Defensive-minded Knoch boys basketball plans to push pace
In the seven years Ron McNabb has been coaching Knoch boys basketball, the calling card for the program has been a tough, physical, grind-it-out style of half-court defense.
That defensive intensity isn’t going anywhere, but McNabb said he has the most athletic group of players in his tenure, so don’t be surprised if the Knights are running the floor more this year.
Knoch returns four starting guards — Julian Sanks, Scott Fraser, Jared Schrecengost and Jake Scheidt — as it drops down from Class 5A to 4A this year, and they expect to push the pace a lot more.
“With as many good perimeter players that we have, we’re going to loosen the reins a little this year and try and go a little more up-tempo than we have before,” McNabb said. “We always take pride in our half-court defense, though, because we aren’t always going to shoot the ball well, so we have to understand that we still have to hunker down and guard teams in the half court.”
The Knights finished 7-14 and 1-11 in the difficult Section 2-5A that featured WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up Mars and three other teams that won playoff games, including Hampton, which also made the state playoffs.
Sanks, a senior, averaged 16 points per game last year. McNabb said Sanks worked hard in the summer to add to his repertoire. Fraser, Schrecengost and Scheidt are juniors who can run the floor.
In the past, Knoch could be deliberate on offense to limit possessions and rely on its tough defense. The guards are looking forward to pushing the pace this season.
“I remember when I was a freshman, all coach talked about was defense,” Sanks said. “We were mainly a defensive team, and on offense, we’d pass the ball around. Defense is still a big thing for us this year, but we want a fast tempo. When we get the ball, we’re going to be moving.
“In years past, we had a lot of bigs, so we’d run our offense in the paint. But this year, we have a lot of shooters. We can spread the floor and try to get a lot of threes.”
Junior guard Brady McKee returns after missing last season because of injury. Freshman Ryan Lang and junior Adam Bajuszik will see time at guard. The Knights have a couple of forwards in sophomore Rocky Kopac and junior Cole Lassinger who will help in the paint.
Knoch, which will open the season against Armstrong at the River Hawks’ tournament, will play in Section 1-4A with Derry, Freeport, Highlands, Mt. Pleasant and Yough.
The Knights took their lumps last year playing in Class 5A, but they look at it as something that can be beneficial going forward.
“I think it’ll be good for us,” Scheidt said. “Our section was really tough last year, and we started three sophomores. We’re more experienced now, and I think we can compete in this section.”
A benefit to the new section is getting to renew rivalries with Freeport and Highlands. The Knights played against Butler County rival Mars in section last year, but the other section schools were mainly hour-plus trips.
“We’d go down to West Allegheny or wherever last year, and there were maybe 100 people there,” McNabb said. “You know with games against Freeport and Highlands that they’re going to be sold out. Our guys know the guys from Freeport and Highlands, and they like playing each other. I think it’s good for the players and the fans. Instead of traveling an hour we get to go 20 minutes down the road and play them.
“Coaching against Freeport and Highlands is tough, because they know what they are doing, but we like that challenge.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.