The North boys’ practice at Bishop McCort High School had an air of familiarity on Wednesday night.
At one end of the gymnasium, a quartet of Richland High players shot around with Conemaugh Valley sharpshooter Blake Furman.
North coach Jerry Murphy of McCort and his assistant coach Mike Burgo watched as the players put on a few moves and hit some long-range shots before the workout officially started.
“We’ve got a loose group here,” Murphy said. “They can play and they know how to have fun. Let’s face it.
“I’ve got 11 good kids on the roster and that makes it a lot easier.”
Murphy’s North squad will face the South at 3 p.m. on Sunday in the second half of the AmeriServ Senior Hoops Showcase at Pitt-Johnstown’s Sports Center. The girls all-star game begins at 1 p.m. at UPJ.
“It’s really cool to have four teammates on the same team,” said Richland guard Kyle Flick, referring to his Rams teammates on the North squad, Matt Shaffer, Aaron Miller and Jake Lushko. “It definitely says something about the program. It’s exciting the four of us are on the same team and will play one last game together.”
Richland won the District 6 Class AA championship last month, the first district championship for the school’s boys program since 1975.
“It’s a privilege for anybody,” Shaffer said of the all-star game. “You get to play with all of these guys who are the best of the best in the area. It’s going to be a good game.
“To get to play one more high school basketball game is going to be good. The season really snuck up on us and with all the district play, it’s just icing on the cake.”
Bishop Carroll’s 6-foot-6 center Marcus Lee, a force on the District 6-A championship team that advanced to the state semifinals, scored more than 1,000 career points and averaged 16 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.
Penn Cambria’s 6-3 Chad Tsikalas averaged a double-double with 14.2 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. He also dished out three assists a contest while making 2.9 steals and 2.8 blocks per game.
Central Cambria’s Tanner Ambrisco averaged 18.9 points and 5.2 assists this season and had a very solid showing in last week’s Altoona Mirror Classic at Mount Aloysius.
Portage’s Cody Randall and Ferndale’s Isaiah Sajatovich both had double-digit scoring averages. Murphy will coach two of his own players, Nathan Neiderhiser and Stephen Ingram.
“I’m really excited to be in this one with Kyle, Tanner and Marcus because we were in the last one together,” said Furman, who posted among the state’s top scoring averages with 25 points a game, including a Conemaugh Valley single-game record 54. “It should be a lot of fun.
“We know each other. Now that we’re on the same team it should be fun to get together and work with each other. Just having fun is the most important thing in these games.”
For Richland’s players, the game will end an incredible run of success in both basketball and football over the past few academic years.
“It’s important because it’s all four of us and we’ve been playing together for a long time,” Miller said. “It’s pretty fun playing with these guys. Most of them I’ve known for so many years, even the guys from the other schools.”
“Usually we’ve had to game plan against these guys,” Miller added. “It’s going to be a lot of fun playing with them because there is so much talent. We had a rough time guarding Marcus Lee and Blake Furman in our tournament. Playing with them is going to be fun.”
The game also gives players one last opportunity to finish on a winning note.
“Actually it’s really special because after that tough loss to Quaker Valley it’s cool to get back together with the guys one more time in the all-star game,” Lushko said, referring to a season-ending PIAA Tournament loss. “We know each other. If I want the ball in the corner, they’ll give it to me. We’ll drive in and kick it out and make the shot.
“It’s pretty cool,” Lushko said. “It’s an all-star game. Everyone knows what’s going on. It’s going to be fun.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.