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The worlds of college basketball coaches expand and detour like the overlapping roads of an overcrowded highway.

   A menagerie of butterfly exit ramps curve over and around straightaways like  giant soft pretzels. You might see a familiar face at one stop, depart for a different interstate, and see that person again at some out-of-the-way rest stop. That's the profession.

   Pathways separate and reunite. Always, worlds manage to collide, to quote that thick-walleted philosopher George Costanza. Who knew so many coaching paths could criss-cross through a hub known as the Air Force Academy?

   Air Force Academy Prep associate head coach Marc Holum will sit down to watch Monday night's national championship game with divided loyalties. 

   He'll root for Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney to have another historic performance. Mooney scored a season-high 22 points in the semifinal win over Michigan State on Saturday, a 61-51 victory. Holum had coached Mooney at the Academy before Mooney's journey rerouted to South Dakota and to Lubbock, Texas.

   On the opposite bench Monday night, Holum will recognize a man who helped coach him at Air Force--Larry Mangino--assisting the Virginia staff. Holum, 37, will want the best for him, too.

   On Sunday afternoon Holum texted Mangino to offer his congratulations after Virginia had escaped the semifinal game against Auburn with three last-second free throws. 

   Holum had texted Mooney earlier this season after Texas Tech broke Kansas' record 14-year Big 12 regular-season title streak. 

   The 6-foot-5 forward has other loyalties to Virginia. He and another Air Force coach visited Charlottesville, Va., last April to watch Coach Tony Bennett and his staff conduct spring drills after their early exit in the NCAA tournament.

   "They gave us full access," said Holum. "They were great to me. We watched film with them. They're just first class, all those coaches. It was a neat experience."

   Holum sensed the Cavaliers would make a deep run in the tournament this year after seeing how hungry the entire program was last spring. Mangino fit the description.

   Mangino's winding path included head coaching stops at Clark and Ferrum universities. He assisted programs at George Washington, Yale, Montclair State and Air Force, not to mention the Denver Nuggets of the NBA.

   He spent three years off-road as an athletic director at Charlottesville High School in Virginia, officially out of basketball.

   During that time his daughter Chelsea became a student basketball manager for Virginia under Coach Tony Bennett (Chelsea is now director of basketball operations at Liberty, another tournament team) for four years. That connection led to a job for Larry as Virginia's director of scouting.

   "He's a basketball expert," said Holum. "He's a lifer."

   Mangino's daughters work under former Virginia associate head coach Ritchie McKay, now the boss at Liberty University. McKay's Flames upset Mississippi State this year to ruffle a few NCAA brackets.

   Kevin Bacon has his six degrees of separation. College basketball, for those who can last, needs only four.

   "I played for Coach Mangino for four years," Holum said from Minnesota, site of the Final Four and the coaches convention. "This is his big opportunity for a national championship."

   When Air Force basketball fans think of Mooney, the name Chris, not Matt, first comes to mind. The Philadelphia native started out coaching high school basketball at Lansdale Catholic where his team ran into Holum's Saucon Valley High squad during Holum's sophomore year. Mooney's boys won the state playoff game, but he was impressed with Holum's talent.

   Said Rich Matus, Holum's high school coach: "I only remember him making a mistake once in his entire career. He committed two early fouls and had to come out of the game. That's it. He was a smart player on a smart team."

   Matus's Panthers won three straight Colonial League titles with Holum.

   Mooney later coached at Beaver College (now Arcadia) and tried to recruit Holum. By 2000, Mooney had gone west to assist Air Force at the Division I level, following Princeton's Joe Scott where the former disciples of Pete Carril could run "Chin" in the Mountain West Conference.

   Mooney lured Holum to Colorado Springs. 

[Marc Holum drives to score during his days playing at Saucon Valley High School. Photo courtesy of Rich Matus.]
Marc Holum drives to score during his days playing at Saucon Valley High School. Photo courtesy of Rich Matus.

   Holum played first for the Air Force prep team and then for the academy, becoming captain his senior year. An early-season injury compromised over half of his games in his final season, however.

   In all, Holum would play for three name coaches at the Academy: Princeton's Joe Scott, Princeton's Mooney, and Jeff Bzdelik, another hoops lifer who's spent as much time coaching in the NBA as he has coaching in college.

