Season was a ‘huge learning experience’ for Baldwin boys basketball team
Among the top 10 players on the Baldwin boys basketball team in 2018-19 were two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen.
There were eight sophomores and four freshmen in the program overall, making the Highlanders one of the youngest teams in the WPIAL Class 6A division.
“Initially, my thoughts were more along the lines of feeling as if we left too many opportunities out there in our games,” said Eugene Wilson, Baldwin’s first-year coach. “There were so many little things we had control over, and if we understood that a little better I truly believe there could’ve been a better outcome.
“Ultimately, I never really liked to embrace this thought but I guess it’s a reality … we were very young and inexperienced. If you take away the win/loss record and just look at our team, you wouldn’t be able to tell that we were a sub-par team. We operated and looked at the next game as a chance to grow. Our guys had fun, but they also learned a lot. I am hopeful that our experiences this year will transfer over into next season.”
The Baldwin hoopsters finished with an 8-14 overall record but went through a tough grind in Section 2, winning just once in 10 games.
Baldwin posted a 4-5 record in December, was 3-6 in January, then lost three games this month before capping the season Feb. 8 with a 67-50 nonsection win at Norwin.
“The bond between the players and coaches was the strength of our team,” said Wilson, a high-energy floor boss. “In building a program, it starts with relationships. Once you establish trust, the ability to grow together comes a lot easier. This is why we were able to embrace the ups and downs but still enjoy our season, because at the end of the day we all supported one another.
“Don’t get me wrong here, that’s not enough by any stretch. The goal is still to win and create a winner here at Baldwin. I believe we are definitely on the right track. We were able to address a couple of issues that I do not foresee being a problem moving forward.”
The Highlanders’ starting lineup consisted of seniors Christian Barr (G) and Shane Gilbert (G/F), juniors Troy Lanier (F) and Andy Degenhardt (G), and sophomore boardman Dorien Ford (C/F).
“This year was a huge learning experience for everyone,” Barr said. “With a new coach, we had to learn a whole new way of basketball, as well as the coaches teaching a different style coming from city basketball to the WPIAL.
“We fell short of our goal this year, but I’m glad I was a part of such a great group of guys.”
Barr said the passion and energy exhibited by Baldwin’s first-year coach was contagious. Wilson praised the senior leadership provided by Barr, Gilbert and guard Aaron Exler.
“Coach Eugene is like no other coach I ever had,” Barr said. “He takes his passion and love for the game to the next level. Playing alongside him taught me to be patient and aggressive. That seems hard to understand because they are opposites, but he always told me to ‘pick and choose,’ which helped me throughout the season. I’m glad he was part of my final season as a Baldwin Highlander.”
Among the top reserves on this year’s team were freshman Conner Gitzen (F) and sophomores Connor Lavelle (F), Joey Starzynski (G), Tarren Seitzinger (G), Obadiah Abdul (G) and Riley Voelker (C).
“Next year’s team will be better than this year’s team,” Barr said. ”We were young this year, and a lot of players had to step outside their comfort zones.
“However, they’ll be able to grow from the experience and perform at a higher level next season. I know I’ll see a playoff spot out of those guys.”
Wilson already is looking forward to next season.
“We definitely were able to introduce a style of play that the players can embrace and be excited about,” he said. “We still have a ways to go, but what I will say is that we are closer today than we were at the beginning of the season. Guys are really starting to understand the system and philosophy. We can and will only get better.
“The future is very bright. I am the first to say a transition like this isn’t the easiest for players, especially when they are so young. You’re used to playing, practicing and doing things a certain way, then all of that changes and now you are part of a culture change. You are held accountable, pushed like you were never pushed before, put in situations where maturation is necessary. You are being taught how not to quit and how quitting is not acceptable in life; you are learning how to become a man.
“What I am most proud of is our kids loved it. They were more than pleased on where they came from in terms of growth and development. They are beginning to see the big picture. We haven’t even had a whole calendar year together, and I am excited about our overall progress.”
The sharp-shooting Barr and his teammates hope they’ve developed a positive outlook and winning atmosphere for future squads.
“I’m glad I’ve been a part of such a great family,” Barr said, “and I hope I set a path for the younger kids to change the culture of Baldwin basketball.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.