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Jeannette boys basketball team needs balance to be successful

Paul Schofield
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette’s AJ Sharp (center) competes during practice Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette’s Jackson Pruitt competes during practice Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette’s Marcus Barnes (left) competes during practice Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette coach Adrian Batts prepares his boys basketball team for the season during practice Nov. 24, 2018.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette’s Seth Howard (left) competes during practice Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

When a team loses 80 percent of the offense from a squad that reached the WPIAL Class A semifinals and won two games in the PIAA tournament, it might expect a down season.

Jeannette boys coach Adrian Batts doesn’t see it that way. In fact, he thinks the team could even be better.

Because of the two-year reclassification in the state, Jeannette has been elevated to Class 2A and will have some new opponents in 2018-19.

The Jayhawks (21-5, 11-1 Section 1-A) and Serra Catholic, the other team from the section to move up, will join Bentworth, Brentwood, California, Carmichaels and Chartiers-Houston in Section 2.

Instead of heading down Route 30 towards Pittsburgh or north on Rt. 66 for games, the Jayhawks will head west on Interstate 70 the next two seasons and battle the construction barrels.

“Other than Serra, I don’t know much about the other teams,” Batts said. “I’m sure the section will be competitive.”

Batts’ concern is replacing the graduated Tre Cunningham (19 points per game) and Robert Kennedy (11 ppg) and transfer Anthony Johnson (18 ppg).

And he’s not looking for just one player to step up; he’s looking for each player to step up.

He plans to build around returning seniors Seth Howard, Marcus Barnes, A.J. Sharp and Melik Gordon.

“It’s going to take a team effort,” Batts said. “The seniors have to provide leadership.

“We have a lot of guys who played big minutes last season. We have a few guys who have earned WPIAL and PIAA championship rings in other sports (football and baseball). They know what it takes to be successful.”

Because football season ended a little earlier than normal this season, Batts has been able to spend more time with the players at practice.

Replacing Cunningham, Kennedy and Johnson won’t be easy, but it looks like joining Howard, Barnes and Sharp in the starting lineup are juniors Zach Crutchman and junior Jackson Pruitt.

Gordon, senior Drake Petrillo, juniors Imani Sanders and Phil Mickens, sophomores Jimmy Sanders and Toby Cline will see time off the bench.

Jeannette opens the season at the Hempfield Tip-Off Tournament where it will face McKeesport on Dec. 7 and Belle Vernon on Dec. 8. Then it will face always-tough Shady Side Academy on Dec. 11 before opening section play at home against Brentwood on Dec. 14.

Playing hard, defending and rebounding are the three keys for Jeannette. It also must be more consistent at the foul line, Batts said.

Jeannette is quick, and Batts plans to utilize that.

“If we were a better foul-shooting team, we might have a few more WPIAL titles,” Batts said. “We’re working hard at becoming a better. We have a lot of competition in practice.”

And if the early few weeks of practice are any indication, Batts likes what he sees.

“I feel our offense will come,” Batts said. “We have to score off turnovers and make easy shots. Foul shooting has been our Achilles heel, so that has to be better.

“We’re still athletic, and we might not look flashy but we’re sharing the ball and playing as a team.”

And if Jeannette can find the balanced scoring, it could be another good season.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at [email protected] or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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