There have been seasons where area teams advanced deeper into the state tournaments, but this reporter has never had more fun covering high school boys basketball than he did this year.
There was a steady stream of intriguing storylines. From St. John Neumann making a remarkable turnaround, to Sullivan County winning the first district championship in school history, to Williamsport putting itself back on the statewide map, seeing how these stories unfolded was a joy. This was the kind of season that reminded me why I love this job so much.
The only difficult task was picking area award winners. Alas, the job must be done.
Coach of the Year
Second runners-up-Jason Gresh, Muncy and Glenn Vaughan, Sullivan County: Gresh has done a great job reviving the Muncy program in two short years. He helped the Indians win nine of their next 11 games after a midseason funk while beating district finalists Neumann and Sullivan County along the way. Muncy finished 16-10, finished third in the district and made a five-win improvement. Vaughan led Sullivan to its first district championship and state tournament win as Sullivan also captured a share of the HAC-III title and tied a program-record for 22 wins. Vaughan had Sullivan playing its best basketball when it mattered most and has built a strong program the last few years.
First runner-up-Allen Taylor, Williamsport: Taylor performed one of his best coaching jobs, helping Williamsport capture the District 2-4 Class AAAA championship and a state tournament game after going 5-17 the previous year. Williamsport started 6-7, but Taylor had his players buy completely into his system and the results were splendid. The Millionaires won 12 of their next 13 games and nearly reached the state quarterfinals. They also dethroned two-time defending district champion Scranton, dismantled Delaware Valley, 54-22 in the championship and laid the foundation for a bright future.
And the winner is...Paul Petcavage, St. John Neumann: A year after going 2-18, Neumann had a season to remember. Under Petcavage's guidance, the Knights won 19 games, came within 90 seconds of winning the district championship, won a state playoff game and reached the state tournament's second round. The Knights beat Class AA South Williamsport and Bloomsburg, teams that shared the HAC-III title and also rallied from 10 down to beat Mahanoy Area in states. Petcavage also developed some players who had breakout years and played a major role in Neumann winning its first state playoff game in 10 years.
Honorable mention: Todd Outman, Wellsboro; Matt Fisher, South Williamsport; Ron Insinger, Loyalsock; John Vaji, Lewisburg; Kipper Burleigh, Mansfield
Sun-Gazette All-Star Team
Dylan Casale, Loyalsock: The senior guard made the most of his final scholastic season and had his best year. Casale averaged team-bests 10.3 points and 5.6 assists per game while also adding 3.1 steals per game. Casale was outstanding in big games and was as good at setting up teammates as any area player. Also a strong defender, Casale provided excellent leadership and helped a young team jell to win 12 straight games and capture a District 4 Class AA championship.
Travis Conrad, Lewisburg: An outstanding point guard who made tremendous strides from his sophomore season, Conrad was the engine that powered Lewisburg to 18 wins. Conrad is not just a fantastic shooter, but also adept at attacking the basket and either finishing or finding the open man. Conrad averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He also is a tough defender who could change a game's complexion by making steals and igniting the transition offense. Conrad averaged 2.2 steals per game.
Caleb Barnhart, Jersey Shore: One of the district's most well-rounded post players, Barnhart put his name in the Jersey Shore record books by becoming its all-time leading rebounder. Barnhart also became Jersey Shore's first 1,000-point scorer this century and had a district-high 44 points in a win over Midd-West. Barnhart averaged 15.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while almost always being the focal point of opposing defenses. Barnhart was a tenacious competitor and the four-year starter grabbed more than 750 career rebounds.
Isaiah Washington, Williamsport: The sophomore point guard came a long way this season and already is receiving Division I interest from schools like Penn State and Villanova. An exceptional ball-handler who can create, dish and hit from the outside, Washington played his best basketball in the postseason. Washington shredded Souderton and Harrisburg in states and added 10 steals in those wins while hitting some huge shots in a come-from-behind overtime win over Scranton in the district semifinals. Tough on offense and defense, Washington also is developing into a leader and is a huge reason Williamsport could be a 2013 state title contender.