   Accepting the head coaching job at Air Force in 2004, Chris Mooney moved to the University of Richmond a year later. He's been there ever since, taking the Spiders to two NCAA tournaments (2009-2011).

   That OTHER Mooney--the 6-foot-3 guard who banged four three-pointers in the Final Four win on Saturday for Texas Tech--arrived at Air Force back in 2014 out of high school with a broken leg. 

   Rather than ask Matt to survive the rigors of basic training at the Academy with a broken fibula, Air Force let him join the less-demanding prep program where he could rehabilitate then play for Holum and head coach Bob Cavera.

   Mooney showed flashes of excellence, scoring 13 points per game to rank second on the squad. He was the kind of player who fit the Princeton scheme. He could dribble, pass and shoot.

   "He always had a head for the game," said Holum. "He worked really hard. He was always in the gym."

   The next year, playing for the Air Force Academy team, he "had a span of six or eight games where he was averaging about 12 points per game," according to Holum.

   Ultimately, Mooney wanted more basketball than the military schedule would permit, so he transferred to South Dakota where he averaged 18 points per game over two seasons (after sitting out a year for transfer protocol).

   "He had great hands and he knew how to play," said Holum. "He's not as athletic as some of the studs in the Big-12 (like Tech's 2018 NBA first-rounder Zhaire Smith or 2019 projected lottery pick Jarrett Culver), but he was all Big 12 defensively. He just kept getting better."

[Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo from Saturday's Final Four action in Minnesota.]
Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo from Saturday's Final Four action in Minnesota. Tonight's national championship will be played here.

  In all, three players from Cavera and Holum's Air Force Prep program made the 2019 NCAA Tournament: Matt Mooney, Iona's Ben Perez, and Ohio State reserve Danny Hummer.

   "If you look at the Air Force Academy roster," said Holum, "over 98 percent of the points are guys we've coached at the prep school."

   The prep experience isn't tantamount to Division I basketball, but it's not to be patronized. 

   "A few years ago we played in a huge prep school tournament at the Olympic training center," said Holum. "We won the tournament. We beat teams like IMG Academy, Sunrise Christian, and South Kent, and we beat them all by over 15 points."

   IMG's  just won the national prep title this week.

   Air Force basketball is filled with east coast transplants. Current assistants Kurt Kanaskie (former Indiana University of Pennsylvania assistant) and Andrew Moore (Ohio native, California University of Pennsylvania former assistant) cut their teeth in the East. Both men spent time at Virginia Tech before coming to Air Force.

    Kanaskie is a Keystone State native. His IUP teams broke into the Division II national rankings, including time at No. 1 the year the Crimson Hawks reached the national semifinals. He also revived the program at Lock Haven University near Williamsport. 

  When Holum played, Mike McKee was an assistant coach. He had played at Lehigh and coached at King's and Lafayette, all in Pennsylvania. When McKee was on the staff at Lafayette, he recruited Holum.

   This year he led LaSalle High School on a deep run in the state high school playoffs.

   And current Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich started his career at California University of Pennsylvania, giving the Falcons a wealth of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference veterans.

   Holum loves his coaching situation.

   "I've been really fortunate to coach really good kids," he said. "The coaches at the academy do a great job of placing the right kind of kids in the prep school. A lot of the players I coached are out there as pilots and doing great stuff. Just to be around basketball is great. I've been fortunate enough to teach and coach."

   And to buckle up for an odyssey that brings players and coaches to your front door at all hours.

   "I've just been blessed to be around great basketball minds," said Holum.

   Basketball has been, if anything, one helluva ride.

[Saucon Valley basketball players L to R: Marc Holum, Matt Lang, Robbie Thomson, Marty Lewis and Jim McKeown.]
Saucon Valley basketball players L to R: Marc Holum, Matt Lang, Robbie Thomson, Marty Lewis and Jim McKeown. Photo courtesy of Rich Matus.
[Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo at Saturday's Final Four in Minnesota.]
Virginia alumnus James Shaheen took this photo at Saturday's Final Four in Minnesota.Share this post:

 

2018                COACH HEEBS COURTSIDE                  2019

AWESOME SHOWCASE delivers unbeaten Emmaus

Emmaus' Zach Sabol (31 battles all five Comets inside.

