Welcome to the 2019-2020 District 2 hoops season and the Northeast Beat.
Time Flies When We’re Having Fun
20 years? Seriously? It seems like just yesterday that LLHoops.com was launched and it’s been an amazing run. Dell Jackson, our ever-resilient webmaster, deserves a ton of credit for navigating through the tricky early years. He recently posted an interesting walk through-the-years chronology – from the lows of being asked to leave a gym for taking pics to the highs of sitting courtside at the Giant Center covering the PIAA Championships. There have been lots and lots of hits along the way with the occasional miss (those LLHoops t-shirts are going to be on eBay someday, just you wait). At some point along the ride, the Northeastern PA Report jumped on-board, posting a few game wraps during playoff time. And that turned into full season coverage of District 2 Boys’ and Girls’ hoops, providing weekly recaps to a statewide audience. Over the years it’s been a lot of fun watching local squads consistently showing that their style of basketball presents its own brand of playoff matchup challenges. The NEP Beat appreciates all the tremendous support from coaches, players, student groups, fans, and administrators. No agenda here – these are your school communities and we’re beyond proud to complement the success taking place on hardwoods across the Wyoming Valley Conference, the Lackawanna League, and beyond.
Gone Too Soon
Last year, as the hoops season approached, I recall feeling some lingering emptiness due to the July passing of one of the all-time great PA historical resources, hoops guru Jerry Shenk. He was so passionate about what he did and always looked forward to his take on the state’s top teams. As last Monday afternoon progressed, that empty feeling returned in full force as the news spread that John Bucci had passed away at the age of 57. To some, he was best known for the incredibly successful Bishop Hannan-Gerry McNamara era, guiding the Golden Lancers to the Class 2A state championship in 2002. To many others, especially those that participated at his Backcourt Hoops training facility or competed with his JBHoops AAU squad, there is tremendous sadness at losing both a mentor and life-long friend. Bucci’s career may have been viewed as a bit polarizing at times, but there is absolutely no denying his never-ending love of the game and keen ability to guide student-athletes to the next level. That’s the thing about guys like Jerry and John, they become so ingrained into the hoop fabric that we sometimes forget how lucky we are to have them around. They will be forever missed and never forgotten – lifetime memories woven into a very special memory quilt.
When It’s Time to Change…
With the consolidation of the three Wilkes-Barre city high school sports programs (Coughlin, Meyers, and GAR) into the new Wilkes-Barre Wolfpack (a 6A squad), there is some re-alignment news happening in the Wyoming Valley Conference. The three-division set-up is now replaced with a two-division format. Division 1 has Berwick, Crestwood, Dallas, Hazleton Area, Nanticoke Area, Pittston Area, Wilkes-Barre Area, and Wyoming Valley West. Division 2 features Hanover Area, Holy Redeemer, Lake-Lehman, MMI Prep, Northwest Area, Tunkhannock, Wyoming Area, and Wyoming Seminary. Each squad now plays a 14-game conference schedule which allowed the opportunity to add a few more exhibition games. And the shift to a shorter conference schedule allows play to now begin in January. The WVC will retain the immensely popular all-season championship tournament. Another much-needed off-season update occurred on the PIAA District 2 website (http://piaad2.org/) with new easy-access drop-down menus for league schedules and standings. Full team schedules are located on the power ratings fan page (http://districtxi.gimpsoftware.com/District2SchedulePage.html). And kudos to District 2 for now having an active social media presence (@piaad2).
Hoops Season is BACK
The District 2 exhibition season gets underway Friday night with 18 boys’ and girls’ tilts to be played across the area. There are also 13 Tip-Off tourneys taking place throughout the state involving another 25 hoops teams (including Williamsport, a District 4 squad which competes through the 6A District 2/4 sub-regional). Plenty of challenges straight ahead for several perennial powerhouses which must figure out how to replace significant contribution on the scoreboard. And there’s ample excitement too because every new season delivers a few surprises, where all the pieces align and fit together perfectly. Last season on the boys’ side, Abington Heights was oh-so-close to making a repeat visit to Hershey. Holy Cross and Scranton Prep advanced a few rounds in the state playoffs. And Wyoming Seminary displayed one of the gutsiest efforts seen all year in a narrow 61-59 loss to Neumann-Goretti. On the girls’ side, Dunmore finally overcame previous roadblocks to get to the State Championship but suffered their first loss of the season as their valiant rally came up just short. Scranton Prep, a highly regarded squad, made an early state playoff exit while Old Forge and Susquehanna Community each advanced a few rounds – look for all three to be back even stronger this season.
