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Spencer develops into ‘coach on the court’ for Penn Hills boys basketball

Andrew John
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Penn Hills’ Tyree Spencer and McKeesport’s Robert Robinson battle in a WPIAL Section 1-5A boys basketball game Jan. 11, 2019, at McKeesport.

At the beginning of the season, Penn Hills senior guard Tyree Spencer wasn’t a well-known boys basketball player in the WPIAL. However, Spencer’s new role has allowed him to turn some heads.

Spencer, who was the sixth-man off the bench for the WPIAL title team last season, is averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists this season.

Along with leading the Indians (16-3, 9-0) in points and rebounds, Spencer also paces the team in steals at 3.4 per game. He is shooting 61 percent from the field and 74 percent from the free-throw line.

“He’s the key in every game, and he’s the key for us to continue because he has to be on the floor; he can play all the positions and he knows what everybody is supposed to do and be my coach on the court,” coach Dan DeRose said. “When you have a player like that, there is a good chance you’re going to be successfull.”

Spencer, who has played basketball since sixth grade, dedicated himself to the sport the last two years. DeRose applauded Spencer’s basketball IQ as the best during his four-year stint at Penn Hills.

“Not only was I playing last year, but I was sitting on the bench seeing what he was looking at. I would go into the game and do what he asked,” Spencer said. “You’re able to see it from a different point of view. He sees everything instead of my position. I try to look at it that way instead of just my position.”

Spencer scored a season-high 32 points in a 90-46 win over Jeannette in the Jamfest Tournament at Penn Hills on Jan. 5. A couple days later, Spencer scored 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in an 86-65 win over Albert Gallatin in Section 1-5A.

He scored 24 points in a 78-51 win over Gateway in section play Jan. 22.

“His stats I would put up against anyone in the WPIAL,” DeRose said. “Some guys are scoring 25 to 30 points per game but are they their team’s leading rebounder or steals? He’s a guy I would consider performance-wise as top-five in the WPIAL so far with what he has done.”

Spencer won’t close the door on playing basketball at the collegiate level. If he decides to pursue only academics, he would prefer to attend Pitt and major in computer science. Spencer also has played on the boys volleyball team the last two seasons.

As the Indians’ only player returning with varsity experience, Spencer has made sure to make himself available for DeRose. He has only been in foul trouble one time this season, where the Indians narrowly defeated Serra Catholic, 72-66, at the Shootout at Seton Hill on Jan. 26.

“Being off the court is difficult because I know most of the team didn’t play varsity last year. I have a few more years of experience, and I know all the spots that everybody needs to be in so whenever I’m not on the court, it’s hard to communicate that to everyone else,” Spencer said.

The Indians have averaged 73.6 points, while allowing 55.7 in the first 19 games; they have won 10 of their last 11.

At practices, DeRose has utilized Spencer’s basketball IQ to act like an assistant coach.

“I have that much trust in him that if he knows what he’s doing, I can pull him out and he can help me coach in practice,” he said. “That is something that doesn’t happen with players. He’s a great kid, respectful and a good student all-around. It’s fun to watch since I think he’s the surprise player of the WPIAL.”

DeRose hopes Spencer’s presence in the lineup will lead to another deep run in the playoffs for the Indians this season.

Andrew John is a freelance writer.