Friday, February 28, 2014

Private school debate or not, Monessen and Lincoln Park ready for Palumbo

How about those Monessen Greyhounds? Entering the WPIAL tournament, the talk of Class A surrounded two teams: Lincoln Park and Vincentian Academy. Nobody thought Monessen could compete with the polished play of the Royals if they happened to meet in the semifinals.

On Tuesday, the Greyhounds replicated what they have done since the season began. They ignored the critics and played the fast-paced brand of basketball that earned them the No. 3 seed in the tournament. The result was a record-breaking 110-99 victory.

Everyone’s criticism surrounded Monessen’s athleticism not translating on the basketball court. Yes, they are stellar talents on the gridiron, but can they compete against a team that dedicates 12 months out of the year to basketball. Watch Javon Brown and Clintell Gillaspie make defenders look silly, and your opinion will change. From tip-off on Tuesday, it was apparent that Vincentian had underestimated the Greyhounds.

Gillaspie gave them a wake up call early when he crossed a defender over and hit a perfect pull-up jump shot that made the crowd at Montour gasp with surprise. From that point, the cheers in the gym were one sided. Monessen’s fans were behind their team with unmatched enthusiasm, while Vincentian’s fans erred on the side of caution. Brown was making highlight reel passes to stretch the Royals’ defense, Justice Rawlins was relentless in the post and two freshmen picked the Greyhounds’ up when questionable foul calls had Monessen’s veteran leaders on the sidelines.

How could you not pull for this team tonight when they face Lincoln Park? They bucked the trend of private schools dominating WPIAL basketball and have pulled together with a team-first mentality. There are no personalities getting in the way for Monessen. I do attribute that to head coach Joe Salvino, who has led the program to nine WPIAL title games, but the seniors on Monessen’s team have pulled them together and have made eachother believe that they can play with the best.

They will face the best tonight when they face sophomore Maverick Rowan, a Pitt recruit, Ryan Skoranko, a 6-7 senior guard headed to Duquesne, and Elijah Minnie, a 6-9 former Greyhound whose highlight tape is filled with jaw-dropping plays.

The key for Monessen will be to avoid the foul trouble that almost doomed them against Vincentian. Jaden Altomore and Justice Rice were able to bail them out against the Royals, but with those two being incredibly undersized against the Leopards, I don’t see them being able to have the same success at the Palumbo Center.

Gillaspie, Brown and Rawlins will be the key to the game. Gillaspie has silently been one of the most dominating guards in Western Pennsylvania this season and when taking to Lincoln Park’s coaching staff, the lack of respect for him stems from Monessen’s location in the Mon Valley. Teams close to Pittsburgh rarely hear of him and the Leopards learned of his and Brown’s play on Tuesday. There will not be any surprises for Lincoln Park. They fully scouted Tuesday’s game and after losing to a similar Clairton team in last year’s WPIAL semifinals, will enter Palumbo with a chip on their shoulder.

Yes, private schools have the upper hand on public schools, but come tip-off tonight, the debate will end. It will simply be five kids battling five others for a trophy they have coveted since they arrived at high school.

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