Thomas Jefferson boys basketball turns to offense
Thomas Jefferson’s boys basketball team advanced to the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs last season.
But the Jaguars lost to Gateway in the first round and finished 11-12.
The Jaguars averaged 59.4 points and allowed 59.7 ppg.
TJ’s defensive-minded coach, Dom DeCicco, is looking for his team to be more offensive this winter.
“We worked very hard on the offensive end early on,” DeCicco said. “We always work hard defensively, but this year we’re putting more emphasis on shooting and ball-handling.
“I think our kids had a very good spring, summer and fall. They really worked on their weaknesses. Now, they are really working hard and looking forward to a good season. We have shot the ball very well early on. We’ve got some of the football guys back (at practice), and it has already ratcheted up our intensity.
Traditionally, the TJ basketball roster is filled with football players. Eight of the 18 athletes listed on the 2017-18 roster were members of the Jaguars WPIAL champion football team this season.
They were seniors Garret Fairman (WR/DB), Noah Palmer (TE/DE) and Spencer Everley (OL/DL); junior Alex Territ (QB/DB); sophomores Shane Stump (QB/DB), James Martinis (TE/LB) and Dan Deabner (WR/DB); and freshman Jake Pugh (QB/DB).
Fairman, a 6-foot-2 guard/forward, and Palmer, a 6-4 forward, are returning starters and undisputed team leaders.
“Both Garrett and Noah were in the gym Monday morning after playing a state playoff football game Friday. That says a lot about what kind of kids they are,” DeCicco said. “They bring us toughness, defensive intensity and rebounding, but most important they are leaders.”
James McKay, a 5-8 point guard, and Everley, a 6-6 center, are returning senior lettermen for the Jaguars.
“James and Spencer have been great,” DeCicco said. “I don’t know who has worked harder than McKay to improve his game. He is 100 percent improved from last year at this time. He is our starting point guard.
“And when Spencer plays hard, he is a difference maker. He can change shots, rebound and finish inside. He is 6-foot-6 and just growing into his body. I expect a big year from him.”
Others who have been battling for starting positions and/or playing time include junior guards John Adams, Mark Fedor and Territ; sophomore guards Isaac McNeil, Noah Pierce and Deabner; and Martinis (G/F) and Stump (F).
Adams and McNeil are returning lettermen.
Junior forward Anthony Lekse and sophomore guards Zach Dorko and Cam Dmijin, will provide depth.
The top freshman prospects in the program include guards Aiden Kelly and Pugh, and Ethan Dunsey, a 6-6 center.
Kelly and Pierce also are members of the golf team, which this past season advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for a third consecutive year.
The TJ hoopsters finished fourth in Section 1-5A last season behind McKeesport, Laurel Highlands and Trinity. Ringgold, Albert Gallatin and West Mifflin rounded out the standings.
McKeesport and Laurel Highlands were WPIAL quarterfinalists a year ago; Trinity lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
“Trinity has everyone back,” DeCicco said. “And Laurel Highlands has the best player in the section. Bryce Laskey from Laurel Highlands and Joey Koroly from Trinity are the two best players in our section.
“I think McKeesport and West Mifflin will also be good.”
Thomas Jefferson tips off the season at the second annual Baldwin/Peters Township tournament.
The Jaguars will play Dec. 8-9 at Peters Township and at Baldwin, respectively.
“I feel like we will have a pretty good team this year,” Palmer said.
“We are pretty strong on every aspect of the game. We have some big guys down low that grab rebounds and finish, and we have some really good shooting guards. Also, our point guard is really good at seeing the whole floor and handling the ball.
“Then, of course, our defense so far is very high-energy and putting a lot of pressure on the ball.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.