WPIAL Class AAA Boys Basketball Preview
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Team to beat
Highlands: The run-and-gun Rams (75 points per game last season) should be strong again. Damon Porter, a 6-foot-1 senior, averaged 17.5 points, made all-section and will be one of the best guards in Class AAA. Jeff Sinclair (15 ppg) is another returning starter and junior guard Mike Trenski is a transfer from Valley, where he averaged in double figures.
Hampton: The Talbots are big and could be just as good as Highlands. On the front line, Hampton will have 6-7 junior Bill Luther (10 ppg), 6-6 junior Tim Donegan (12 ppg) and 6-4 junior Jordan Paskorz. T.J. Brown, a 6-8 junior, will come off the bench. Senior Matt Madia is one of the section's best guards.
Valley: The Vikings are capable of playing with the top teams in the section. Troy Hill, a 6-4 senior, averaged 21.5 points a game.
Mars: Vinny Smith, a 6-5 senior, averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds a year ago. Senior guard Chris Herold (8 ppg) also returns.
Knoch: Senior guard Mike Gallagher averaged 12 points last year.
Deer Lakes: The Lancers were 6-15 last year and move up from Class AA to AAA.
Team to beat
Hopewell: The Vikings made it to the WPIAL title game a year ago. Although some key players are gone, coach Ron Rowan has enough talent to battle for the section title. The top returnee is Drew Falletta, a 6-3 senior who averaged 17.2 points.
Blackhawk: The defending WPIAL champion lost standout player Antoine Childs to graduation, but the Cougars have enough talent to battle Hopewell for the section title.
New Castle: The Red Hurricanes drop down from Class AAA and could make some noise with senior guard Tyrone Steals.
Ambridge: Four starters return, including 6-foot seniors Jamison Gibson and Derek Brown, who both averaged eight points a game.
Center: The Trojans moved up from Class AA and feature 6-1 senior forward Damon Cotton (18 ppg).
Beaver: Senior guard Ryan Herald averaged 12 points last season.
Ellwood City: With four returning starters, the Wolverines could improve on their 4-20 record. Senior point guard Mike Sacco averaged 11 points.
Team to beat
Greensburg Salem: Three starters return from a team that made it to the WPIAL semifinals. Senior Chris Klimchock, an Edinboro recruit, is one of the WPIAL's best point guards and averaged 15.9 points. Junior guard Jake Matthews (10.5 ppg) and senior forward Jerry Cooley (8.8 ppg) also return.
Uniontown: This team is good enough to win the section and make a playoff run. Five starters return, including all-section guards James Pratt (14 ppg) and Doogie Sanner (14.8).
Indiana: The Indians moved from Section 1 and feature 6-3 junior guard Kevin Stapleton, who averaged 16.9 points as a sophomore.
Laurel Highlands: Ronnie Fudala, a junior guard, averaged 11 points last season as a sophomore.
Mount Pleasant: Coach Tom Traynor has five players who started at one time or another last year. Ethan Keeler, a 6-1 senior guard-forward, averaged 11.4 points.
Derry: The Trojans are hoping to improve on their 7-18 record.
Southmoreland: The Scotties didn't win a section game a year ago, but the return of junior guards Josh Millslagle and Andrew Sikora give the team hope.
Team to beat
Chartiers Valley: The Colts are the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class AAA team. Four starters return, including 5-11 junior guard T.J. McConnell, a Duquesne University recruit and one of the top shooters in the WPIAL. He averaged 19.5 points last season. Senior point guard Eli Maravich also will be a key.
Moon: A WPIAL finalist in Class AAAA last season, the Tigers move down in class. Aaron Johnson, a 6-2 sophomore, and Ryan Falbo, a 6-2 senior, both averaged eight points a game last season.
Keystone Oaks: The Eagles feature Corey Bellovich, a 6-4 senior guard who already has 1,134 career points and averaged 19 points last season. Junior guard Tyler Hans is the other returning starter.
West Mifflin: The Titans move from Section 5 and are a team to watch.
West Allegheny: The Indians must replace graduated guard Derrick Zeroski, one of the WPIAL's leading scorers a year ago. Junior forward Ben Simmen showed promise as a sophomore.
South Park: The Eagles made the playoffs last year and should contend for a spot again.
Montour: The Spartans got bad news when E.J. Banks, who averaged in double figures last season, decided not to play.
Team to beat
Belle Vernon: A number of coaches believe the Leopards will retain their section crown. Leading scorer Jacob Dudzinski graduated, but 6-3 junior forward Josh Pohlot averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds as a sophomore.
Thomas Jefferson: The Jaguars will get off to a slow start because some of the team's top players are on the football team that is still playing in the PIAA playoffs. Brock DeCicco, a 6-6 senior forward, averaged 14 points last year and 6-1 senior guard Jim Giansante 10.
Trinity: With five returning starters, the Hillers figure to be much improved from their 8-15 season. Sean McKnight, a 6-2 senior guard-forward, averaged 13.7 points.
Yough: Ben Hoffer is a talented 5-9 senior guard who averaged 19.3 points last season.
Waynesburg: Rusty Phillips, a senior center, averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds while junior forward John Sinnott averaged 9 and 8.
Elizabeth Forward: The Warriors are looking to improve on their 5-19 season.
McGuffey: The Highlanders were 3-19 in Section 4 last year. Maybe a change of scenery to Section 5 will help.
First Published December 5, 2008 12:00 am