When Smash Mouth first belted out, “Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your game on, go play,” it likely didn’t have Western Pennsylvania high school basketball in mind. But all these years later, here we are, talking about Western Pa. hoops and all-stars.
The 2022-23 season ended Saturday, so there’s no reason to waste any time in handing out postseason honors. This particular honor is better than just fabulous — it’s the first PUP boys basketball all-star team.
In the past month, six boys teams won WPIAL titles, one captured a City League championship, and two claimed PIAA titles. This newest team is exclusive, as well, and this group of talented players is star-studded and deep.
All players in the WPIAL and City League were considered, and the team was picked by the Pittsburgh Union Progress sports staff along with assistance from high school coaches. While there is no physical award and the honor has no monetary value, the bragging rights that go along with being selected to this team will last a lifetime.
Brandin Cummings • Lincoln Park • 6-4 • Junior • Guard
After putting forth a dynamic junior season, it’s difficult not to be a “Beebah” believer. Cummings teamed with Meleek Thomas to form arguably the top duo in the entire state. A Pitt recruit, Cummings pumped in 23.1 points per game in addition to 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He scored 22 points in a WPIAL Class 4A championship win against North Catholic and a team-high 25 in a triumph against Neumann-Goretti in the PIAA final. Cummings shot 51% from the field, 84% from the free-throw line and connected on 75 3-pointers. Cummings, whose list of college offers includes South Carolina and Duquesne, now has 1,482 career points.
Rodney Gallagher • Laurel Highlands • 6-0 • Senior • Guard
The “Gallagher Effect” was in full force this season, with this West Virginia football recruit once again putting up big numbers while leading his team to a deep playoff run. Gallagher and friends fell short of winning a third WPIAL title in four years, but RGIII averaged 22.3 points a game for a Mustangs team that advanced to the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals. Gallagher made 59 3-pointers and shot 76% from the free-throw line. He was especially potent late in the season as he averaged 27.5 points over the Mustangs’ final eight games. Gallagher concluded his career as Laurel Highlands’ all-time leading scorer (2,034 points).
Royce Parham • North Hills • 6-8 • Junior • Forward
A gifted big man who can score inside and out, Royce rolled over many of North Hills’ opponents this season. Considered one of the nation’s top 100 juniors, Parham averaged 28 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in leading North Hills to a second consecutive section title and the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals. Parham showed a flair for the dramatic, hitting shots in the final seconds to win several games. His highlight performance came when he collected a school-record 47 points in a win against Pine-Richland. Parham, who will enter his senior season with just over 1,500 career points, has narrowed his list of college choices to Marquette, Xavier, Penn State and Pitt.
Meleek Thomas • Lincoln Park • 6-4 • Sophomore • Guard
No one should ever doubt this Thomas, a sensational sophomore who played a large role in Lincoln Park winning the WPIAL title and its third PIAA title. His floater in the closing seconds lifted the Leopards to a thrilling 62-58 win against nationally ranked Neumann-Goretti in the state final. Rated by Rivals as the No. 7 sophomore in the country, Thomas tallied 24.9 points, 9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 53% from the field and 82% from the free-throw line. The five-star recruit scored 22 points in the PIAA final and now has 1,091 points in just two seasons. His college offers include Pitt, Indiana, Villanova and Kansas State.
Makhai Valentine • Steel Valley • 6-3 • Senior • Guard
The heck with Valentine’s Day, it was “Valentine’s Night” every time this bouncy star took the floor. After averaging 29.4 points a game as a junior, Valentine elevated his game by averaging 36.2 points (second most in the WPIAL). One of his most memorable outings came in a win against Brentwood when he scored 63 points (third most in WPIAL history) and hit 12 3-pointers (one short of the WPIAL record). Another came when he made the winning 3 at the buzzer to push the Ironmen past Seton LaSalle in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals. Valentine (1,780 career points) has offers from Sam Houston State and South Alabama.