Mike Wenner, St. John Neumann: The second runner-up for Player of the Year, Wenner was instrumental to Neumann's huge turnaround. The team's MVP averaged 19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks per game while consistently hitting big shots against strong opponents. Wenner came a long way in his final season and was a terrific post player who could also take his game outside. Wenner displayed great leadership, made his teammates better and had 32 points and 10 rebounds in a season-defining win over South Williamsport. The senior center also topped 1,000 career points and helped Neumann enjoy its best postseason in 10 years.
Sharif Welton, Sullivan County: The runner-up for Player of the Year, Welton was the best player on the best team in program history. The senior guard made an impressive turnaround on and off the court the last few years and has done some remarkable things for someone who did not start playing organized basketball until high school. Welton averaged 16 points per game and also was one of the area's best passers, in addition to being a good rebounder and defender. Welton was nearly unstoppable during the postseason and willed Sullivan to victory in the district final, hitting the go-ahead basket with 1:22 remaining while scoring 18 of his team's 34 points and playing swarming defense.
Player of the Year
Jahad Thomas, Williamsport: Conjuring up memories of former Williamsport standout Darrell Blackman, Thomas is a potent blend of speed, power and jumping ability. Despite being only 6-2, Thomas played power forward and consistently was the best player on the court. The explosive junior averaged 14.5 points and more than 10 rebounds per game while also providing stellar defense and making outstanding passes against the area's most demanding schedule. Thomas played like a 6-8 post player and could outrebound players much bigger while attacking them offensively and energizing his team with his thunderous dunks. Thomas also became an outstanding leader and showed he is as tough as he is talented by competing in states with a sprained ankle and still playing great. Thomas recorded a double-double in four of five playoff games and the all-state candidate had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists against Souderton after injuring his ankle.
Second Team: Chris Kinley, Williamsport; Marquis Delgado, Mansfield (12.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.8 apg, 4.3 spg; Doug Zehner, Muncy (15.9 ppg 5.1 rpg 2.1 apg, 1.9 spg); Jordan Jackson, Wellsboro (NTL-West MVP); Kyle Datres, Loyalsock (8.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.8 spg); Brandon Johnson, South Williamsport (10.4 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3 spg)
Third Team: Roger Wilson, Loyalsock (9.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2 spg); A.J. Morgan, Bucktail (19.6 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.9 rpg, 2,7 spg); Rijad Sabanovic, Muncy (14.5 ppg, 6 rpg 4.3 apg, 2.5 spg); Jimmy Price, North Penn (14.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.7 spg, 1.5 bpg); Alec Simpson, Mansfield (14.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 spg); Zach Meyer, Sullivan County (10.2 ppg, 70 3-pointers, 1.1 spg)
Honorable Mention: Tyree Vidal, St. John Neumann; Alize Johnson, St. John Neumann; Zach Stewart, Bucktail; Emmett Watson, Canton; Eddie Larcom, Canton; Mitchell Dent, Cowanesque Valley; Nate Jeffries, Galeton; Tristan Jeffreys, Hughesville; John Poust, Hughesville; Tellef Notevarp, Jersey Shore; Marcus Meslener, Lewisburg; Jackson Kurtz, Loyalsock; Alec Simpson, Mansfield; Taylor Hillson, Mansfield; Colton Harer, Montgomery; Pierce Ranck, Montoursville; Ammar Sabanovic, Muncy; Jason Dehaven, North Penn; Alek Keller, South Williamsport; Cal Missigman, South Williamsport; Kelby Mullen, Sullivan County; Matt Reese, Wellsboro; Derrick Vargeson, Williamson; Ryan Bidlack, Williamson
Billy Kolletzki, Muncy: An underrated player who was instrumental to Muncy's resurgence, Kolletzki anchored the middle of Muncy's zone defense. He often took a pounding and gave up a lot of pounds to bigger post players, but he never backed down and helped Muncy become one of the area's stronger defensive teams down the stretch. Without his defense, Muncy never would have beaten Neumann or Sullivan or finished third in the district.
Sharif Coleman, Williamsport: Much like Kolletzki, Coleman was an interior defensive anchor and one of the area's hardest working post defenders. Coleman constantly sacrificed his body and was good for a few charges every game. The senior leader could bang with the post players and also go out on the perimeter and slow quick guards, something he did exceptionally well against Souderton Division I-bound point guard Luke Moyer.
