Big shots of the Northeast
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 firstname.lastname@example.org