Boasting players such as Hampton’s Ryan Luther and Fox Chapel’s Matt D’Amico, the North Xtra area has a multitude of senior basketball players who are well known throughout the WPIAL.
There’s a group of players a couple years younger, however, who are already making a sizable impact and could very well become household names among area scholastic basketball fans during their final two years of high school.
North Hills’ Shawndale Jones, Mars Area’s John Castello, North Catholic’s Jon Savulchak and Vincentian’s Jamison Nee are all big contributors on their teams and all are averaging at least 14 points per game. All four are sophomores.
North Catholic coach Dave Long has gotten a first-hand look at them all and called them a special group. Long sees Savulchak just about every day, and his Trojans have played against North Hills, Mars and Vincentian this season.
“Obviously, based on what they’re doing every night when they step on the floor, they’re outstanding players,” Long said. “All of those players, I don’t think their coach would give them away for any amount of money.
“When someone is performing like that as a sophomore, you just hope they don’t get injured and they keep improving. The upside is big for these guys. The sky’s the limit.”
Jones, a 6-foot-1 point guard, is the most highly regarded of the four. Jones is averaging 19 points per game and scored a career-high 29 in a season-opening win against Baldwin. Pittsburgh Basketball Report ranks Jones as the No. 3 player from the Greater Pittsburgh area in the Class of 2016.
“He’s very talented,” said North Hills coach Buzz Gabos, adding that he believes Jones could add a few more inches before he graduates. “He’s able to do a lot of things. He can shoot it. I think that’s the one thing at his age that he does really well.
“He has a lot of athleticism and can really jump. He can handle the basketball and he has shown the ability to shoot from the perimeter.
“The thing about him is he’s young for his grade. He won’t be 16 until the end of June. Doing what he’s doing in Quad-A in arguably the best section in the WPIAL [Section 3] night in and night out is excellent.”
Castello serves a much different role for Mars. A 6-4 center, Castello has been tough for opponents to contain in the paint. Castello averages 16 points per game and gives the Planets an excellent complement to senior guard Owen Nearhoof, the team’s leading scorer.
It’s no surprise that Savulchak, a 6-2 guard-forward who is scoring 14 points per game, is already making his presence known as just a 10th-grader. His siblings — Lauren and Danny — were former stars at North Catholic, as were many of his cousins. Savulchak is Long’s nephew, with Long and Savulchak’s mother being brother and sister.
“Like most of his cousins, Jon’s developed a sense of confidence within himself,” Long said. “He has confidence in his ability. And he definitely has the athleticism.
“Him being the youngest of that generation [in the family], I always tease him when I ask him ‘Do you just want to be remembered as just one of the Longs? Or do you want to be remembered as the best one? He has the potential to do that.”
Nee, a 6-1 guard, is the second-leading scorer for the highest scoring team in the WPIAL. Nee averages 14 points for Vincentian, which is scoring 93 points per game. Nee was a valuable reserve last season, helping the Royals win the WPIAL Class A title.
It would be unfair to call Aquinas Academy a “one-man team,” but the Crusaders do have a player who has accounted for half of the team’s points.
Mike Tappe, a 5-9 junior guard, has poured in 21 points per game. Heading into the week, the Crusaders had scored 436 points. Tappe had 218 of them.
Tappe’s biggest outing came last week against Vincentian, when he scored 39 points. That tied a school record, one Tappe set a season ago.
Tappe has been one of the few bright spots for Aquinas, which is 0-12. The Crusaders went 1-20 last season.
Here is an upcoming boys game to keep an eye on:
Quaker Valley at Avonworth, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. — It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call this one of Avonworth’s biggest games in decades. With a win, the Antelopes (12-3, 8-0) would take a big step toward winning their first section title since 1974. After not beating their Class AA Section 6 rival for 10 years, the Antelopes will look to knock off the Quakers (15-1, 7-1) for the second time in less than a month. Avonworth won, 56-54, Jan. 3.