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Gateway boys plan to push the pace this season

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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway freshman Will Kromka competes during practice Thursday, Nov, 29, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway sophomore Hunter Hicks competes during practice Thursday, Nov, 29, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway senior LJ Farrish competes during practice Thursday, Nov, 29, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway coach Alvis Rogers prepares his team for the upcoming 2018-2019 season Thursday, Nov, 29, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway junior Joey Katona competes during practice Thursday, Nov, 29, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway senior Nate Roper (left) competes during practice Thursday, Nov, 29, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway junior RJ Stevenson competes during practice Thursday, Nov, 29, 2018.

Gateway boys basketball coach Alvis Rogers has spent the early preseason practices tweaking the style the team will play this winter on both offense and defense.

The Gators are going from a team that relied on a post presence to one that will push the pace.

The main reason for the adjustments is personnel changes after some graduation losses from a team that went 12-11 and lost 52-50 to Hampton in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

The Gators won’t have 6-foot-8 John Paul Kromka to rely on for shot blocking and baskets in the paint this year, because he’s now making waves as freshman at Pitt-Johnstown.

Instead, they’ll have a guard-centric attack featuring a backcourt of junior RJ Stevenson and sophomore Bonzi Parks and the five guys on the floor will have to work together to be successful.

“We’re not as big, but I think we’re more athletic,” Rogers said. “We want to get out and run a little more and press. We don’t have a John Paul in the middle or a go-to guy per say, so we have to do it by committee. We have to attack both on the offensive and defensive end. We were able to funnel guys to John Paul last year, and he’d block shots. This year, we have to keep guys in front of us and then get out and run.”

Rogers, a former Wake Forest standout and 1983 Kansas City (now Sacramento) Kings draft pick, is in his first year as Gateway’s coach. He spent four seasons as an assistant with the Gators under Daryn Freedman. Freedman stepped down after last season to take an assistant coaching position at Point Park.

Stevenson is excited for the chance to run a faster-paced offense. His backcourt mate from last year, Courtney Jackson, will likely not play this season. Rogers said Jackson plans to graduate in December and enroll at Syracuse, where he is committed to play football.

Parks is slated to be Jackson’s replacement in the lineup. Stevenson has already built some chemistry with Parks and likes what he’s seen from him.

“He’s really aggressive, and he can do it all,” Stevenson said. “He can pass, play defense and score. We really complement each other very well.”

The Gators return forwards Nate Roper, a senior, and sophomore Hunter Hicks, who split time in the starting lineup last year.

Rogers has had discussions with football standouts Derrick Davis and Tui Brown about playing basketball and is hopeful that both come out for the team to give them even more speed on their roster.

Though John Paul Kromka graduated, there’s yet another Kromka waiting in the wings. Will Kromka, a freshman, will become the eighth and final Kromka sibling to play varsity basketball at Gateway. Will’s sister, Mary, is a senior on the Gateway girls basketball team.

Rogers sees plenty of potential in Will, and he’ll likely start him as a freshman.

“He’s not as big as his brothers, but he’s probably going to be just as good as them, if not better,” Rogers said. “He can get out and run the floor, and he’s fundamentally sound.”

Gateway is in Section 1-5A with all new teams, except Greensburg Salem. Albert Gallatin, Laurel Highlands, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills are the new opponents, but many of them have been section foes of the Gators in the past.

Gateway is eager to deploy its new up-tempo look and see how it stacks up against the rest of the section as the Gators try to earn a 10th consecutive postseason appearance.

“The old saying is that speed kills, and we want to apply that with the speed that we have,” Rogers said. “I tell them we want to be in a rush, but not in a hurry. We want to play fast, but if we don’t have it to play smart on the offensive side of it. On the defensive side, we have to help each other. If someone gets beat, we have to have the confidence that a teammate has their back. That’s something that we preach as a coaching staff.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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