Jonathan Anderson • New Castle • 5-9 • Senior • Guard
Anderson was the engine that helped drive New Castle to a WPIAL championship appearance for the ninth time in the past 13 seasons. An excellent scorer and distributor, this steady point guard led the Red Hurricanes with 18.1 points and 7.4 assists per game. Anderson had team highs of 22 points and 7 assists in a WPIAL Class 6A championship loss to Central Catholic.
Vinnie Cugini • Aquinas Academy • 6-1 • Senior • Guard
This four-time WPIAL scoring champ finished his career as the WPIAL’s all-time leading scorer with 3,189 points. The “Genie” was at it again this season, averaging 43.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4 steals and 3.6 assists a game. But his biggest wish was leading Aquinas to its first WPIAL playoff win, which this Pitt-Johnstown recruit also succeeded in doing.
Dante DePante • Central Catholic • 6-3 • Senior • Guard
Call it “Dante’s Inferno,” as DePante’s red-hot playoff run propelled Central Catholic to its first WPIAL title in 15 years. Make no mistake, DePante was terrific overall, leading the Vikings in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists and steals. But in four WPIAL playoff games, DePante erupted for an average of 29 points, including 29 in the final. DePante finished his career with 1,265 points.
Daemar Kelly • Penn Hills • 6-5 • Senior • Guard
There weren’t many players as valuable to their team as Kelly, a stat-sheet filler who averaged a team-high 16 points to go along with 4.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.6 blocks. The moment never seemed to be too big for Kelly, who had 21 points in Penn Hills’ win in the WPIAL Class 5A final. A four-year starter and Quinnipiac recruit, Kelly scored 1,193 career points.
Alier Maluk • Imani Christian • 6-11 • Sophomore • Center
Maluk had quite a year for an Imani Christian team that won WPIAL and PIAA Class 1A titles for the first time. Considered one of the top sophomores in the country, the five-star recruit averaged 14.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks a game. Maluk had 20 points and 11 rebounds in the PIAA semifinals and 20 and 7 in the final. His scholarship offers include Pitt, West Virginia, LSU, Auburn and N.C. State.
Bryce Epps • South Allegheny • 6-0 • Senior • Guard
The “Bryce was right” nearly every night for South Allegheny, which saw Epps put an emphatic stamp on a tremendous career. Epps poured in 23 points a game while helping the Gladiators reach the WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinals. A four-year starter, Epps finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,985 points). He will continue his career at La Roche.
Peter Kramer • Hampton • 6-4 • Junior • Guard
This Kramer wasn’t into comedy this season. He was all business. Kramer transferred back into his home district and led Hampton to a section title while averaging 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.3 steals. Kramer was excellent from 3-point range, where he converted 45% of his attempts. He was ruled ineligible for the playoffs after transferring from Shady Side Academy.
Joseph Roth • Ellwood City • 6-5 • Junior • Forward
The season went swimmingly for Roth, a rare two-sport winter athlete who also won consecutive 100-yard backstroke gold medals at the PIAA swim championships. Roth was dominant on the court as he averaged 30.1 points and 14.7 rebounds a game. He had double-doubles in all but one game and scored 37 in a WPIAL playoff loss to eventual WPIAL Class 3A champ and state finalist Deer Lakes.
Tasso Sfanos • Mars • 6-2 • Senior • Guard
Sfanos was out of this world for Mars, collecting 25.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for a WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinalist. Sfanos scored 30 or more points 10 times and went off for a career-high 40 in a win against North Hills. He was also deadly from deep, finishing with 87 3-pointers. Sfanos will continue his career at Division II South Carolina-Beaufort.
Connor Spratt • Seton LaSalle • 6-2 • Senior • Guard
One of the WPIAL’s top players? Yeah, Spratt was unquestionably like that this season. Few guys could rack up points in bunches like Spratt, a walking bucket who fired in 26.1 points and 3.5 steals a game for a team that advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals. In two seasons at Seton LaSalle (he previously was at Peters Township), Spratt scored 1,029 points.