With temperatures plummeting to the 20s this week locally, it’s a good time to get out of the cold and find something fun to do indoors. Luckily, there will be a lot to see inside beginning this weekend with the high school basketball season ready to get started.
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.
One of nation’s best: Words of advice: Do your best to make it to a Lincoln Park game this season. This might be the best local team since the 2006-07 Schenley squad featuring DeJuan Blair, D.J. Kennedy and DeAndre Kane. Just like that Schenley team, Lincoln Park is on the national radar, as the Leopards are ranked No. 20 in the country by MaxPreps. Five-star junior Meleek Thomas and Pitt recruit Brandin “Beebah” Cummings form one of the top backcourts in the nation and are a big reason Lincoln Park could win a second consecutive PIAA Class 4A title. The Leopards will be tested during a nonsection schedule that includes a trip to Oregon for the Capitol City Classic, an event that features two other 5-star recruits.
Not short on height: There was a time, just five or 10 years ago, that seeing a WPIAL or City League player taller than 6 feet 4 or 6 feet 5 was akin to seeing Bigfoot. Not anymore. Whether it’s something in the water, global warming or just flat-out great genes, Western Pa. now has quite a few legitimately tall players, many of whom can really play, too. Even with 6-11 Alier Maluk and 6-8 Royce Parham transferring to out-of-state schools, the tall talent includes 7-0 Zane Pacek (Knoch), 6-11 Ama Sow (Montour), 6-9 Tyler Robbins (Upper St. Clair), 6-9 Ty Iwanonkiw (North Allegheny), 6-8 Bradyn Foster (Highlands), 6-7 Braylon Johnson (Moon) and 6-7 Luke Scarff (South Park). Foster is a Penn recruit, while Sow has an offer from Duquesne.
Race for the scoring title: With WPIAL all-time leading scorer Vinnie Cugini now at Pitt-Johnstown, all other local players now have an actual shot of finishing as the top scorer in the WPIAL and City League. Cugini led the area in scoring the past four seasons (43.7 ppg last season) and finished his career with 3,189 points. The preseason favorite might just be Ellwood City’s Joseph Roth, a 6-5 senior forward and the top returning scorer in the WPIAL. Roth, who doubles as one of the best swimmers in the state, averaged 30.1 points a game a season ago and finished with a double-double in all but one game. Other big scorers returning include Chartiers Valley’s Jayden Davis, Beaver’s Brady Mayo and Belle Vernon’s Zion Moore.
Class 6A: Butler. Yeah! Littlejohn has Butler hopeful for a second WPIAL title in five seasons. Braylon Littlejohn is a 6-1 senior guard and Miami (Ohio) football recruit who averaged 21 points per game en route to all-section honors last season. But Littlejohn isn’t the only standout in the Butler backcourt. Talented 6-3 sophomore guard Donovan Carney impressed as a freshman and holds a Division I offer from Bucknell. Carney’s brother, Devin, plays for the University of Denver.
Class 5A: Moon. Moon doesn’t have the most talented team in the universe, but the Tigers just might be the best in WPIAL Class 5A. Elijah Guillory, a 6-5 senior guard, was excellent as a junior when he averaged 17 points a game. A big addition was 6-7 senior guard Braylon Johnson, the brother of Cam Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets, who last season played for a school in Arizona. Michael Santicola, a 6-4 junior guard, is another member of what is a lengthy squad.
Class 4A: Lincoln Park. As mentioned earlier, these Leopards are loaded. Thomas and Cummings, both PUP first-team honorees last season, are the headliners, but their supporting cast is also impressive. Senior forwards Dontay Green and Dorian McGhee are returning starters, and senior guard-forward Mikey Crawford saw a lot of time last season. A top newcomer is junior guard Rhaki Lum, who played at a school in Delaware a season ago.
Class 3A: Mohawk. A combo that was ultra-productive on the football field will try to help the Warriors win their first WPIAL title in 53 years. Jay Wrona (16 ppg) is a senior guard and returning all-section pick, and sophomore guard Bobby Fadden averaged a team-high 17 points. In football, Wrona ranked among the WPIAL leaders with 34 touchdown passes and Fadden was his favorite receiver. Twins Mason and Keigan Hopper are among the seniors who should be big contributors.
