Apr. 3—Many years ago, when a student did well in the classroom, the teacher would sometimes move him to a seat in the front of the class.
Well, this is the Trib HSSN boys basketball version of that with social distancing protocols still in effect.
There were plenty of players and coaches who stood out for their performances on the boys basketball court around the WPIAL in 2021; however, these seven players and six coaches were a cut above the rest and deserve a classroom salute.
The following have reached the HSSN Head of the Class for this past season and are our Trib players and coaches of the year in each of the six classifications.
Player of the Year: Devin Carney, Butler
With Purdue recruit Ethan Morton graduated, Butler turned to 6-foot-1 junior guard Devin Carney to lead the way and he did not disappoint. Carney averaged 30 points for the Golden Tornado, who finished 12-9 and lost in the district semifinals to eventual champion Upper St. Clair. Carney helped Butler win the 2020 WPIAL championship. He has Division 1 offers from Robert Morris, Bryant and St. Francis (Pa.).
Coach of the Year: Danny Holzer, Upper St. Clair
In his 26th season as coach at Upper St. Clair, Holzer led his team to his and the school’s third WPIAL championship with a victory over Pine-Richland in the finals. The Panthers finished 21-2 and were No. 1 in the HSSN 6A rankings from start to finish. The district crown was the first for USC since 2005. Bonus votes to Tanner Gensler for filling in to coach the St. Clair Six in a PIAA quarterfinals victory over District 10 champion Erie while Holzer, his assistants and several players were in covid protocol.
Player of the Year: Brayden Reynolds, Chartiers Valley
In his senior year, Brayden Reynolds became one of the most feared scorers in the district. The 6-3 guard averaged 25 points per game in helping the Colts to a 22-4 record and a berth in the WPIAL Class 5A title game. CV lost to New Castle in the rubber game of their three games this season. In one of the top games of the season, Reynolds scored 42 in a road victory over then top-ranked New Castle in February.
Coach of the Year: Ralph Blundo, New Castle
It was another golden year for the Lawrence County coach with the Midas touch. Ralph Blundo guided New Castle to a 21-3 record and another district championship, the seventh in 10 years for the Red Hurricane. What stood out about this championship run was it came after New Castle moved up to the ultra-competitive and balanced Class 5A.
Player of the Year: Devin Whitlock, Belle Vernon
Devin Whitlock was fabulous as a freshman at Monessen and super as a sophomore upon transferring to Belle Vernon last year. This season, the 5-9 junior was just brilliant as one of the top point guards in the state. Whitlock averaged nearly 22 points per game for a Belle Vernon team that finished 13-2 and was the top seed in the Class 4A open tournament. The Leopards lost to North Catholic in the WPIAL semifinals.
Coach of the Year: Mike Bariski, Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park didn’t want to move up from Class 3A, but a new PIAA competitive points system that factors in success and transfers over a two-year period bumped the Leopards up to Class 4A this season. No problem. Lincoln Park’s hardwood success continued as Mike Bariski led his Leopards to a WPIAL-record sixth straight championship game and a fifth district title in 10 years.
Player of the Year: Antonio Epps, South Allegheny
The Epps brothers, senior Antonio and sophomore Bryce, made a splash a year ago, then reinforced their dominance on district hardwoods this season for South Allegheny. The 6-foot Antonio Epps led South Allegheny to new heights as the Gladiators finished 17-4 and earned the top seed in the Class 3A playoffs for the first time in school history. He is a Duquesne football recruit.
Coach of the Year: Steve Antuono, Ellwood City
If anybody outside of Lincoln High School in Ellwood City predicted the Wolverines would win the WPIAL Class 3A championship when the playoffs began, they are either not being honest or should have taken a trip to Las Vegas weeks ago. Ellwood City made an improbable run through the open tournament as a No. 11 seed. The Wolverines hadn’t won a playoff game in a decade and hadn’t been to the district finals since 1986.
Players of the Year: Jake DiMichele and Dante Spadafora, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
How do you break up one of the best district tandems ever? You don’t, as they both move to the front of the class. The 5-11 senior point guard Spadafora was a four-year starter for the Chargers and averaged nearly 20 points per game. The 6-3 junior DiMichele averaged 29 points per game for an OLSH team that finished a perfect 24-0. Spadafora will play his college hoops at West Liberty.
Coach of the Year: Mike Rodriguez, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
It has been a golden build to a perfect season for Mike Rodriguez and his Chargers. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (24-0) won all but one of its games this season by double-digits. The Chargers captured a third straight WPIAL championship with a victory over Greensburg Central Catholic, and in beating Constitution in the PIAA Class 2A title game, the Chargers celebrated the school’s first state championship.
Player of the Year: Kevaughn Price, Bishop Canevin
For the Bishop Canevin boys basketball program in 2021, the Price was right. Kevaughn Price, a 6-2 junior, averaged 15 points per game in helping to lead the Crusaders to a 16-6 record and the program’s first WPIAL boys hoops title. Gold runs in the family as father Kevin won three straight WPIAL championships at Duquesne HS while Kevaughn’s sister Shamyjha won three straight crowns for the Crusaders girls basketball team.
Coach of the Year: Sean Keaton, Rochester
For a program that finished 1-20 in 2019 and 0-21 last year, anything more than one victory would be a step in the right direction. How about one win away from gold this season for Rochester? What Sean Keaton and his Rams did was become the poster team for struggling programs everywhere. Rochester went from 1-41 the last two years to 14-5 this season and a berth in the WPIAL finals.