While the lights will soon go out on the high school football season, high school basketball is about to step into the spotlight, with long-range 3-pointers, dazzling dunks and clutch performances coming to a gym near you.

Here are some top boys storylines, teams and players to keep an eye on when the season tips off for WPIAL and City League teams Friday.

Big stories

Vinnie Watch: Come season’s end, the WPIAL could have a new all-time leading scorer. It might not be long before “Vinnie Watch” becomes just about a nightly occurrence. Aquinas Academy’s Vinnie Cugini enters his senior season with 2,078 career points, putting him 760 shy of Valley’s Tom Pipkins, who poured in 2,838 points before graduating in 1993. Cugini, a Pitt-Johnstown recruit, averaged 36.2 points a game last season. Teams are allowed to play up to 22 games in the regular season, so if Cugini plays in only 22 games overall this season, he would need to average 34.6 points a game to break the record.

Still streaking: You might not have to wait long to see some major history being set. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart will shoot for a state-record 69th win in a row when it plays Albert Gallatin in the Brownsville tournament on Saturday. OLSH, which has not lost since before the pandemic began, tied the state record in March when it finished unbeaten for the second consecutive season and claimed a second PIAA Class 2A title in a row. The Chargers went 24-0 two seasons ago and 28-0 last season. Leading scorer Jake DiMichele graduated, but the Chargers return two starters in seniors Rocco Spadafora and Bryson Kirschner.

Talent abounds: Western Pennsylvania is known for its high school football talent, but there will also be some big-time talents on the basketball court this season. It has been decades since there have been so many highly regarded recruits in the area. The junior class features a player ranked in the top 100 nationally, and the sophomore class has two players regarded among the top 15 players in the country. Royce Parham (No. 63 nationally) is a 6-foot-8 junior forward at North Hills whose list of offers include Pitt, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Imani Christian 6-10 center Alier Maluk is considered the No. 12 sophomore, while Lincoln Park 6-3 guard Meleek Thomas is No. 13. Maluk’s offers include Pitt, LSU and Auburn. Thomas has offers from Pitt, Indiana and Missouri.

Central Catholic’s Dante DePante averaged 20.1 points a game last year as a junior. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The favorites

Class 6A: Central Catholic. It has been 14 years since Central Catholic won its only WPIAL title, but the Vikings have a real shot at winning another this season. Senior guard Dante DePante averaged 20.1 points a game as a junior when the Vikings reached the WPIAL semifinals. When DePante gets hot, he can pile up points in a hurry. Junior guard Payton Wehner, quarterback of the school’s WPIAL finalist football team, is back, as is 6-7 senior forward Debaba Tshiebwe.

Class 5A: Penn Hills. After losing in the WPIAL quarterfinals or semifinals each of the past four seasons, Penn Hills could be ready to win its first title since 2018. The return of four-year starter and two-time all-section pick Daemar Kelly is a big reason why. Kelly is a 6-5 senior guard and Quinnipiac recruit who averaged 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.6 blocked shots a game last season. Senior guard Noah Barren and junior guard Julian Dugger also return.

Class 4A: Lincoln Park. There might not be a better guard tandem in the area than Lincoln Park’s duo of junior Brandin Cummings and sophomore Meleek Thomas. Both can fill up the basket and both own Division I offers. Cummings averaged 20.4 points a game and Thomas 17. Cummings, the younger brother of Pitt’s Nelly Cummings, has offers from Pitt, Duquesne, South Carolina and Creighton. Lincoln Park has won WPIAL titles three of the past five seasons.

Class 3A: Seton LaSalle. Wait, how can you not pick OLSH? The Chargers have to lose eventually, right? The Chargers should be very good, but the pick here is Seton LaSalle. The Rebels have a terrific guard in senior Connor Spratt (21 ppg) who doubles as a TikTok star (he has 182,000 followers!). The Rebels won a section title last season but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Spratt was ineligible for the postseason due to transfer rules.

