Greyhounds’ biggest foe: the grind
Basketball is one of the longest seasons for a high school athlete.
The rigors of practicing daily and playing more than 20 games is grueling. The body gets worn down.
When you add deep runs into the district and PIAA playoffs, not only does the competition get better, but the wear and tear on a player’s body increases.
Joe Salvino has been coaching basketball at Monessen for 31 years. Every year his teams have reached the playoffs, often advancing to the state tournament.
District 7 champion Monessen (22-6) will play its 29th game Friday when it opposes District 10 champ Kennedy Catholic (23-4) at Moon High School (7:30 p.m. tip).
Salvino realizes that talent is not the only aspect that determines success this time of year. So do determination and heart.
“The toll a long season takes on players is inevitable,” Salvino said. “You can even see it on the faces of the college players this time of year. It’s been a physical grind. It’s tough on the body. But you have to fight through that.
“Face it, everybody you play at this time of the year is good. But it comes down to who wants it more, who can suck it up and get past the bumps, bruises and mental strain of a long season. That’s what I’ve been preaching to my players.”
Salvino knows the Golden Eagles are a worthy foe. He knows they have an athletic 6-8 post player in Sagaba Konate. He knows KC has a solid defense.
But his main concern going into tonight’s game is his own team,which has won 11 straight games.
“I know that we are good enough to play with anybody, to beat anybody,” he said. “Kennedy Catholic has a very good team. So do we. I just want to make sure my players want it bad enough.
“I told them there are opportunities in life that sometimes never come in front of you again. This could be one of them because nothing is guaranteed. And I told them you don’t want to wake up the next day saying to yourself, ‘What if?’ I told them, ‘You have to live for today. Give it everything you’ve got.”
Salvino said he knows his players are fatigued from the rigors of not one, but two deep playoff runs. But he also has a feeling they are up to the challenge of finishing the journey.
“I like this group. Sometimes, I have to get on them, but they are kids. They have responded,” Salvino said. “I think they really want this.
“(Friday) we will find out.”
The one thing that has bothered Salvino is his team’s slow starts in the playoffs. The latest was falling behind Portage 14-3 Tuesday before roaring back for a 69-49 win.
Before that, Monessen trailed Venango Catholic, 6-0, before rolling, 76-41.
“I think that can be solved in practice,” he said. “You have to practice at game speed. If you don’t, then when the game starts it takes a while to get up to where you need to be. I told the players (Wednesday) they need to practice at game speed.”
The Greyhounds are led by a talented trio of underclassmen, 5-9 junior Lavalle Rush (17 points per game) and 6-2 sophomores Jaden Altomore and Justice Rice, both averaging 13 ppg.
Rush, after getting shut out in the first quarter against Portage, exploded for 17 points in the second quarter en route to a 27-point game.
Altomore and Rice each scored 15 points.
“We have kids who can score, but again it’s our defense that will have to make the difference in this game,” Salvino said. “We have to try and control their top players and create some turnovers. Plus, we have to box out. When your tallest kids are 6-2 and you are going against kids 6-8 and 6-4, you have to box out. That is very key for us.”
The winner of tonight’s game will play the winner of Farrell (22-4) vs. Clarion-Limestone (24-3) in the western finals on Tuesday.
For Monessen, that would mean game No. 30 of the grind.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.