Mt. Pleasant boys to lean on young roster for up-tempo style of play
There is a biblical phrase that reads “A child shall lead them.” That may end up being the motto for the Mt. Pleasant boys basketball team this season.
Of the 18 players on first-year coach Allan Bilinsky’s roster, more than half are first- and second-year players, including nine sophomores.
“We’re a very young team,” Bilinsky said. “The majority of our roster is sophomores, and they’re going to have to play this season.”
Bilinsky inherits three returning starters from a team that struggled to a 3-19 record a year ago, including a 1-11 mark in Section 1-4A. That leaves him with somewhat of a bare canvas in which to work.
“We’re very athletic overall,” Bilinsky said. “This is one of those teams where everyone is in the same area. Deciding between varsity and junior varsity is going to be very difficult, and it could change from game-to-game. Players one, two and three are pretty set; players four through 16 could change on any given day. We’re going to try and find the guys who give us the best opportunity to succeed.”
Despite its youth, Mt. Pleasant will have an experienced backcourt. Returning are junior guard Jacob Johnson, a three-year starter, along with sophomore guard Nathan Kubasky, who started a year ago as a freshman. They will be joined by senior forward Zak Lucullo.
“Johnson is a talented guy; he’s a leader,” Bilinsky said. “All those guys coming back, we’re going to lean on them.”
A pleasant surprise for Bilinsky is the addition of guard Sam Napper, who decided to play basketball as a senior. Napper is better known at Mt. Pleasant for his soccer prowess; in fact, he was the section’s Most Valuable Player this season.
“He’s an athlete,” Bilinsky said. “We need as many athletes as possible.”
That’s because Bilinsky intends to change the style of play at Mt. Pleasant.
“We intend to run up and down the court,” Bilinsky said. “And defensively, we’re going to press you.”
That aggressive style of play means depth will be crucial. A five-, six-, or even seven-man rotation isn’t optimal for an up-tempo game plan.
“Guys are going to play,” Bilinsky said. “And they have to play defense. This team is a bit of an unknown. We’re definitely more athletic than we were last year.”
Realignment may prove to be an advantage for Mt. Pleasant’s young team. Gone are defending section champion Indiana and runner-up Valley, although they were replaced by powerful Highlands, which reached the Class 5A semifinals in the WPIAL playoffs a year ago and the quarterfinals of the PIAA tournament.
While Highlands is loaded, and the prohibitive favorite in the newly-realigned section, Freeport is the only other team in the section that had a winning record a year ago.
Bilinsky takes over a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2016 and hasn’t recorded double-digit wins since 2014. He replaces Don Porter, who wasn’t retained after last season. But Bilinsky knows a thing or two about big jobs — he has three of them in the district. In addition to being the boys basketball coach, Bilinsky is the high school’s athletic director and a junior-senior high principal.
He says time-management is the key, not to mention a little help from his friends.
“We have a great athletic secretary, and our principal is phenomenal,” Bilinsky said. “We all work together very well. We do what we need to do to get the job done every day.”
He’s hoping his team will follow that example.
Jim Equels Jr. is a freelance writer.