Big shots of the Northeast

Top hon­ors: George Wash­ing­ton High School’s Kend­ale Tru­itt (above) is the North­east Times’ Boys Pub­lic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year. TIMES FILE PHO­TOS

High school bas­ket­ball in the North­east came and went in the blink of an eye. There were tons of fant­ast­ic per­form­ances on the court, so much so that we all wish there could be more to come. 

Alas, hoops fans will have to wait un­til Novem­ber for an­oth­er sure-to-be thrill­ing sea­son. In the mean­time, it’s time for one last look back at the 2012-13 sea­son to cel­eb­rate some in­di­vidu­als who made this bas­ket­ball cam­paign so mem­or­able. In a year when al­most every North­east-area high school qual­i­fied for the play­offs, the task of choos­ing the best of the best was harder than ever. 

The North­east Times is pleased to an­nounce the winter bas­ket­ball win­ners, who will be re­cog­nized at the 28th an­nu­al North­east Sports Awards Ban­quet, to be held Wed­nes­day, May 15, at Cannstat­ters (more de­tailed in­form­a­tion about the ban­quet will be pub­lished as it de­vel­ops). Like the 27 that have come be­fore it, the event will hon­or neigh­bor­hood stu­dent-ath­letes and coaches with awards in nearly 30 cat­egor­ies. Win­ners were chosen by the North­east Times sports de­part­ment.

Boys Bas­ket­ball Coach of the Year

Ira Stern, North­east

One needs to spend only a few mo­ments talk­ing to Ira Stern to find out how much he loves the game of bas­ket­ball. That pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm made all the dif­fer­ence for the North­east Vik­ings this sea­son.

Stern entered the sea­son as North­east’s first-year coach, un­sure how his new per­son­nel would ad­just to his up-tempo, high-fly­ing of­fens­ive sys­tem. After a feel­ing out peri­od that saw the Vik­ings lose two of their first three games, the team took off, win­ning 12 of its fi­nal 14. This in­cluded a nine-game win streak lead­ing in­to the play­offs, and North­east fin­ished the sea­son at 13-4 (in­clud­ing nine wins in Di­vi­sion C play); though they were edged by Di­vi­sion A’s Frank­ford in the Pub­lic League play­offs, the Vik­ings thrived un­der Stern. In his first varsity sea­son, seni­or guard DeAndre Wil­li­ams emerged as a star, av­er­aging 19.7 points per game (tied for sev­enth over­all in the city).

Los­ing Wil­li­ams — and oth­ers — won’t be enough to keep the al­ways en­er­get­ic and en­thu­si­ast­ic Stern down. After the Frank­ford play­off loss, he was already talk­ing about next sea­son be­fore he even boarded the team bus.

“Man, that was a fun game,” he said. “We’re go­ing to find some size some­where in this city, and we’ll be back.”

Boys Pub­lic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year

Kend­ale Tru­itt, George Wash­ing­ton

Kend­ale Tru­itt sure knows how to make a first im­pres­sion.

Way back in the be­gin­ning of the Pub­lic League sea­son, Tru­itt showed right away his abil­ity to single-handedly take over a game; he scored 34 points in a tight mid-Decem­ber win over Freire Charter in every way pos­sible, from jump shots to drives to the hole to a rim-rock­ing dunk that had every­one in the Wash­ing­ton gym on their feet. Tru­itt, a seni­or, dropped 30 or more points in three of Wash­ing­ton’s Di­vi­sion B games, lead­ing the Eagles to a 14-9 over­all re­cord (9-3 in Di­vi­sion B play). Tru­itt’s 21.3 points per game av­er­age ranked fourth in the city, and he helped ease the trans­ition of his young­er broth­er, sopho­more Devante (17.7 points per game), as well as first-year head coach John Creighton. After strug­gling with his grades in pre­vi­ous sea­sons, Kend­ale was a mod­el cit­izen on the court and in the classroom.

“At prac­tices my coaches have told me to be a team lead­er,” Tru­itt told the Times in Decem­ber. “With this be­ing my seni­or year, I’m tak­ing that re­spons­ib­il­ity very ser­i­ously. I want to put the team on my back.”

He did just that.

Boys Cath­ol­ic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year

Bry­an Okolo, Arch­bish­op Ry­an

After emer­ging as Ry­an’s lead­ing scorer and lead­ing the team to 18 wins as a ju­ni­or, Bry­an Okolo’s swan song for the Raid­ers was no sur­prise.