Brandon Johnson, South Williamsport: The senior point guard could do it all offensively for the Mounties, but his defense played an even bigger role in South reaching the district semifinals and earning a share of the HAC-III championship. Johnson often defended the opponent's best guard and often stifled him. In addition to helping offenses fall out of sync, Johnson also averaged three steals per game.
Herb Stelly, Williamsport: The 5-8 guard had to defend some elite guards throughout the season, but always was up to the task and became the latest in a long-line of elite Millionaire defenders. Stelly was at his best against Souderton, holding Moyer to one field goal over the game's final 22 minutes. He also combined with Deandre Kaough to limit Delaware Valley's Brandon Angradi, who was averaging 19 points per game, to just nine in a dominant 54-22 district championship win.
Marquis Delgado, Mansfield: One of the district's premier defenders the last three years, Delgado again displayed a knack for locking down opposing guards. Fast and strong, Delgado could keep up with any guard and also go inside and slow post players. A terrific leader, Delgado averaged 4.3 steals per game and helped Mansfield win 17 games for a third straight year. During his three years as a starter, Delgado helped Mansfield win 61 games, a league title, a district championship and two state tournament games.
Defensive Player of the Year
Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: His arrival was highly-anticipated and Datres did not disappoint during an impressive freshman season. In addition to helping the Loyalsock offense hum, Datres became a lock-down defender, a point he drove home in the postseason. Datres helped stifle a series of dangerous guards in districts as Loyalsock never allowed more than 50 points and won in more impressive fashion each time. The freshman guard averaged 3.8 steals per game and consistently turned those steals into points.
(This does not signify the top underclassman, but someone who either burst onto the scene or made big strides and was not a first-teamer)
Second runner-up-Matt Reese, Wellsboro: The junior guard was a huge reason Wellsboro repeated as NTL-West champion despite losing four starters from the previous season. Reese was a hard-working guard who did a little bit of everything on both ends and earned co-league MVP honors. Reese was at this best in the NTL-West championship against Mansfield, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as Wellsboro reached 20 wins for a second straight year.
First runner-up-Alize Johnson, St. John Neumann: The versatile sophomore was vital to Neumann's revival and could be one of the area's top players next season. Johnson averaged 10 points per game and also was a reliable rebounder and defender. He often gave up inches inside but nothing else, a point he proved against Mahanoy Area in a state tournament win. Johnson had the game-winning assist in that game and is one of the area's best interior passes.
And the winner is...Ammar Sabanovic, Muncy: Arguably the area's most improved player, Sabanovic shined in his first season as Muncy's starting point guard. The quick junior averaged 9.3 points and six assists per game while averaging only 1.7 turnovers, an excellent ratio against a daunting schedule. A quality shooter, Sabanovic also was relentless going to the basket and developed into a team leader as well. Sabanovic called every defense and offense on the court and helped Muncy make an impressive second-half turnaround.
Other underclassmen to watch in 2013: Tyree Vidal, St. John Neumann; Chuck Probst, Bucktail; Tristan Jeffreys, Hughesville; Brady Kimble, Hughesville; Eric Huling, Jersey Shore; Mike Driscoll, Lewisburg; Omar Little, Loyalsock; Jimmy Webb, Loyalsock; Tim Beaver, Montoursville, Nick Ring, Muncy; Tommy Rook, South Williamsport; Riley Hengler, South Williamsport; Zach Meyer, Sullivan County; Joe Doganiero, Wellsboro; Kieron Smethers, Wellsboro; Achilles Watson, Williamsport; Greg Ousley, Williamsport
Coach of the Year: Paul Petcavage, Neumann
Sun-Gazette All-Star Team:
Dylan Casale, Loyalsock
Travis Conrad, Lewisburg
Caleb Barnhart, Jersey Shore
Isaiah Washington, WHS
Mike Wenner, Neumann
Sharif Welton, Sullivan Co.
Player of the Year: Jahad Thomas, Williamsport
Billy Kolletzki, Muncy
Sharif Coleman, WHS
Brandon Johnson, South
Herb Stelly, WHS
Marquis Delgado, Mansfield
Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Datres, Loyalsock
Breakthrough Underclassman: Ammar Sabanovic, Muncy
Masse may be reached at email@example.com