The day after Washington High School’s football team lost to Aliquippa in the WPIAL Class AA final, Prexies boys basketball coach Mark Gaither’s phone rang several times.
With football season over, he soon would have enough bodies to hold a legitimate practice, but those transitioning to hoops season didn’t want a break; they wanted to run a fast break.
“I wanted to give them time off, and they were calling me on Saturday, wanting to get in the gym,” Gaither said. “I told them to take the weekend off. They’re used to doing something all the time.”
What Wash High’s boys basketball team should probably get used to: winning.
After a 12-1 football season that saw the Prexies dominate pretty much everyone except the Quips, a familiar set of faces will reappear on the basketball court. Factor in five returning starters and a drop to Class AA after Wash High went 13-10 and reached the WPIAL playoffs, and no wonder Gaither’s players didn’t want to take any time off.
“It’s nice having everybody back,” Gaither said. “We have a lot of returning key players and a lot of senior leadership. It takes some time to get your basketball legs back, but it’s been good.”
Josh Wise, a 6-3 senior guard and a first team All-District pick last year, returns after averaging 20.2 points per game.
So do guard Jaylin Kelly, who averaged nine points and six rebounds per game; 6-4 forward Jordan Drew (six points, seven rebounds); and forward Rikwon Moore. Point guard Darius Spinks is back after putting up three assists and two steals per game a season ago.
“We have a lot of depth this year,” Gaither said. “We’re hoping to dictate tempo and get up and down the floor.”
Chartiers-Houston, which finished second to Sto-Rox in Section 3-AA last winter, will be one of Wash High’s primary competitors.
The Bucs lost four starters from last year’s 14-9 team – including an all-section performer in Josh Counihan – but return point guard Shayne Murphy, who contributed 13.5 points, four assists and three steals per game.
Brentwood and Seton-La Salle figure to be in the mix for playoff spots, and Burgettstown will have to replace three starters if intends on challenging either one of those 4-AA foes.
Josh Mack, a 6-4, 300-pound forward, returns after averaging 6.9 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Blue Devils (7-15) last season.
Section 5-AA figures to be just as competitive, with California likely considered the early-season favorite.
The Trojans bring back guards Tanner Huffman and Brian Fisher, who each averaged more than 15 points per game last year. Both will reach the 1,000-point mark this winter.
Charleroi is undersized but quick and has three proven performers in guard Matt Indorante, guard Jim Diaz and forward Eric Johnson, who all scored eight points a game or more.
Bentworth, which went 18-4 and won the Section 3-A title last winter, will bump up to Class AA along with Jefferson-Morgan. The Bearcats lose four starters, the Rockets two.
Senior guard Travis Taylor (13.9 ppg, 2.9 spg, 2.3 apg) leads Jefferson-Morgan, while guard Chris Blackburn and swingman Cody Levine highlight a young Bentworth roster.
“I’m hoping that we’ll be one of those teams that sneak up on somebody,” Bentworth coach Bob Kennedy said. “I look for them to be a January team – they start coming on in January, mid-January and start playing good ball.”