Apollo-Ridge is busting at the seams with backcourt athleticism. So much, in fact, that coach Matt Gourley might be able to conserve his dry-erase markers.
“I tell our guys, I don’t care if we run a play all night, as long as you run the floor and pressure the heck out of people,” Gourley said. “We can cut the kids loose and let them run. Defense is our one play.”
The Vikings plan to apply non-stop pressure to the basketball and score in transition. Offensively, it could be run-and-gun with no signs of slowing down.
The talented backcourt could flourish with the long-range shooting of senior Alex Smith and sophomore Duane Brown, and the dribble-drive playmaking of senior Tre Tipton. Brown and Tipton could share time at the point.
Tipton averaged 14.7 points last year, Smith 12.9 and Brown 12.5 for the Vikings. Smith and Brown combined for 56 3-pointers. Tipton also led the team in rebounds (8.7), assists (5.4), steals (4.1) and blocks (1.4).
But the guard play could get plenty of complementary help inside.
Returning juniors Eric Moran and Maurice Stankus resume play in the low block. Moran is 6-foot-6, 320 pounds; Stankus is 6-1 and 210.
Moran can score inside and rebound, but his ability to impede opponents will be an asset.
“Eric is that big body for us; we look for him to pressure on people,” Gourley said. “His footwork is getter better down low. We’re encouraged with him.”
Senior Mike Percic (5-1 1⁄220), freshman Kyle Fitzroy (6- 3⁄170) and junior Dillon Shipman (6- 1⁄150) also will provide size. Fitzroy has shown a shooting touch.
Gourley organized a few open gyms prior to Monday’s official start date for practice. He couldn’t make it mandatory for the football players, whose season ended on Nov. 7 with a quarterfinal playoff loss, to attend those sessions. Moran and Stankus showed up any way, ready to get into basketball shape.
Gourley can draw parallels to the football team, some good, some bad.
“They broke the A-K record for points in a season (with 499 points),” Gourley said. “It would be nice to do that in basketball, too.
The Vikings, who point to a 68-67 loss to Summit Academy as the season’s sour spot, averaged 60 or more points the last two seasons. And they have had a strong two-year stretch, going 18-9 and reaching the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA playoffs two years ago, and then finishing 19-4 last season with another playoff win.
They’ll play in new-look Section 2-AA with East Allegheny, Ford City, Greensburg Central Catholic, Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny and Wilkinsburg.
“We’ll have to learn as we go,” Gourley said.
Seniors Loren Wingard and Dylan Flickinger also figure into the backcourt rotation, as does junior Ghaven Baum.
Gourley said his senior players have shown the way to the underclassmen.
“Their leadership will be beneficial to us,” Gourley said. “This is my sixth year coaching. Sometimes, senior kids don’t want anything to do with the younger kids. Our seniors really seem to enjoy helping those guys.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at [email protected].