Class 2A: Aliquippa. Aliquippa will be in the thick of the WPIAL hunt. That we know. What we don’t know is when it will have its full complement of players. Most of them also play football for the Quips, who play in Friday’s PIAA semifinals. A season ago, the Quips didn’t begin playing their best ball until February. They went on to advance to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA final. Senior guard D.J. Walker and junior guard Cam Lindsey were all-section picks.

Class 1A: Imani Christian. Sure, Imani Christian is only a Class 1A school, but when it comes to overall talent, the Saints have few peers. The frontcourt should be among the tallest in the state. Sophomore Alier Maluk is 6-10 and junior Virgil Hall is 6-8. Hall owns offers from Wichita State, Robert Morris and Youngstown State. But the Saints don’t just have bigs. They’ve also got good guards. Sophomore Dame Givner averaged 18.1 points at Obama last season.

City League: Allderdice. It has been the “Year of the Dragon” in 2022, this after Allderdice captured the City League title in February. Will it be a similar story in 2023? You have got to like Allderdice’s chances. The Dragons bring back four starters, among them Sam Kelly, a 6-3 senior forward who averaged 10 points a game on his way to all-City honors. Junior forward Major Rainey is one of the top post players in the league. Also back is junior guard Logan Golle.

Finest five

Brandin Cummings, Lincoln Park. Meleek Thomas may be Lincoln Park’s highest-rated recruit, but Cummings is a dynamic player as well. Cummings has been a key contributor since his freshman season and led the team in scoring last season when he helped the Leopards advance to the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals and the second round of the PIAA playoffs. 

Rodney Gallagher, Laurel Highlands. Want to see Gallagher show out on the high school level? This is your final chance. The West Virginia football recruit has been a big name on the gridiron and hardwood since his middle school days. Last season, he helped the Mustangs go 27-1 and win the WPIAL Class 5A title (they’re in Class 4A now). He has 1,444 career points.

Daemar Kelly, Penn Hills. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t put up giant point totals night in and night out, but Kelly is one of the area’s more underrated stars. But don’t get it twisted, Kelly is legit. He’s a four-year starter and Division I recruit who played AAU ball with Team Final on the Nike EYBL circuit this summer. Penn Hills coach Chris Giles called Kelly the “ultimate glue guy.”

Royce Parham, North Hills. There’s a rapper named Royce da 5’9″, so let’s call Parham “Royce da 6’8” (Props to the PUP’s Steve Rotstein for first anointing him that!). Parham is tall and talented and has added a nice stroke from the perimeter. Parham averaged 20.8 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocked shots a game last season. North Hills is a title contender in Class 5A.

Makhai Valentine, Steel Valley. It should be “Valentine’s Day” often for Steel Valley this season. Valentine, a 6-3 senior guard, is one of the WPIAL’s top scorers. He averaged 29.4 points a game last season and has scholarship offers from South Alabama and Sam Houston State. Valentine is also on the Steel Valley football team that is playing in the PIAA semifinals.

Must-see games

Lincoln Park vs. Imani Christian, Dec. 2. The very first night of the season will include one of the best matchups — team and individual — of the season at Geneva College. Lincoln Park is the WPIAL championship favorite in Class 4A and Imani Christian in Class 1A. Lincoln Park’s Meleek Thomas and Imani Christian’s Alier Maluk are two of the top 15 sophomores in the country. 

Penn Hills at Central Catholic, Dec. 10. It’s another early 1 vs. 1 matchup. Central Catholic advanced to last season’s WPIAL Class 6A semifinals and Penn Hills to the Class 5A quarterfinals. Penn Hills raced to a 12-point halftime lead on its way to a 55-43 win against the Vikings last season. A big key will be if Penn Hills can contain 6-7 Debaba Tshiebwe.

Aliquippa at New Castle, Jan. 24. The 2021-22 season was a sweet one for these teams, who both made a stop in Hershey to play in state championship games — New Castle in Class 5A and Aliquippa in Class 3A. New Castle has since moved up to Class 6A. The Red Hurricanes graduated star Mike Wells but bring back a talented cast led by senior guard Isiah Boice.

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.