SEASON PREVIEW: SHARON
Hopes are running high for the Tigers, who return a slew of talent from last year's state playoff qualifier. The problem is head coach Gary Revale is just going to have to wait a few weeks before he's able to utilize it as the Sharon football team has advanced deep into the state playoffs again.
Revale (51-54 in four years), however, is quite used to late starts. He might not like them, but he's used to them.
"To compensate for that we started our planning last spring, figuring we were going to lose a lot of guys because of football," said Revale. "But we have a lot of veterans and everyone knows the system, so we just have to get in physical and mental shape. We don't have to teach new concepts, so that gives us a tremendous edge."
A double-edge, perhaps, as in double-edged sword.
"It is frustrating," Revale said of the late start. "Under no circumstances can you twist it and think it's an okay situation. But we'll just do everything we can and try to dwell on things we can do for our younger guys."
The Sharon Tigers were somewhat of an enigma a year ago, advancing to the PIAA Class AAA playoffs before falling 67-57 in the first round to Pine-Richland of the WPIAL. However, Sharon finished 13-14 overall.
Perhaps the perfect encapsulation of that enigma came in the District 10 consolation finals against Grove City when the Tigers rallied from a 19-point deficit in the game's final 5 1/2 minutes to tie the contest before securing a 64-61 overtime victory.
That might have been the most frustrating thing for Revale -- trying to figure out which Tigers team was going to show up from game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter and even minute-to-minute. When the Tigers were off, they were ordinary. When the Tigers were on, however, they were tough to match up with.
"We thought we could win last year," Revale said. "We weren't surprised we went to the state playoffs; we were surprised we were 13-14. Looking back on it, I think the biggest issue was leadership. We had a tremendous amount of great athletes and they were experienced at basketball. But look at the names; they were juniors and sophomores. They could play, but they weren't seniors.
"There's a difference between being a good athlete and being a good basketball player. We always suffer from that with the extended football season, but if you have good leadership you can overcome that. When you have seniors that can deal with adversity, that makes a difference. And last year we had some good senior kids, but not leaders. But this year, with all the people we've got back, we won't be that inconsistent group that we were last year."
Among those back are six players who started at some point last season, in fact six players who have all started more than 20 varsity games in their careers, as well as a pair of other players who saw varsity action.
Fulltime starters, both seniors, back are: 6-2 forward Marlin Jackson (242 points) and 6-2 point guard Jason Fromm (191), who will both be starting for a third season. In addition, 6-6 senior center Kevin Harris (231), 6-2 senior guard Terrance Phillips (327) and 6-2 junior forward Justin Schweiss (137, missed eight games due to injury) return after rotating in and out of the starting lineup last year.
Matt Skiljo, a 6-5 senior guard-forward who spot-started during the 1999-00 season, also returns, as does 6-2 junior forward Mike Schneider, who is one of eight returning letterwinners. Statistically, Sharon has a remarkable 1,237 of the 1,409 points it scored a year ago, or 90 percent, coming back.
Unfortunately for Revale, nearly all are still wearing pads and helmets for football coach Jim Wildman. The only experienced returnee not playing football is Skiljo.
"We only have seven guys in the gym right now, although none are real experienced," Revale said. "But they're playing great because we did a lot of work on system things. It should help their development and that's what keeps us going."
The only loss Revale suffered to graduation was Steve Jacobson, but with the versatility of the players he has returning, that will not be a problem. In fact, his biggest problem just might be getting enough playing time for all his standouts, which is a problem most coaches would love to have.
"We have to play Fromm at the point, but with our system the others can play all positions," Revale said. "We've got different ways to attack (with that flexibility), we can move guys in and out and it gives us depth. We can play slow in half-court or we can go up and down. We have more versatility in the lineup than we've ever had."
Also expected to dress varsity are: juniors -- 6-0 forward Corey Cheza; sophomores -- 6-2 forward Dan Wiley and 5-10 point guard O'Brian Bridges.
"This is the group everyone has been targeting for since maybe these kids were even in sixth grade," Revale said. "We have high expectations and we'll be disappointed if we don't take advantage of the opportunity."
Assisting Revale in the high school are: junior varsity coach Russell Kelley, varsity assistant Bob Fromm, who was the freshman coach last season, and new freshman coach Tim Pratt.
As for AAA competition in the MCAC?
"Grove City has four starters back and a couple of new kids," Revale said. "They'll be real good, and with Don Fee they're always competititve and know how to play. Slippery Rock's Ben Zajac will be the most dominant player in the league this year. They made big strides last season and when you've got a kid like Zajac you can beat anybody. And Hickory will be pesky. I wish (new coach) Tony Mastrian well." -- By Herald sports editor Jeff Greenburg
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