East Xtra: East Allegheny scrambles for basketball berth
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There is seemingly no basketball player in the WPIAL or City League whose shooting range is in more inverse proportion to his size than Jordan Williams.
A senior shooting guard at East Allegheny, Williams stands just 5 feet 4. Yet he routinely makes 25-footers, shots so far from the basket for someone so small that it would seem fairer if it counted for four points instead of three.
"I've told Jordan that I'll never allow another player under my tutelage to ever shoot from as long range as he does," East Allegheny coach Vern Benson said with a laugh. "Every time he shoots, I'm saying to myself, 'Short, short, short ... in!' I'm always holding my breath.
"He's amazing, though. He isn't scared to shoot from anywhere on the floor. The best part is that he makes a lot of them. He's a really tough kid. I don't usually want guys shooting NBA-type 3s, but I've bought it in Jordan's case. I'm a believer."
Williams has given Benson every reason to believe -- he is averaging a team-high 17.1 points a game for the Wildcats.
Williams and his teammates are believers, too. In Benson's second season as coach, East Allegheny has a chance to reach the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1996. That is pretty heady stuff for a program that has celebrated only one section title in its history ... and that was all the way back in 1967, the high school's first season as East Allegheny.
After defeating Elizabeth Forward, 70-64, Tuesday, East Allegheny is 9-9 overall and 4-5 in Class AAA, Section 4. Though no one is likely to catch Thomas Jefferson (13-5, 9-0) or West Mifflin (13-3, 8-1) in the standings, the Wildcats are in a battle with Steel Valley (10-6, 4-4) and Elizabeth Forward (10-9, 4-6) for the section's other two playoff spots.
East Allegheny has three section games remaining -- at Ringgold (2-15, 1-8) on Friday night, at home against Belle Vernon Area (2-14, 1-7) next Tuesday and at Steel Valley next Friday. The Wildcats also play host to Mount Pleasant next Wednesday in a non-section game.
"Our kids have slowly but surely bought in over these last two years," said Benson, who saw 12 of the 22 players on his roster [varsity and JV] quit during last season.
"I can't speak for what happened before I got here, but I was told by various people that the players lacked discipline. I really don't see any way possible that a team can be successful without having discipline. Our guys have learned to discipline themselves and pay attention to detail. They have come a long way in two years."
In addition to losing a lot of players, East Allegheny lost a lot of games last winter. The Wildcats went 5-16 overall, 1-11 in the section and dropped 10 of their last 11 games and 13 of their last 15.
Those players who have stuck around have shown an unselfish attitude that heartens Benson. Senior Shawn Adair was the shooting guard last season but readily accepted switching to point guard this season in order to free up Williams to play the off guard spot.
"Making that change has really helped us," Benson said. "Shawn has done a great job of running our offense and Jordan has been freed up to move all over the court to get open shots. It's made us a better team"
By the end of next week, East Allegheny will know if it is a team good enough to break its Pirates-like streak of 17 consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs.
"I really want us to make the playoffs and I want it to happen for our kids," Benson said. "I asked a lot of them in the two years I've been here and they've worked hard and did the things necessary to become a good team. It would be a great reward for them to get to the playoffs, something they could remember for the rest of their lives."
First Published January 31, 2013 12:00 am