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East Allegheny boys basketball team ready for fresh start in Class AA

PTREABoysBasketball2
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For Trib Total Media
East Allegheny's Eddie Gibbs practices Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, at East Allegheny.
PTREABoysBasketball1
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | for Trib Total Media
East Allegheny's Justin Harner practices free throws on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, at East Allegheny.

The East Allegheny boys basketball team is starting fresh.

Coming off a 2012-13 season in which they advanced to the postseason, the Wildcats failed to win a game last year, going 0-20 and 0-12 in WPIAL Section 4-AAA.

But East Allegheny has blocked that out as it prepares for its Dec. 5 opener against Serra Catholic.

“That’s already behind us,” senior guard Justin Harner said. “We’ve erased that from our minds. This year is a new year.

“This year’s a different year. We have a lot of different players, a lot of good players that were young last year.”

Harner will be joined in the backcourt by junior Eddie Gibbs, and junior forward Adam Bannister returns to bring experience to the frontcourt.

“Justin’s a hard worker. Eddie’s a pretty skilled guard,” East Allegheny coach Vernon Benson said of his experienced backcourt.

The Wildcats also welcome four promising freshmen, including two probable starters. Guard Cedric Blackmon and forward T.J. Banks are penciled into the starting lineup.

“This year, moving forward, I like my young prospects,” Benson said. “I think they’re committed. I think they’re coachable. I think good things can happen with that group if we work hard. … It’s all about how hard you work.”

“They’re a big factor on our team, and they’re going to be a big help to us this year,” Harner said about the team’s starting freshmen.

With East Allegheny moving down to Class AA this season, it would seemingly create an opportunity to thrive. But Benson and his team don’t see it that way.

The Wildcats will compete in Section 2-AA against WPIAL Class AA runner-up Greensburg Central Catholic and playoff teams Shady Side Academy, Apollo-Ridge and South Allegheny.

“If you look at the section we’re moving into, I still think it’s a quality section,” Benson said. “I always say that, sometimes, I don’t like moving sections because you start learning the opponents that you play against. … Now it’s like starting all over again.”

The Wildcats will set out to claim their first section title in 47 years, a fact Benson makes sure his players are aware of.

“Our overall goal is definitely to win a section title,” he said. “We haven’t won a section title since 1967 at East Allegheny, and that’s something we definitely pay attention to and want to try to erase.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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