When Monessen’s boys basketball team walked off the court at Montour High School Tuesday night with a 110-99 WPIAL Class A semifinal victory over Vincentian Academy, a familiar face was waiting to greet them.
Former Greyhounds and current Lincoln Park forward Elijah Minnie stood at the corner of the gymnasium watching his friends and former teammates upset the Royals in a record-setting performance. Minnie congratulated each Monessen player and the Greyhounds wished their friend good luck in his semifinal game against North Catholic. They wanted to face Lincoln Park at the Palumbo Center for the Class A WPIAL title.
While the Greyhounds’ upset over Vincentian was a surprise to most, Minnie knew what his friends were capable of.
“I knew they were a talented team,” Minnie said. “I knew that if they put their minds to it and with how athletic they are, they’d pull it off. (Monessen head coach Joe Salvino) is a great coach. He always has tricks up his sleeves. A lot of people doubted them at Lincoln Park, but I told everyone they could beat Vincentian.”
Following Monessen’s win, the Greyhounds quickly changed out of their uniforms and hustled back into the Montour gym to cheer for the 6-9 Minnie. Lining a section of seats, they watched attentively as Lincoln Park defeated the Trojans, 75-58. Minnie scored 16 points for the Leopards. Monessen’s wish of a reunion came true.
Lincoln Park (24-1), the state’s top-ranked Class A team, will face Monessen (20-5) tonight at the Palumbo Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We’re excited to play against each other,” Minnie said. “It’s not a hated rivalry or anything. They have a lot of respect for me and I have a lot of respect for them.”
It was not long ago Minnie envisioned himself playing a pivotal role for Monesen in a WPIAL title game. In 2011, Minnie was a freshman on the Greyhounds’ basketball team when he tore the meniscus in his knee. He was forced to sit and watch as his teammates won the WPIAL Class AA Championship at the Palumbo Center.
At the conclusion of the school year and with aspirations of competing for the team as a sophomore, Minnie got into trouble. He was appointed by a judge to attend Summit Academy, a residential school for court-adjudicated youths, for one academic year.
Minnie played basketball at Summit as a sophomore and the Knights reached the WPIAL playoffs. As his time there drew to a close, a decision had to be made: return to Monessen or find another school.
Fearing he would fall into old habits, Minnie decided to move on. Ryan Skovranko, a Leopards’ forward and Duquesne recruit, befriended Minnie during their time on an AAU team and suggested Lincoln Park.
The rest is history.
“Elijah, you talk about Monessen athletes, he’s athletic, long and has an acrobatic skill to what he does above the rim,” Lincoln Park assistant coach Mike Bariski said. “It takes once in a very long time to get a special kid like that. We’re happy to have him.”
Along with Skovranko and sophomore guard Maverick Rowan, a Pitt recruit, Minnie has flourished at Lincoln Park. He is averaging 16.6 points per game for the Leopards, whose lone loss came to Class AAAA’s top team, New Castle.
Last season did not go according to plan for Lincoln Park. Minnie was not cleared to play until the Leopards’ 13th game. Lincoln Park lost in the WPIAL semifinals to Clairton and was upset once again in the PIAA semifinals by Johnsonburg.
While Minnie has missed the bonds he created at Monessen, he does not regret his decision to attend Lincoln Park. With six scholarship offers to play basketball in college and his first playing experience at the Palumbo Center looming, Minnie is thankful for how far he has come since watching his Monessen teammates win the Class AA title in 2011.
“I felt like I made the perfect choice,” Minnie said. “They have helped me out a lot academically and with colleges. Not saying that Monessen wouldn’t have done that, but I thought I was not doing the best I could there. My coaches always tell me that since I came to Lincoln Park, I’ve changed for the better, both on and off the court.”