 

Emmaus victory over Abington Heights leaves Green Hornets perfect

 

   Hard to imagine a better two-day span for the Emmaus boys basketball team.

   Friday night they pasted green-and-gold nemesis Central Catholic 79-37. Saturday they jumped on defending 5A state champion Abington Heights 16-4 en route to a 56-48 victory at Muhlenberg College for the Awesome Shootout.

   The Green Hornets (6-0) are the last unbeaten Eastern Pennsylvania Conference team.

   Zach Sabol, Emmaus’ 6-foot-9 center, bothered Comet shots early, established a low-post presence on offense, and staked the Green Hornets to a lead they’d never relinquish.

   He also saddled Abington Heights center Mike Malone with early fouls, sending him to the bench for most of the first half. Malone had blocked Sabol’s shot on the game’s first possession, but it became an isolated incident.

   For a team that usually rotates six players, the Comets couldn't handle losing a returning starter inside.

   Last March Abington Heights (5-2) got an all-state performance from wing George Tinsley (29 points in final, Binghamton recruit) as the Comets won a state championship. On Saturday he missed seven layups that Sabol affected or altered.

   Sabol scored 11 points on offense but dominated the paint on defense.

   Mark Swedberg led the Hornets with 17. Cameron Brooks added 11 and Bryce Diehl 10. Ethan Parvel, the football quarterback transfer from Whitehall, handled point guard duties and scored seven. His toughness—diving on the floor for loose balls—gives this squad an edge.

   Emmaus can array size at all five positions with different lineups. Devon Boyko comes off the bench and becomes a 6-5 sticky pest. The Hornets managed to turnover a fundamentally-sound program that doesn't normally commit the types of errors they did on Saturday.

   While the game might have lacked flow and late-season crispness, part of that can be attributed to the teams’ commitment to man-to-man defense.

   Abington Heights returns four starters. The replacement for shooting guard Jackson Danzig is a wing who scored 31 points in a game against Williamsport early last year before suffering a season-ending injury. Now Trey Koehler fills that spot. After suffering a stress fracture in his left foot following a football game last year, he returned to put weight on his leg in September, easing back to basketball.

   His legs seemed to defy his jump shot and rhythm early on Saturday, but he began to score more in the second half, finishing with a team-high 14 while star Tinsley (11 points, 12 rebounds) struggled finishing over Sabol after penetrating into the paint.

   Despite its struggles, Abington Heights trimmed the deficit to 33-31 in the second half on a 17-footer by Koehler on an inbounds play.

   Emmaus, who tried to force an uptempo game on Muhlenberg’s long Memorial Hall court, responded with a Swedberg 3. Sabol’s three-point play with 49 seconds left in the third quarter gave Emmaus a 41-33 cushion.

   After Easton’s win over Becahi on Friday night, Emmaus has emerged as the decided favorite in the EPC and District 11 6A field.

   Abington Heights coach Ken Bianchi should reach 800 career victories either the end of this year with another state final run or early next season.

     

PENNRIDGE ROUTS SHORT-HANDED SCRANTON PREP

 

   In the Pennridge game against unbeaten Scranton Prep (6-0), Prep’s tallest player, 6-7 Leo O’Boyle, had injured a foot bone in the football playoffs when he played quarterback for the Cavaliers. The Lafayette College recruit isn’t expected to be healthy anytime soon, leaving SP undersized.

   Prep was also without 7-foot-2 junior Matt Dwyer, who’s been hurt the past two seasons, leaving a potentially giant squad decidedly short.

   Pennridge got 18 points from shooting guard Sean Yoder (Navy). He also distributed well, recording five assists. John Dominic added nine points and center Jon Post in a 61-36 romp.

   Pennridge (6-2) led 32-17 at halftime, then outscored Prep 19-1 in the third to eliminate any threat. The Rams’ losses in 2018 have come against District 1 power Abington and one-win rival Quakertown.

   Prep (6-1) suffered its first loss. Brian Boland had 13 points with two three-pointers.

