Freshmen drawing attention
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Every so often a school is lucky enough to have an impact freshman arrive and change the entire outlook of the program for the next four years.
Shady Side Academy actually had that happen twice this year with the arrival of two freshmen to a program on the cusp of being a top Class AA contender.
Geno Thorpe, a 6-foot-2 guard who had been a student in the Shaler Area School District, and Michael Young, a 6-7 forward from McKeesport, enrolled at Shady Side last fall. Combined the two 14-year-olds give the Indians what is arguably the top freshman duo in the WPIAL.
They have brought plenty of attention to the Shady Side program. That attention has come from places as unexpected as Georgetown University and from as far away as the University of Southern California.
"No doubt about it, I was surprised when Georgetown called," Shady Side coach Terence Parham said.
"They usually call Shady Side about academic reasons. This is all new, this is welcome. This is what you love to have when you try to build a program."
USC and Ohio State have shown interest in Thorpe and Young. Indiana called about Thorpe, Georgetown about Young and all the local Division I colleges have been out to see them.
"Before I even met them I heard great things about them," senior guard Jerome Barnes said. "They are really talented, they have some of the best talent we have seen at our school."
The attention is welcome for the program but it made things even more challenging for Parham as he tries to balance a starting lineup that features as many seniors as it does freshmen.
"I guess you can say it has been an adventure," Parham said. "Playing kids with ages varying so much, it is part-time coach and part-time Dr. Phil. We have two freshmen, a couple sophomores in there with our juniors and seniors."
The Indians have enjoyed success since Parham took over as head coach for the 2004-05 season. They have made the playoffs in all five previous seasons of his tenure and posted a 45-15 record in section play during that time, winning one section title before this season.
But Shady Side has yet to make it past the first round of the WPIAL tournament under Parham. Thorpe and Young could be exactly the pieces Shady Side (10-2, 5-1) needs to get over that hump.
"We have had success -- we just have not been to Palumbo [for a championship game]," Parham said.
Last season playing for the Shaler ninth grade team, Thorpe led a group that went 27-0, winning every game in blowout fashion.
"Everyone is a lot stronger and a lot faster up here," Thorpe said. "I see myself going to the hoop and getting fouled harder."
At McKeesport playing for the district's eighth-grade team, Young was not going up against anyone his size. Both got a taste of WPIAL varsity basketball in a hurry.
The Indians played Class AAA Valley, No. 1-ranked Class AAAA team Mt. Lebanon and Class AAAA North Hills. Section play against fellow Class AA schools has been no walk in the park either. Shady Side went up against Jeannette in the section opener.
"We had the chance to play Mt. Lebanon because really no one else wanted to and it was a four-point game with three minutes to go in the first half. But we had 24 turnovers and you understand that is going to happen when you put the ball in the hands of freshmen. But hopefully those things make us a mentally tougher team."
Young is the only post presence in the Shady Side starting lineup. The starting guards are Thorpe, Barnes, senior Ben Cohen and junior Cooper Handelsman. Barnes leads the team with 20.4 points per game. Thorpe is second with 14.6 points and Young is the leading rebounder with more than seven per game.
If Shady Side is to get back in the playoffs this year and past the first round, it will need contributions from players of every class on the team, from the freshmen to the seniors.
First Published January 22, 2010 12:00 am