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Plum boys basketball gets competitive early with spirited practices

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Dan Speicher | For Trib Total Media
Plum junior James Edwards (left) works the ball across the court during practice Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014.
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Dan Speicher | For Trib Total Media
Plum junior James Edwards works under the net, during practice on Wednesday November 26, 2014

With watchful eyes, Ron Richards has seen plenty of full-court scrimmages over the years as Plum’s boys basketball coach. He felt some of them helped his team get better. Others, not so much.

But this year’s group might be able to charge admission to watch their get-after-it practices. Scrimmages are up and down, and balanced, all fueled by opportunities to seize playing time.

“We have some good athleticism; guys can fly around,” Richards said. “It makes practices very competitive. We have a lot of good 5-on-5, live situations. We’ve had good teams in the past, but practices weren’t always like that because our first-team guys were so good.

“Now, the kids know that if you don’t come to practice ready, you’ll literally fall behind one or two guys.”

That said, depth looks like a strong point for the Mustangs. But Richards gives that subject careful, cautionary thought.

There are 10 players Richards believes he will be able to play this season. But finding the right combination to put on the floor, at the right times, could be what makes Plum a repeat champion of Section 2-AAAA.

“By far, this team has the most depth of any I have coached,” Richards said. “Now, that said, I’m not sure if it’s good depth or bad depth. The way things are right now (at practice), we could have a different starting lineup every day.”

Junior guard James Edwards returns after leading the team in scoring at 16.2 points a game. A threat to score from the perimeter, he also averaged 1.5 assists.

Edwards could be one of the WPIAL’s top backcourt players, seeing time at point and shooting guard.

“We need him to be,” Richards said. “James has a lot of potential. He’s bigger and stronger, and he’s gotten better. But we realize he also will be the focus of a lot of teams.”

The Mustangs went 18-4 last season and lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs to Kiski Area, 50-40. Two key players graduated and will be tough to replace. Forward Austin Dedert (St. Vincent) and guard Nick Stotler (Coker College, baseball) put Plum over the top in many games last season.

“With them gone, we’re losing 55 percent of our scoring, about 95 percent of our rebounding, and 100 percent of our blocked shots,” Richards said.

Plum teams are known for their sound defense. Last year, Plum had the best defensive average in WPIAL Quad A at 45.5 points per game.

Not short on guards, Plum brings back seniors Adam Valvo and Mike McGuire and junior Taylor Vivino.

Vivino is more of a point guard, McGuire a versatile two-guard.

“Mike is a creative guard,” Richards said. “He can create his own shots.”

Senior Wil Fuhrer, junior Rob Deemer (6-4), sophomore Adam Mahr (6-3) and junior Jack Marold (6-3) should be key frontcourt contributors.

Other pitch-in performers include junior Pat Crossey, sophomore Kevin Brown and junior Carlos Henderson.

Fuhrer, Brown and Crossey played on Plum’s resurgent football team that reached the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Their added toughness, Richards said, will complement an already rooted philosophy.

“Wil, Kevin and Pat are all tough and competitive kids,” Richards said. “But we have been a tough team for a long time. They fit the mold of the kids we already have.”

Richards expects Penn Hills and McKeesport to be top teams in Section 2, with Gateway close behind.

“It’s the same thing again and it sounds cliche,” Richards said. “It’s a competitive section, and it will be again.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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