Class 2A: Greensburg Central Catholic. After some deep playoff runs the past few seasons, this could be the year the Centurions win their first WPIAL title. There should be a lot of W’s for GCC, which returns a pair of all-section picks in 6-0 senior guard Tyree Turner and 6-5 senior forward Franco Alvarez. Turner averaged 21 points per game and Alvarez 16 a game for a team that won the Section 3 title and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals for the third year in a row.
Class 1A: Imani Christian. How talented was the 2022-23 Imani team that won the program’s first WPIAL and PIAA titles? Well, despite seeing its two all-state players (Alier Maluk and Dame Givner) transfer to out-of-area schools, the Saints are still heavy with talent. Behind 5-10 junior point guard R.J. Sledge, the Saints hope to continue to hammer foes. Sledge and fellow junior guards Nate Brazil and Tristen Brown are receiving Division I interest.
City League: Allderdice. The two-time defending champion Dragons have a good shot of a three-peat. A major reason for that is the return of 6-3 forward Major Rainey, a high-flying senior who averaged 11 points a game last season when he was arguably the top player in the league. A veteran backcourt features a pair of returning starters in seniors Logan Golle and Jack Segall. Two players with great names round out the starting five: Azerick Jetter and Pavle Slepcev.
Brandin Cummings, Lincoln Park. There are a lot of “Beebah believers” out there. Cummings, nicknamed “Beebah,” pumped in 23.1 points per game last season while shooting 51% from the field, 84% from the free-throw line and knocking down 75 3-pointers. Cummings plays with a lot of swagger and enters his senior season with 1,482 career points. He signed with Pitt.
Bradyn Foster, Highlands. It would be bananas to suggest that Foster, a 6-8 senior center, isn’t one of the WPIAL’s premier players. In fact, the Penn recruit who boasts a 4.1 GPA might be the area’s top frontcourt player. As a junior, Foster averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks a game when he shot 37% from deep. Highlands has one of the best teams in Class 4A.
Elijah Guillory, Moon. Guillory averaged 19 points as a sophomore and 17 points as a junior, being selected all-section both seasons, but it still feels like he’s one of the area’s most unheralded stars. That should change this season with Guillory a year older and Moon looking like a serious threat to win its first WPIAL title since 2017. Division I schools are interested.
Peter Kramer, Hampton. This Kramer isn’t much for comedy on the court. He’s all business. The 6-4 senior guard and Lehigh recruit averaged 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3 assists last season while leading Hampton to the Class 4A Section 1 title. Kramer shot 45% from 3-point range. He will be eligible for the playoffs after being ineligible last season due to transfer rules.
Meleek Thomas, Lincoln Park. Thomas might eventually go down as one of the greatest players to ever come out of Western Pennsylvania. A 6-4 guard, Thomas can score at every level and is rated by Rivals as the No. 7 junior in the nation. Duke, Kentucky and Kansas have all offered Thomas, who averaged 24.9 points, 9 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game last season.
Moon at Lincoln Park, Dec. 3. Last season, we got a marquee game the opening weekend of the season between Lincoln Park and Imani Christian, teams that went on to win PIAA titles. Could it be a similar story this season? After the Steelers host the Cardinals on Sunday, you might want to make the trip to Midland to see a matchup that should be really, really fun.
Montour at Upper St. Clair, Dec. 8. Sure, both of these teams are expected to be WPIAL title contenders in their respective classes, but the big reason to see this nonsection showdown — stress the word “big” — is the interior matchup between Ama Sow (6-11) and Tyler Robbins (6-9). When was the last time two local players with Division I talent that tall have gone head-to-head?
Aliquippa at Allderdice, Jan. 20. Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge Aliquippa by what it does in December. As usual, Aliquippa likely won’t be at full strength until January due to many of its players helping the school’s football team push for a state title. But the defending WPIAL Class 2A champs should be excellent again. A contest against the City League’s best should serve as a great litmus test.