The seni­or av­er­aged 16.4 points per game, a mark good for sev­enth in the Cath­ol­ic League, widely known to be one of the deep­est in the state. Des­pite be­ing vastly un­der­sized, the Raid­ers won 18 more in 2012-13, in­clud­ing nine in league play. Okolo kept his team with­in arm’s length of the league’s top four (Neu­mann-Gor­etti, St Joseph’s Prep, Ro­man Cath­ol­ic, Arch­bish­op Car­roll), com­ing close to de­feat­ing all four in the reg­u­lar sea­son. Though the Raid­ers fell to Car­roll in the play­off quarterfi­nals, Okolo’s im­pact on the pro­gram can­not be over­stated. 

“Bry­an is a good per­son, and when you have good people who want to be coached, that trans­lates onto the court,” Ry­an head coach Bernie Ro­gers said in Janu­ary. “Guys re­spect him and fol­low his lead.”

Girls Bas­ket­ball Coach of the Year

Bri­anna O’ Don­nell, Frank­lin Towne 

After win­ning con­sec­ut­ive Pub­lic League girls soc­cer cham­pi­on­ships as Frank­lin Towne’s head coach, it was srange to see Bri­anna O’Don­nell roam the bas­ket­ball side­lines over the winter.

But O’Don­nell did the same thing on the hard­wood that she’s done the past two soc­cer sea­sons: won. Tak­ing the girls bas­ket­ball reins in 2004, O’Don­nell guided the pro­gram in­to the Pub­lic League and stuck it out through some rough sea­sons. Es­tim­at­ing that she didn’t win her 10th game un­til her fourth or fifth sea­son, O’Don­nell’s team had 10 wins by Janu­ary dur­ing the 2012-13 cam­paign. Towne went 16-7 over­all and ad­vanced to the Pub­lic League Class AAA semi­finals in the best sea­son in school his­tory. Many of her soc­cer stal­warts — namely ju­ni­ors Stefanie Ulmer and twin sis­ters Rachel & Re­becca Gil­borges — fol­lowed O’Don­nell to the bas­ket­ball court, and the res­ults have been clear as day.

“She’s highly re­spec­ted among every­one at the school,” Towne ath­let­ic dir­ect­or Spen­cer Par­cells told the Times. “Her play­ers be­lieve in what she’s do­ing. They trust her. There aren’t many people here that can take her place as an am­bas­sad­or for the school.”

Girls Cath­ol­ic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year

Char­lotte Ku­cowski, St. Hubert

St. Hubert began this sea­son with vis­ions of the Cath­ol­ic League semi­finals in its col­lect­ive heads. Al­though that didn’t hap­pen, the Bam­bies took a big leap in their quest to take the pro­gram to the next level.

Char­lotte Ku­cowski was a large reas­on for that. Ku­cowski, the Bam­bies’ lone seni­or starter, was dy­nam­ite in the early sea­son, when she was nearly a guar­an­tee for a double-double. She was av­er­aging around 15 points per game in­to Janu­ary, and des­pite run­ning in­to a wall late in the sea­son, Ku­cowski aided in the de­vel­op­ment of the St. Hubert un­der­class­men, namely fresh­man for­ward Meghan Mat­thews, who was the team’s best play­er down the stretch. Ku­cowski’s con­tri­bu­tions over her four-year ca­reer have left the Bam­bies in a good place after she’s gone;t he team will re­turn most of its core for 2013-14 after qual­i­fy­ing for the Cath­ol­ic League quarterfi­nals this sea­son.

“We want people to know they are play­ing St. Hubert’s,” Ku­cowski told the Times in Janu­ary. “We want to give them our best every single game. This was a big year for us, for a lot of reas­ons. If I had an off night, there were tons of oth­er play­ers to look to.”

Girls Pub­lic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year

Kristina Miller, Samuel Fels

Throughout her ca­reer at Fels, Kristina Miller has fought to make people no­tice her school’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram. Thanks to her flair for the dra­mat­ic, she got her wish this sea­son.

In one of the more ex­cit­ing games of the sea­son, Miller led the Lady Pan­thers to an im­prob­able 11-point fourth-quarter comeback against favored North­east on Jan. 9. Miller scored 15 of her team’s 35 points, in­clud­ing the game-win­ner off a stolen in­bounds pass with less than 10 seconds to go. After beat­ing North­east for the first time in Miller’s ca­reer, Fels won six of its next sev­en games, rid­ing its star to a play­off berth. Head coach George Ewerth called Miller “the gas that makes the en­gine go,” for Fels, and it’s hard to ar­gue. 

Though the Lady Pan­thers fell to Si­mon Gratz in the post­season quarterfi­nals, Miller went out where she could usu­ally be found this sea­son: at the top of the scorer’s sheet. ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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