New faces, from players on the court to coaches on the bench, will be featured as the Gateway varsity boys basketball team opens the 2014-15 season at the Plum Tournament on Dec. 5 and 6.
As there will be a couple of new starters and others making debuts in the overall varsity rotation, returning starter and one of the four captains, Daylon Harris, likes what he sees from the team in practices so far.
“There are about 25 kids on the team, and they can all play,” Harris said. “Practices are very competitive. People are definitely learning and progressing, and I like it.”
Gateway continued its recent run of winning campaigns in 2013-14. The Gators finished 9-5 in Section 2-AAAA and earned one of the section’s WPIAL playoff spots.
They raced past Upper St. Clair, 68-50, before suffering a tough 82-73 overtime loss to Kiski Area in the quarterfinals.
After nearly a decade at the helm of Gateway, Mitch Adams stepped down as head coach in September. Daryn Freedman, well known for his area coaching tenures, is the new man in charge.
Freedman has worked on staffs in the NBA and in college at Memphis, Northeastern and Duquesne.
He also was an assistant coach at Sewickley Academy and most recently a head coach at Kiski Prep. He runs the Basketball Stars of America summer program and has worked for Five-Star Basketball Camps.
“We have a lot of talent. We’re going to play a lot of players,” Freedman said.
“Truthfully, we’re going 17 to 18 deep on the varsity roster.
“We want to play a fast style and a hardcore, full-pressure defensive style with a lot of trapping. We want to try to wear teams out. There are guys who are going to get playing time and opportunities.”
Harris, a 6-foot-5 forward; Aiden Howard, a 6-6 junior forward; Arrington Johns, a 6-4 senior guard/forward; and James Kromka, a 6-2 senior guard/forward, have been voted the team’s captains.
Harris has been battling through a turned ankle suffered in practice, but Freedman said Harris was expected to be good to go for Tuesday’s scrimmage against Kiski Area.
“He wants to play,” Freedman said.
“He’s a four-year varsity guy and a great leader. He’s going to be a go-to guy at the end of games. Having him at his best will be key.”
Freedman said Howard, who had several starts last year as a sophomore, should have a breakout year.
“Aiden should be one of our leading scorers. He should be an effective scorer and rebounder.”
Howard, at 6-6, and Harris, at 6-5, lead a group of tall players for the Gators. Eight players are listed on the roster at 6-4 or taller.
Freshman John Paul Kromka, at 6-7 and 205 pounds, is expected to come right in and be a starter at center.
“John Paul is becoming a force inside,” Freedman said.
Senior John Horner, a Division I football prospect, is 6-5 and is in the mix as well.
“John gives us another presence inside,” Freedman said. “He brings energy to practice every day. He’s a great football player, but he’s doing great things on the basketball court.”
Freedman said junior David Wilson (6-4) and 6-6 sophomore newcomer Roy’Quez McNair, a quarterback for the football team, are ready to play in the front court.
Wilson was injured last year.
“Our big guys inside could get into foul trouble at times, so having a number of options and guys that can spell each other there will be key,” Freedman said.
Several players with experience will be featured in the back court.
Freedman said he likes the play of junior guards Ethlon Vennie, Frank Bozicevic, Dom Fultz and Clayton Nola.
Vennie, Freedman said, is a favorite to start at the point guard spot.
Sophomore guard Darrell Brock, sophomore forward Harvey Hicks and senior guards Brian Howard and Riley Walker, Freedman said, also are challenging for varsity time.
“We had a number of preseason workouts and games, and the guys got a lot of time together on the court before practices started (last week),” Freedman said. “The guys have really bought into the system. Scrimmages in practices have been awesome. They’ve been pretty competitive.”
Section 2 was strong last year, as Plum won the title with an 11-3 record. Franklin Regional was 10-4, and Gateway and Fox Chapel both were 9-5.
Pittsburgh Central Catholic and McKeesport played competitive with the top teams but missed the playoffs with 8-6 and 7-7 section records, respectively.
“I know the section will be tough,” Freedman said. “I know a number of the players through coaching AAU, but right now, we’re focused on what we’re doing. �There’s a lot of excitement with this team.”
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].