  

POCONO MOUNTAIN WEST TURNAROUND
 

   Sometimes the best remedy for an emotional loss is another game the next night.

   After dropping a heated one-point game to rival Pocono Mountain East on Friday night, PM West (5-3) rallied to down Williamsport 68-58 at the Awesome Shootout.

   Ishyne Pilgrim scored 25 points for PM West. The Millionaires dropped to 2-4.

 

EXECUTIVE ORDER DELIVERED

 

   Executive Education topped Scranton High 58-41 behind sophomore Jevin Muniz’s 20 points. With Scranton trying to press late, EE fired long passes that resulted in two-on-one layups to stretch the margin.

 

BANGOR STANDS TALL OVER SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP

 

  Bangor’s Ben Holland scored 31 points in a late 51-46 victory for the undersized Slaters against a perennial state playoff qualifier.

   The Slaters (7-1) could be unbeaten if not for an overtime loss at Easton. Their adjustments to become a spread, drive-and-kick-for-three offense have materialized faster than expected.

   Consider that their starting lineup reads like this: 6-foot-3, 6-0, 5-11, 5-10, 5-7. The surprise isn't that they can score--playing five guards leads to mismatches on the perimeter--but that they can defend and rebound as well as they have.

   Bangor trailed by one entering the fourth quarter but outscored the Indians 12-6.

   "These kids have championship experience and expect to win," said coach Bron Holland. "That goes a long way. We had to adapt to our team and change the way we've played."

 

GAMECOCK, TIGER GUESTS

 

   Former South Carolina Gamecock football player Tim Frisby was back in town to watch the tournament with his son.

   The Dieruff High alumnus still lives in South Carolina but returns to the Lehigh Valley on occasion. He works in the office of the attorney general in Columbia, S.C. He became famous for walking on to the Gamecock squad as a 39-year-old wide receiver in 2004, under Coach Lou Holtz.

   Frisby wore a South Carolina jacket with pride.

   He left after the Emmaus game, only to be replaced by Christian Lockhart wearing Clemson gear. The former Tiger works for recruiting service National College Preps (NCP) that helps scholar-athletes match with the right school and program. Lockhart had graduated from Easton High in 1990.

   Ironically, the Tigers defeated the Gamecocks in their men’s game in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.

 

Merry Christmas!

Pennridge's Sean Yoder fires a 3.
Former South Carolina wide receiver Tim Frisby wears his Gamecock gear with pride.

West, Blount pitstop at IMG Academy

on way to Division-I Coastal Carolina

 

 

   NBA Draft announcers complimented potential draftees for having excess “want-to” in their game.

   Translation: they’re passionate about basketball. They want to get better. They want to play the game.

   For Bethlehem’s Kaylin West, that want-to moment came during high school. She’d developed into a good player by doing as much as her peers had done and slightly more. But she didn’t compare to older brother Jarrod, whose game and athleticism commanded a football scholarship to Syracuse University to play wide receiver.

   Outside of football season, he’d work out with the basketball players, who asked him to walk-on and suit up for the Orange, which he declined.

   His sister Kaylin watched Jarrod’s progression and made a personal and family decision. She asked Jarrod to work with her in the summer on the courts at Old Orchard Park in Palmer Township.

   “You have to fully commit and do whatever I say,” Jarrod cautioned.

   Basketball bootcamp began. For two hours every day, the siblings worked on ball-handling, shooting, Eurosteps, floaters, all parts of Jarrod’s game that Kaylin wanted to master.

   The girl whose childhood aspirations had been to become a Penn State cheerleader now possessed the toughness of a Nittany Lion linebacker.

   “She worked hard,” said Jarrod, now earning a master’s degree at Syracuse. “She brought it every day.”

   At Liberty High, she earned enough attention to receive a scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University, a Division I school in New Jersey. And Kaylin committed.

   But then her father, former Hurricanes great Warren West, got a phone call. IMG Academy coaches had watched tape of her in action and offered her a deal too great to pass up—to train as a post-graduate at the school that began as a hotbed for developing professional tennis players like the Williams sister but had evolved into a haven for football and basketball stars.

