Basketball, forgotten around here

AN orange sphere, some black stripes swirling around the surface. Some smooth. Some rough. Either way, it bounces on different surfaces.

The length of the court remains 90 feet long as sweat drips, shoes squeal and various other grunts emit from the mouths of high school athletes.

Basketball. Sometimes seen as a foreign object around an area obsessed, to a fault, with football.

This sport, which is my favorite, is one that is seen as a second-class citizen in the Mahoning Valley.

No Friday Night Lights here, just a constant grind for a couple of months — 22 games until the real season starts.

Welcome to the postseason, where this area’s best have their focus and those 22 games, league titles and the sort are precursors for an ultimate goal.

Take the Lakeview Bulldogs. They upset who I thought was our area’s best representative, Poland, in a Division II Boardman District semifinal.

Stunning, but not totally surprising. This Lakeview team, which has the propensity to shoot and make 3s, is fundamentally sound.

After the Trumbull County Bulldogs won a district title, it was widely assumed by most Lakeview would have a quick and bitter end when it faced a seasoned group in Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph — a recognized face at the state tournament.

Vikings coach Babe Kwasniak, and his father and former head coach, Tedd Kwasniak, prepare their team like no other. Discipline is the first and foremost of this proud program.

Lakeview eventually pushed VA-SJ, for the better part of four quarters, until the Vikings started to pull away.

Babe told our paper that the Bulldogs gave his team the toughest test he’s seen during regional play in some time.

Take pride in that Lakeview. Your coach, Ryan Fitch, deserves a raise.

Head northwest to a town called Bristolville and you’ll hear the sounds of basketballs hitting the concrete surface at a place called The Giesy Pit.

Bristol, which has dominated the Northeastern Athletic Conference the past couple of years, has been familiar team in the Division IV Orwell District.

Cornerstone Christian, a fixture at state the past couple of seasons, has stood in the Panthers’ way to their first regional appearance since 2002, when Bristol went to the state Final Four.

The Panthers held the Patriots to 50 points, but had trouble scoring themselves, which was their waterloo in this year’s district final.

Bristol upgraded its regular-season schedule this season and plans to keep doing it in years to come in this well-respected area, where basketball, not football, is the dominant sport.

LaBrae’s basketball program has been the model program in the area with a strong youth program and a solid varsity team. The best high school basketball player I’ve covered comes from this school — Davidson College senior Peyton Aldridge.

The Vikings were close to defeating a resilient and senior-led Canton Central Catholic team, which wielded its defensive power and stopped an up-tempo LaBrae team. I would’ve liked to see how LaBrae fared against last year’s Division IV state champion Lutheran East, which is trying to do the same this season in Division III.

McDonald, John F. Kennedy — two teams that should’ve played one another this past season — went out of action way too soon in separate district semifinals. However, both have strong programs and have two of the most dynamic players this area has to offer in sophomore Zach Rasile (McDonald) and senior Byron Taylor (Kennedy).

Then, Harding, after a horrific start, made a run late in the season led by senior Delmar Moore. For a Raiders team that didn’t have many hopes coming into the 2017-18 season, WGH exceeded expectations.

Now, those same athletes are busy preparing either through spring sports or offseason training. The bouncing orange sphere can be heard in driveways, gyms and outdoor facilities near you.

They’re waiting their turn, after the glare of the Friday Night Lights has dimmed.

COMMENTS