Glancing at this weekend’s boys’ opening schedule, the inaugural edition of the Wilkes-Barre Wolfpack will hit the road for a matchup at Delaware Valley. The Pack then hosts always-tough Scranton Prep on Monday (WBA home games played at GAR). Al Semenza brings his unique coaching style to the Wyoming Valley Conference as he takes over the Pittston Area program. The Patriots visit Hanover Area in an interesting game Friday night and travel to take on talented Holy Cross on Monday. Nanticoke Area will take on what should be a much-improved team at North Pocono Friday night. Holy Cross entertains Mountain View on opening night. Both teams expect to be competing for division championships this season. Riverside takes on some bigger schools as the Vikings host Wyoming Valley West on Friday and visit Scranton on Monday. Abington Heights begins their campaign as they head to the Lehigh Valley to battle Emmaus on Saturday before visiting WVW Monday night. Among some other intriguing Lackawanna League matchups, Valley View hosts Lakeland Friday night while Dunmore visits rival West Scranton on Saturday. Switching to Wyoming Valley contenders, Wyoming Seminary gets rolling with a Saturday home tilt against Cardinal O’Hara while Holy Redeemer visits NYC to take on Hunter College high school on Sunday. Dallas, another squad with tremendous potential this season, is gearing up for the football state championship game Thursday evening. The Mountaineers have not uploaded their final schedule, so we can’t confirm their Saturday home contest against Boys’ Latin. Looking a bit further ahead, circle next Wednesday as there are plenty of great matchups – Scranton Prep at Hazleton Area, Nanticoke Area at Riverside, Williamsport at Abington Heights, Holy Redeemer at Cardinal O’Hara, and Holy Cross at Valley View. Check out the complete list of all upcoming games on a previous Northeastern PA Report post.
There’s also plenty of boys’ tourney action taking place this weekend. In Berwick, the 20th Joseph Nespoli event matches the home Bulldogs with Tunkhannock, Selinsgrove, and East Stroudsburg South. West Scranton and Honesdale will once- again meet up in an entertaining semi-final tilt at the Carbondale Finan Tournament. The home Chargers take on Forest City in the other matchup. Williamsport once again takes part in the York Tourney. The Millionaires take on Reading in the opening round. Wallenpaupack, one of those teams which appears headed for another premier season, tips off at the Lake Region Tip-Off Tourney against Stroudsburg. Blue Ridge and Susquehanna Community open at the two-day Susquehanna-Bradford County Challenge. The home Raiders take on Sayre while the Sabers battle Wyalusing Valley. Hazleton Area, minus standout Da’Mir Faison heads into LanCo for the Manheim Township event. The home Streaks are again a solid contender in Division 1 of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The Cougars will then take on either Central York or Elizabethtown on Saturday. MMI Prep travels to the Sullivan County Tournament as they take on Troy Friday evening.
On the girls’ side, Friday night features several outstanding matchups. Berwick visits Scranton Prep in a battle of premier 4A teams, both pegged as division contenders. Also Friday, Holy Cross hosts Scranton while Susquehanna Community visits Wyoming Area. Nanticoke Area, always a solid program, will entertain North Schuylkill. On Saturday, Wilkes-Barre Area will hit the home floor for their first ever game against another talented Wyoming Seminary squad. Monday night features another good lineup of games as Dunmore hosts Crestwood while Abington Heights travels to Montrose. Among WVC teams, Pittston Area will host Hanover Area as both teams look to bounce back from losing campaigns a year ago. Diving a bit further into next week, Thursday’s slate of game does not disappoint – Hazleton Area at Governor Mifflin, Holy Redeemer at Holy Cross, West Scranton at Dunmore, Berwick at Western Wayne, and Marian Catholic at Lake-Lehman.
In girls’ tourney action, Hazleton Area once-again hosts the Lady Cougar event with Lake-Lehman, Williamsport and newcomer Mifflin County. Northwest Area takes on Benton in the Muncy Rotary Tourney. Wallenpaupack hosts the Lake Region Tip-Off with Carbondale, Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg North. Abington Heights, one of the top teams in the ultra-competitive Lackawanna League Division 1 race, again participates in the challenging Souderton Jim Church Classic. The Lady Comets open against perennial powerhouse Saint Basil Academy on Friday night. Western Wayne and Blue Ridge are both participating in the Towanda Tip-Off. Wyoming Valley West again hosts the Mike Duda Memorial Tourney with Dallas, Honesdale, and West Scranton.
And finally, our annual public service announcement about rankings. Taking the lead from Jerry Shenk, who years-ago compiled some of the most-respected statewide rankings, District 2 Top 10 Ratings, are not published until January 1. Enjoy December hoops, a great time where potential and performance get to know each other a lot better. And quite often a lot more is learned from a loss than a win.
Enjoy the games, drive safely, and be sure to stop back throughout the weekend for more updates.
See you in the bleachers !