With yet another quiet week on the recruiting front, I thought I’d have a look at the state of WPIAL and what the basketball scene around Pittsburgh looks like. While Jim Ferry will never build a program entirely with kids from Western PA, strong local talent only makes his job easier. I originally planned to write a narrative with quotes from Pittsburgh Basketball Reports Steve Brodzinski. However, he dropped so much outstanding information on me that I thought it would be better just to let him paint a picture for the region.
How many Atlantic 10/high mid major or better players do you see coming out of a WPIAL in 2014?
This is a tremendous recruiting class for boys basketball in the WPIAL. There could be as many as 6 guys from the WPIAL that will ink at mid major schools : Elijah Minnie (Lincoln Park), Ryan Skovranko (Lincoln Park), Colin Luther (Hampton), DJ Porter (Obama), Cameron Johnson (OLSH), Elijah Cottrill (Beaver Falls). That number doesn’t include Ryan Luther who has already committed to Pitt, and Satchel Pierce who is at a local prep school that does not compete in the WPIAL.
How much of an impact does players choosing football over basketball have on the all-around level of basketball talent coming out of WPIAL?
It makes all of the difference. Football is king in Western PA, so most of the athletes start out in football, and play basketball as a secondary sport. I could rattle off at least 10 names in the 2014 class , like Malik Hooker, Jaquan Davidson, Ricky Rogers and Chandler Kincaide, that probably could have been mid major basketball players if they had chosen that route instead of football.
Do you see the talent level in WPIAL trending up, staying about the same or trending down?
I’ve been back in Pittsburgh for about 5 years now, and it has seemed that every other year there is a big time class. 2009 was mostly d2/d3 players, whereas in 2010, you had 5 guys sign with D1 schools, including Tom Droney (Davidson), TJ McConnell (now at Arizona). 2011 didn’t have one d1 guy (except Jesse Reed who ended up signing with American after doing a year of prep school), and then 2012 was loaded with 9 D1 guys: Micah Mason, Nolan Cressler, Sheldon Jeter, Tyler Scott, Devontae Watson, Barnett Harris, Lincoln Davis, and Nate Snodgrass. The class of 2013 was solid, but only 2 D1 guys headlined by Geno Thorpe (Penn State) and Devin Wilson (VirginiaTech), and then the class of 2014 has a bunch of D1 guys. From the looks of it, the class of 2015 could break this trend. There are at least 7 guys that have a real shot of signing with D1 schools in that class, and the 2016 class looks really strong, so hopefully it is trending up.
What impact have the prep and charter schools had on the profile of high school basketball locally?
There are really only two schools that fall into that category The Kiski Prep School, and Lincoln Park Charter School. I don’t really think it’s had a huge impact. Most people don’t even know about The Kiski School, which is located in Saltsburg and technically isn’t even WPIAL territory. They have drawn the attention of college coaches, as they’ve had at least one D1 level recruit each year over the past 3 years. They play a pretty legit national schedule, but most people in Pittsburgh don’t really even know about the school. Lincoln Park has a number of talented players including sophomore Maverick Rowan who has verbally committed to Pitt, as well as, the previously mentioned Skovranko and Minnie. They have obviously distinguished themselves as a basketball power in Class A in a very short amount of time, but have come up empty in two out of the last three WPIAL playoffs. However, they have already had multiple issues with WPIAL eligibility and “recruiting” in the past couple of years, so it will be interesting to see how their relationship continues with WPIAL. Kiski Prep will play Lincoln Park this year at Geneva College on 1/25/14 so that will be a fun game to watch.
Besides football, what, if anything, do you think holds WPIAL basketball back?
It would have to be the fact that most of the schools or “programs” have to rely on the level of talent coming up through their system, as public schools technically can’t recruit. This causes huge variations in the level of talent in certain classes from year to year. I personally think that having programs like Lincoln Park, that could be considered “basketball schools”, in Pittsburgh is a good thing. Realistically, schools like Shady Side Academy, Vincentian, Central Catholic, Seton La Salle–private schools in the area- could technically recruit 8th graders to come to school there. If you look at areas like New York, Philly, and NJ, there are certain schools that have reputations as being basketball powers, so they will obviously attract the top level basketball players in the area, and these schools identify kids in 7th and 8th grade. I think it would be good for basketball in Pittsburgh, if there were more schools where kids could go to be part of a big time basketball program, that is producing college prospects on a yearly basis. It may start to entice certain athletes to focus on basketball at a young age, instead of football.
The other main issue, and I don’t want to get myself in trouble with local coaches,…but part of the problem is that many coaches in the area look negatively on things like AAU Basketball, exposure camps and showcases, and allowing their kids to go outside of “the program” to work with other people. WPIAL basketball is kind of a revolving door -kids play out their seasons, and then get right back into open gym and spring league games, where they are seeing the same level of talent and competition. Then they play summer league games and go to team camps, where they see the same teams and level of talent. Then they play in fall leagues and open gyms where they see the same level of talent. I think if kids would venture outside of their school team bubble a little bit more, then it would help them not only get a better mindset of what they need to improve on, but it may help them develop certain skills that they wouldn’t develop in their school programs. There are a lot of outstanding coaches in the WPIAL- Doug Biega, Joe David, Tim McConnell, Mark Walsh…just to name a few – that really know how to develop players. However, it can be good for some kids to do something different in the off-season. In New Jersey they actually had a rule that prohibited any high school coach from being at an open gym or formal workout before the start of the season in November. The rule not only allows, but forces kids to go outside of their bubble and challenge themselves in different basketball environments.