   The girls’ basketball team featured three high-school-aged teams compared to 15 for the boys side, but the top team would travel to play community colleges and junior colleges. And Kaylin would play guard, pressing full-court and enhancing her offensive skill set playing for Coach Jenna Sipielli, a former coach at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

    West would need to draw on her built-up want-to to meet the demands of the basketball-intensive schedule:

 

   6 a.m. – treatment and taping and shooting

   7 a.m. – breakfast

   8-10 – practice on the court

   10-11 – weightlifting or nutrition

   11-12:30 – lunch with food made to enhance athletic performance

   1-3 p.m. – Gym practice time

   3-4 p.m. – Treatment and/or massage

 

   By 5 p.m. athletes needed to rest their bodies. West mostly caught up on Netflix shows and recovered on the couch.

   “It’s like being a professional athlete,” she said. “They’re very hands-on. And there is a hyperbolic chamber that you can rest in which opens up your lungs for you.”

   Since West had graduated from high school, she did not need to take academic classes, but she could. She partook of the visual classes and the nutrition sessions with her teammates (International students must take classes to be considered exchange students).

   Players lived in quad-style apartments like you would find at most universities.

   Competition comes naturally at IMG. West said athletes from 53 countries are there, all “with the same goal--to get to the next level.”

   Those who watched the NBA draft might take a closer look at a few of the prospects who apprenticed at IMG.

   Portland drafted Anfernee Simons with the 24th pick of the first round. Point guard Trevon Duval, who played his freshman year at Duke, was projected in the top 40 picks but was not selected.

   Both IMG graduates trained at the 450-acre facility. IMG football players graduate to places like Ohio State, Clemson, etc. And a gentleman named Cam Newton holds camps on the campus each year.

   West became the girls basketball team’s shut-down defender. With her increased conditioning and weight-lifting—“I never lifted a weight in high school”—she started bench pressing 130 pounds, squatting 190, and deadlifting 255. Not bad for a 5-7, 140-pound guard.

   She filled up a stat sheet during games with averages of 15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals per game. Since her squad had just 10 players, and some became injured, she earned plenty of minutes in shot-clock-fast games.

   Said her brother Jarrod, “The next time I saw her play I didn’t even recognize her. She was doing Eurosteps, floaters, all the stuff I used to do and stuff girls her age weren’t doing.”

   Jarrod had dabbled in the National Football League, playing wide receiver for the Jets, Steelers and Titans, mostly on practice squads, which still paid $8,000 per week. In four preseason games, he caught four passes for 64 yards.

   More than his own accomplishments, he took pride in Kaylin’s.

   As Kaylin improved, other college coaches took notice. IMG coach Sipielli took a call from a friend of hers from Coastal Carolina, who quickly offered West a scholarship to the school near Myrtle Beach. Seeing the picturesque campus along with the sports broadcasting major sold West.

   IMG teammate Mery Visone from Italy also committed to the Chanticleers.

   And that’s where the process began anew for another Lehigh Valley girl.

 

   Aja Blount starred at Northampton High, totaling 1767 points and earning area player of the year honors after her senior season. The 6-foot, 220-pound post player talked with West about IMG and soon decided the extra year to prepare for college would benefit her, too.

   Blount became a dominant force, averaging 25 points and 17 rebounds to earn team most valuable player honors. When Coastal Carolina coaches had scouted her a year prior, they barely noticed her.

   After Blount spent a year in IMG’s rigorous program, they needed five minutes to offer her a scholarship, too, to match her with West.

   Sipielli provided the personal touch Blount needed. After their customary workouts, the pair would run another 30 minutes to boost Blount’s conditioning and trim her body to handle the upbeat pace of Division I basketball.

   “There’s a lot of positive peer pressure here,” said Sipielli. “Everybody’s trying to get to the next level.”

   Blount and West, Lehigh Valley friends, will team up in South Carolina this upcoming season. Graduation leaves a starting spot at guard that West hopes to fill during his sophomore season.

   Blount will battle for space down low.

   The old mantra to find riches advised, “Go west, young man” in hopes of striking gold.

   For Lehigh Valley girls’ basketball, it might become, “Go south, young ladies” for a post-graduate year in hopes of becoming a Division I-ready player.

   Said West, “Maybe this all started a trend.”

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