North Xtra: Deer Lakes poised to make basketball history
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During the day Jon McKay is a history teacher, but after school in the Deer Lakes gym McKay is only worried about the present and future.
As a former assistant and current first-year head coach, nobody needs to remind McKay about the struggles of the Deer Lakes boys basketball team the past two seasons.
The Lancers went 3-25 combined in section play during those two seasons, finishing last in Class AAA Section 1 both years.
Those results are having no bearing on Deer Lakes this season, its first in Class AA since the 2007-08 season.
Deer Lakes is 12-5 overall and 6-1 in Class AA Section 1 after its victory Tuesday night against Apollo-Ridge. Eight seniors comprise the nucleus of the team and they also do not need to be reminded of those recent struggles.
There have even been some struggles this season. The Lancers started the season 1-2. They also dropped three of four games over the holiday break and into the new year, including an 87-69 setback Jan. 4 at section-rival Apollo-Ridge.
"We took some big losses but learned from our mistakes," McKay said. "We have a great group of seniors who have taken it upon themselves to get better after those losses."
Holding onto leads has been an issue for Deer Lakes. On Jan. 15, they watched a 15-point lead against Burrell evaporate into a tie score. Eventually, the Lancers were able to prevail, 48-44, for a key section victory on the road.
Last week at the High School Showcase in Youngstown, Ohio, another 15-point lead turned into a tie score. This time it was against Springfield Local, of Ohio, but once again Deer Lakes was able to hold on and win, 43-33.
"This group has been through wins and losses," McKay said. "Teams might catch up, but we never panic, we never get stressed. This team is used to stressful situations, that is invaluable."
Deer Lakes has won four of its 10 games by 10 points or fewer.
"That is exactly what you want," McKay said. "You want to win by 30 every night but realistically, that will not happen. We want to play as many close games as we can. In these close games we are limiting turnovers and knocking down foul shots."
The view from first place is a new one for Deer Lakes. At 6-1 in Section 1 they are just ahead of Burrell (5-2) and third-place Apollo-Ridge (4-3) and West Shamokin (4-3).
"A lot of people keep saying they don't remember the last time Deer Lakes was in first," McKay said. "I am a history teacher, I know history has its place, but we are focused on the present and the future. We worked really hard and we believe we can play anybody in the section."
There is a saying posted in the Deer Lakes locker room that reads, "Confidence is the food to the wise man and liquor to the fool."
"Confidence has been a big thing for us," McKay said. "We know we won only eight games in two years but a lot of that was because of injuries and being in Triple-A. Once we got it rolling, we were able to get a little bit of that swagger but we have to be guarded. We can lose the next five and be on the outside looking in."
Deer Lakes does not look like the prototypical first-place team. Nobody on the roster is taller than 6 feet but they do have a big-time scorer in senior guard Tim Jaczesko. He is averaging around 24 points per game. At one point this season he was near the top in the WPIAL, averaging more than 28 points per game. He was 10th in last week's area scoring leaders.
"It is a little tougher for him to get points as teams read about him," McKay said. "But he is a fantastic distributor and just as happy with an assist as a basket. As his scoring has gone down our wins have gone up."
Senior forward J.J. Kowalkowski has stepped up and shouldered some of the scoring load. At 6 feet, Kowalkowski is considered the Lancers' "big guy.". He has been coming up big lately. He has scored in double figures in 10 consecutive games. He had a team-high 16 against Burrell in a 48-44 win on Jan. 15.
Deer Lakes' other senior starters are forward Cody Keenan and wing players Zach Bryner and Tim Cresta. The Lancers are back in action Friday night when they visit section foe West Shamokin
First Published January 31, 2013 12:00 am