The outlook is bright for the Johnstown High School boys' basketball team this year and why shouldn't
it be? Second-year coach John Fuschino returns four starters from a team that
advanced to the state championship game last year before succumbing to Steelton-Highspire in Hershey. Those four returning starters, all seniors now, have a lot of big game experience. Two District 6 championships as well as two deep runs in the PIAA playoffs make JHS the team to beat in
the LHAC and beyond in 2005-06.
But great expectations can cause a hard fall and no one knows that better than Fuschino. He is well aware that the bulls-eye will be on the Trojans' back all season. It also should be noted that it is extremely difficult to reach Hershey in back-to-back seasons. In the past 10 seasons in Boys' AAA only one team has made repeat visits to states. Blackhawk of the WPIAL won it all in '99 beating Holy Ghost Prep and lost to Steel-High in '00. Also, if last year is an indicator, then the road to the PIAA playoffs means that winning District 6-AAA
is a must as there is only one qualifier for the state tournament from the district.
In contrast, the WPIAL received eight bids in the AAA bracket last year. JHS
is undefeated against WPIAL opponents in PIAA play the last two seasons.
Leading the way for the Trojans is 6'6" forward Kurt Hoffman.
The senior has already announced his intentions to continue his basketball career at St. Francis. This is good as it will take the pressure of questions about college out of the picture and allow him to
concentrate on his senior season (similar to LaRod Stephens' Pitt announcement a year ago in football). Another big piece of the Trojan puzzle is senior point guard Xavier Thomas.
The 5'11' Thomas has been running the point since his sophomore year and no doubt the ball will go through him once
again. The other two starters returning are Aieron Jefferson and Derek Rose. Jefferson, at 6'2" is arguably the Trojans' best all-around performer as he can do
it both from the inside and the outside. Rose, a 6'3" forward rounds out the
returning starters and will be sure to get in the scoring mix for JHS. As the
first option may be for Thomas to get the ball in to the paint to Hoffman, Kurt has excellent ball handling skills and if
he is double or triple teamed, he has two very good options to kick it out to in Jefferson and Rose. Rounding out the starting five going in to the season is Demetrius Young, a 6'3" junior. Trojan fans may recognized the name from football season as Young had 10 catches for 132 yards and a TD
from his wideout position and he'll factor in more in the game plan next season for sure.
On the hardwood, Coach Fuschino believes that football helped Young immensely with his footwork and he looks to be
an important contributor this year.
Keeping with a football theme, two other familiar names will get a lot of playing time this year. Brandon Hody and Ben Landis, both juniors, will come off the bench for Fuschino. Hody is listed as a 6' guard while Landis is a 6'2" F/C.
The Trojans had a final tune up last Saturday as they had a scrimmage against Blairsville and Bishop
Guilfoyle. The format was that each team played 2 quarters and sat one so that
each team got a chance against one another. Fuschino stated that the Trojans
won five out of the six quarters they played despite being without 3 starters due to sickness and injury. "It (the scrimmage) went pretty well. I was impressed with
how the rest of the team did without 3 of our starters", he said.
JHS' schedule is once again tough as they will play each Section 2 LHAC twice while playing each
Section 1 squad once (although the outlook is that they'll face Forest Hills twice since chances are they will open up the
UPJ tournament with them). Aside from LHAC games, they will take on Philadelphia
Public School team Franklin Learning Center at Trinity in Camp Hill on January 21st.
They also play at Altoona (12/21), host Punxsutawney (1/16), DuBois (1/23), State College (2/6) and Hollidaysburg (2/17)
to round out their non-LHAC schedule.
According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Johnstown is the sixth-best boys’ team in Class
AAA. The Trojans kick it all off this Wednesday at Bedford.
The full basketball schedule can be viewed here.
Doug Keklak can be reached at email@example.com.