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Season of change on tap for South Allegheny boys basketball

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Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
South Allegheny's Dylan Papson dribbles during practice Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, at South Allegheny.
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Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
South Allegheny coach Tony Dicenzo instructs his players during practice Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, at South Allegheny.
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Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
South Allegheny's Jake Duval takes a jump shot at practice Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, at South Allegheny.
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Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
South Allegheny's Dylan Papson passes to a teammate during practice Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, at South Allegheny.
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Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
South Allegheny's Jake Duval looks for a pass during practice Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, at South Allegheny.
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Tony Pinneri | For Trib Total Media
South Allegheny's Johnny Perkins takes a jump shot during practice Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, at South Allegheny.

Virtually everything is new about the South Allegheny boys basketball team for the 2014-15 season.

Just not the coach.

In what he hopes can be a stabilizing factor for an unsettled scene, Tony DiCenzo returns to lead the Gladiators for a third year. But he will be working with an entirely new lineup, a new assistant and a new section of the WPIAL.

South Allegheny, among three teams moving to Section 2-AA from 3-AA under the WPIAL’s newest realignment, opens its schedule on Friday at the Brownsville Tournament with a game against Class AAA Elizabeth Forward.

“Our goals don’t change,” DiCenzo said. “We want to compete for a section championship and make the playoffs. It’s going to be a challenge because we don’t have much experience, but the kids are working hard.”

South Allegheny’s 14-9 record last season was among the program’s best in recent memory and earned the Gladiators a spot in the Class AA playoffs.

They’ll try to maintain the pace with a probable starting lineup that includes just two players — senior guards Dylan Papson and Johnny Perkins — with previous varsity experience.

All 12 players were in preseason camp, down from 20 at the end of last season. Among the departed players are leading scorers Ty Cook (16.5 ppg.), Kordell Thompson (14.8) and Jeiron Lewis (12.9).

“It’s still up in the air whether we’ll have a JV team,” DiCenzo said.

“Early on, I would anticipate we’re going to struggle a little because of our lack of experience. But we’re continuing to try to build a program here with the same philosophy we’ve always had.”

DiCenzo is being assisted by Andre Wiggins, a former West Mifflin teammate on the Titans’ 2002 PIAA Class AAA runner-up team, who fills a vacancy created when former assistant Shaun Johnston was named South Allegheny girls coach.

“The staples of our program (are) to defend, rebound and limit turnovers on offense,” DiCenzo said. “If you play hard and continue to do those three things, you can find yourself being competitive and in a position to win games.”

South Allegheny joins Greensburg Central Catholic and Shady Side Academy in the move from Section 3-AA. Other teams in Section 2-AA are Apollo-Ridge, East Allegheny, Ford City and Wilkinsburg.

Papson and Perkins, both 5-foot-11, were South Allegheny’s top reserve players last season and led the JV team in scoring.

DiCenzo said they likely will be joined in the starting lineup Friday by 6-3 senior forward Dominic Boyd, 6-3 junior forward Jake Duval and 6-0 junior guard Tywaun Igles.

“With the lack of experience coming into the season from last year,” DiCenzo said, “we’re at a disadvantage in practice because we’ve basically got first-year varsity guys going up against JV players. Nobody who’s starting this year has averaged even a point in varsity games. We’re just going to have to focus on things we can control, just do the small things, play as a unit. We can’t look too far ahead.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].

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