South Xtra: Greyhounds becoming big dogs
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There just aren't many WPIAL basketball programs consistently as good as the Monessen boys, who under legendary coach Joe Salvino have qualified for the postseason 28 years in a row, winning 16 section titles, four WPIAL championships and two PIAA championships during that span.
But for the first few weeks of this season, a much different, almost unfathomable number was associated with the Greyhounds.
Zero ... as in number of wins.
Monessen lost its first seven games before winning by forfeit against Imani Christian. After another loss, the Greyhounds earned their first "real win" by defeating Geibel Catholic on Jan. 4.
It was an imperfect start for Monessen, but the Greyhounds have responded with a perfect start in Class A Section 3. The Greyhounds (5-8) are 4-0 in section play.
Salvino said the main reason for the early struggles was an inexperienced roster he at one time thought would be more seasoned. A year ago when putting together what was a challenging non-section schedule, Salvino expected his team to be led by a pair of impact players -- Chavas Rawlins and Elijah Minnie.
Rawlins, a 6-foot-3 senior, was a starter on last season's team that finished as the WPIAL Class AA runner-up. Rawlins chose not to play this season, however, as he focused on graduating early, thus enabling him to begin classes this month at West Virginia University, where he will play football.
Minnie, a 6-8 junior, played at Monessen as a freshman before attending Summit Academy last season. There was some thought that Minnie might return to Monessen for his junior season, but he is now playing at Lincoln Park, a charter school located in Midland, Beaver County.
"If those two were playing, instead of being 1-8, we could have been 8-1," Salvino said. "Those two kids were going to be key players for us. It hurt not only leadership-wise, but experience-wise. The kids we have in there now have been learning.
"[Dealing with the rough start] was challenging, but I think these young kids learned the quickness of the game and how much they need to learn to get better."
Only two current players saw varsity minutes last season -- junior guard Javon Brown and junior forward Tyler Yuille -- and those minutes were few.
Joining Brown and Yuille in the starting lineup have been junior guards Justice Rawlins, Chavas' brother, Luke Doptis and Clintell Gillaspie.
Gillaspie has keyed Monessen's surge, as he averaged a team-best 23 points per game during its first three section games, including scoring 32 against Avella. The Greyhounds won those contests by hefty margins of 37, 39 and 53 points.
"Clintell has a lot of talent," Salvino said. "He's a good athlete. He has a nice shot. He penetrates well. He's learning the defensive part of the game and he's starting to rebound now. He's starting to get involved in the whole process."
A pair of promising freshmen highlight Monessen's bench -- 6-foot-4 forward Nicodemus Payne and guard Lavall Rush.
Salvino, who has won more than 500 games in his career, pointed to this week as being a litmus test for where his team stands. After routing Carmichaels (11-3, 2-2) Tuesday, 69-35, Monessen travels to Clairton (6-3, 4-0) Friday.
"This week is going to be a big test to see how far we have come," said Salvino. "This week I think we're going to find out where Monessen really is."
A pair of boys players recently surpassed 1,000 points for their careers -- Keystone Oaks' Cory Sevacko and Washington's Josh Wise.
Sevacko, a 6-3 senior guard, achieved the milestone last week in a 98-82 loss to Chartiers Valley. Sevacko, who averages a team-best 20 points per game, scored 18 points in the game. .
Wise, a 6-2 senior guard, scored 19 points in a 69-44 win against Fort Cherry on Jan. 4 to put him past 1,000. Wise leads his team in scoring with 22 a game.
Here is a boys game to keep an eye on this week.
Friday: McKeesport at Fox Chapel, 7:30 p.m. -- McKeesport (10-3, 6-1) is one of the hottest teams around, having won nine in a row after Tuesday's 42-40 victory against Gateway (9-2, 6-1). Still, the Tigers are flying under the radar. Their previous loss came to Fox Chapel on Dec. 14, a game in which Billy Urso scored on a putback to give Fox Chapel a 55-53 overtime win.
First Published January 17, 2013 12:00 am