While the state football playoffs reach the semifinals this weekend, high school basketball in Pennsylvania begins.
There are a number of interesting storylines in basketball for this season. How long will New Castle's winning streak last (it is at 31 games)? Will New Castle and Hampton still dominate after dropping to Class AAA? How will Lincoln Park fare moving up to Class AA and Chartiers Valley up to Class AAAA?
But another one of the interesting storylines this season also will be the "fresh" faces that will show up on teams. It seems there are some freshmen around the WPIAL who could have big impacts.
One of the best is Phil Jurkovec, a 6-foot-5 ninth-grader at Pine-Richland. I have yet to see this kid play, but have been hearing about him for a few years. He scored a ton as an eighth-grader on a ninth-grade team. He is extremely athletic, dunking with ease as an eighth-grader. He will start for Pine-Richland at forward.
Jurkovec is more than a basketball player, though. He is an excellent quarterback in football. Current Pine-Richland quarterback Ben DiNucci called him a "stud" and said he is much further along with skills when DiNucci was a ninth-grader. But DiNucci said Jurkovec is probably better in basketball. That says a lot.
Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz kept Jurkovec on the ninth-grade team this season, but Jurkovec might very well be the Rams' varsity quarterback this season. If you wonder whether this kid has talent, check out his highlight tape from Hudl.
Other freshmen who might have big impacts this season are:
**Rob Carmody, a 6-3 guard at Mars. The son of coach Rob Carmody, the younger Carmody has good size and will start and be a key player for the Planets. He is solid in many phases of the game. He was a starting defensive back on the football team.
**Curtis Aiken, 6-1 guard at North Allegheny. Aiken isn't listed as a starter for North Allegheny, but he will see plenty of action. The son of former Pitt player Curtis Aiken, the younger Aiken is quick, has a good handle and has an extremely bright future.
**John Paul Kromka, a 6-7 forward-center at Gateway. Another in a line of Kromka brothers at Gateway, John Paul has good size. New Gateway coach Daryn Freedman isn't shy about talking about his team. He said the Gators are aiming to be the top defensive team in the WPIAL and state and that the team has one of the best frontcourts in the WPIAL. About Kromka, Freedman said, "He will likely lead all WPIAL freshmen playing varsity in points, rebounds and blocked shots."
One of Kromka's older brothers, James, will be a senior guard-forward for the team.
**Torian Leak, a 5-7 guard at Beaver Falls. It looks like Leak will start at guard for the Tigers, which means they will start a freshman and two sophomores (6-4 Donovan Jeter and 6-6 Josh Creach). Leak also is an excellent athlete. He was a running back on the football team and rushed for more than 200 yards in one game.
Some other freshmen around the WPIAL also could have impacts. Ford City coach Greg Hutcherson plans to start two freshmen - 6-4 Nate Baillie and 6-foot Dawson Porter
Three of New Castle's top reserves are freshmen - Marcus Hooker, Lorenzo Gardner and Geno Stone. Hooker is the younger brother of former New Castle star Malik Hooker, now a freshman football player at Ohio State.
Two of Beaver Falls' top players off the bench will be freshmen - 5-10 Malik Shepherd and 6-2 Syron Noyes.
Put it all together, and maybe the future looks bright for WPIAL basketball talent. But the question is how high will these freshmen rise and how much will they improve over the next few years?
Predicted section winners
The season starts with tipoff tournaments around the state. But section play begins next Friday.
Here are predicted section winners for the entire WPIAL and City League:
WPIAL CLASS AAAA - 1. Hempfield. 2. Gateway. 3. Seneca Valley. 4. Chartiers Valley.
WPIAL CLASS AAA - 1. Hampton. 2. Ambridge. 3. Indiana. 4. Steel Valley. 5. South Fayette.
WPIAL CLASS AA - 1 Lincoln Park. 2. Apollo-Ridge. 3. Seton-LaSalle. 4. Brownsville. 5. Aliquippa.
WPIAL CLASS A - 1. Sewickley Academy. 2. Vincentian. 3. Monessen. 4. Jeannette.
CITY LEAGUE - Allderdice.