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Deer Lakes boys move into tough Class AAA section

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Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Deer Lakes' Scott Ventura looks to score during basketball practice on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014.
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Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Deer Lakes' Scott Ventura receives a pass during basketball practice on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014.

With the biennial PIAA realignment taking effect, the Deer Lakes boys basketball team has made the move from Class AA to Class AAA.

But third-year coach Jon McKay is familiar with competing against schools swith large enrollments. After all, he has experience at Butler, for many years the largest WPIAL school.

“I played and coached for a while in Quad-A at Butler, so I know how good the basketball is,” McKay said. “That’s the case with the triple-A section we’re in. There’s a couple good triple-A sections, and we’re in one of them. We’re going to eat at the big kids’ table this year.”

Case in point is Hampton, a school that played in the Class AAAA championship game two years running after making the Class AAA finals in 2012. The Talbots are back in Section 1-AAA.

Deer Lakes will host Hampton in the home section opener Dec. 16.

“You have Hampton and Mars whose records speak for themselves,” McKay said. “They’re the model programs that compete for section titles every year. That’s what we’re trying to get.”

McKay believes teams like Highlands also will be in the mix in section play.

“It’s a challenge,” McKay said. “But I feel I have guys who are excited about challenges. And I don’t back down from challenges, either.”

Returning to the Lancers this season will be Scott Ventura, who averaged about 15 points as Deer Lakes compiled a 2-8 record in Section 1-AA and were 5-17 overall.

Also back is senior Cory Pampena, who finished last season at 10 points and five rebounds per game from his position on the wing.

Big things also are expected from point guard Alex Nichols after his strong freshman season.

“Alex grew over the summer, and he really improved mentally,” McKay said. “He’s really getting to understand the game. We asked a lot of him as a freshman last year, but he absolutely rose to the occasion. He led us in blocks, assists and steals.”

With only one senior last year, a considerable number of underclassmen got varsity experience. Now, the question is how much depth the Lancers can develop. McKay hopes to go as many as 10 deep.

“We have some depth and some height for the first time since I’ve been here,” McKay said.

Deer Lakes will begin its 46th season Dec. 5 at the final Ford City Tip-off tournament.

“I’ve gotten to know (Ford City coach) Greg Hutcherson well since I’ve been coaching, and this will be a special tournament for them since it will be their last tip-off tournament,” McKay said. “So when he invited us there, we jumped at the chance.”

The Lancers will begin section competition Dec. 12 at Valley.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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