Wood­land Hills plays host to bas­ket­ball show­case

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Sports - MIKE WHITE

Ron Coursey’s love for bas­ket­ball, his pen­chant for try­ing new events and a de­sire to bring more at­ten­tion to stop­ping gun vi­o­lence.

Those three things to­gether have led to the cre­ation of a unique high school bas­ket­ball event Satur­day-Jan. 21 at Wood­land Hills High School.

The Stand Against Vi­o­lence Show­case will in­volve 28 games and 36 teams (34 boys teams and two girls). The event is the brain­child of Coursey, who is in his sec­ond year as the ath­letic di­rec­tor at Wood­land Hills.

The vol­ume of games and teams makes this event unique to Western Penn­syl­va­nia, but so do the par­tic­i­pat­ing teams.

Wood­land Hills has two gyms vir­tu­ally side-by-side and the school will use both for this show­case. Seven­teen of the boys teams are from the WPIAL and other parts of Western Penn­syl­va­nia, in­clud­ing City League mem­ber West­ing­house. But 17 other boys teams will come from five states and the Dis­trict of Columbia. Teams will come from Mary­land, Vir­ginia, New Jer­sey, Ohio and North Carolina.

On top of it all, some of the con­tests will in­volve top-notch teams, from the WPIAL and else­where, and some fu­ture ma­jor-col­lege play­ers.

West­town, a pri­vate school in

“We brain­stormed to maybe use ath­let­ics as a tool to get kids more in­volved and more off the streets, whether they are play­ing or spec­tat­ing.” — Ron Coursey Wood­land Hills ath­letic di­rec­tor

east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, is one of the par­tic­i­pat­ing teams. West­town is re­ally an al­ls­tar team, draw­ing play­ers from ev­ery­where. Two years ago, West­town had a team that some called one of the great­est in high school bas­ket­ball his­tory. It had Mo Bamba, now in the NBA, and Cam Red­dish, a star fresh­man at Duke.

Western Penn­syl­va­nia long has had high school tour­na­ments and some spe­cial events that might last two or three days. But a three-day tour­na­ment with so many games and so many teams from so many places is cer­tainly unique.

“So I guess that means I’m in­no­va­tive?” Coursey said with a laugh.

The first week­end of the past foot­ball sea­son, Coursey put to­gether a two-day, six-game event that was played at the Wood­land Hills foot­ball sta­dium (”Wolvarena”). Coursey started work­ing on the Stand Against Vi­o­lence Show­case in the sum­mer. Plenty of teams were in­ter­ested in play­ing, and Coursey thought the week­end be­fore Martin Luther King Jr. Day would be per­fect, for a few rea­sons.

“This started from the premise that ev­ery­body is well aware that the Wood­land Hills com­mu­nity has suf­fered some losses due to gun vi­o­lence,” Coursey said.

“At Wood­land Hills, we’re con­stantly rack­ing our brains, try­ing to come up with ways to draw at­ten­tion to lives lost, but also to find a way to curb some of the vi­o­lence and present ac­tiv­i­ties to kids and com­mu­nity mem­bers.

“We brain­stormed to maybe use ath­let­ics as a tool to get kids more in­volved and more off the streets, whether they are play­ing or spec­tat­ing.”

Part of the pro­ceeds from the event will go to SAVE — Stu­dents Against Vi­o­lence Ev­ery­where. SAVE has clubs across the coun­try.

Coursey played bas­ket­ball at Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity but has worked in high school ath­letic ad­min­is­tra­tion in Mary­land and east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia.

His con­tacts from those ar­eas helped him get teams, as well as get­ting two big spon­sors — IGS En­ergy and the Frank Walker law firm in Pitts­burgh.

The spon­sors are pay­ing for lodg­ing and some meals for out-of-town teams. Ev­ery player will get a cer­tifi­cate for some free games at Dave & Buster’s in Home­stead, and Ga­torade is do­nat­ing prod­ucts.

“The ic­ing on the cake to be able to do this was to get some big spon­sors, like IGS and Frank Walker,” Coursey said. “This couldn’t be done this way with­out them.”

West­town is not as good as it was two years ago, but it still has some fu­ture Divi­sion I play­ers, in­clud­ing se­nior point guard Jalen Gaffney, who has signed with Con­necti­cut. Noah Col­lier, a 6-foot-6 for­ward, has an of­fer

from Pitt. Sopho­more for­ward John Cam­den has of­fers from Mi­ami and Syra­cuse, and 6-11 John Bol Ajak has com­mit­ted to Syra­cuse.

West­town plays First Love Chris­tian (Wash­ing­ton, Pa.) at 5 p.m. Sun­day. First Love has D.J. Gor­don, who has of­fers from Vir­ginia Tech, Day­ton and TCU among oth­ers.

West­town plays Bal­ti­more Poly­tech­nic In­sti­tute at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 21. Bal­ti­more Poly fea­tures Justin Lewis, a four-star prospect by Ri­vals.com who has of­fers from Penn State, Flor­ida and Mary­land among oth­ers.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing games in­volv­ing a WPIAL team will be at 6:30 p.m. Sun­day when Penn Hills, one of the top Class 5A schools, plays Ch­ester, a peren­nial power from near Philadel­phia who has won eight PIAA ti­tles since the 1980s.

Wood­land Hills will play two games in the event. Wood­land Hills fea­tures Ke­an­dre Bowles, the lead­ing scorer in the WPIAL this sea­son.

“I love bas­ket­ball and this should be a bas­ket­ball fan’s par­adise,” Coursey said. “We hope to make this an an­nual event. Al­though Western Penn­syl­va­nia is known for foot­ball, we think we have some pretty good bas­ket­ball teams also and we can have some pretty good events.”

Coursey laughed when he said, “As I sit some­times and try to plan the lo­gis­tics of this event, I ques­tion my san­ity. The re­al­ity is that this is quite a huge un­der­tak­ing. How­ever, I think it’s for an honor­able cause and it’s good for bas­ket­ball.”

Tick­ets are avail­able at the school the day of the games. Tick­ets are $10 for adults and one ticket is good for all games for one day. Stu­dent tick­ets are $5.

An­drew Stein/Post-Gazette

Penn Hills’ Wes Kropp at­tempts a layup against McKeesport Fri­day. The In­di­ans, ranked No. 4 in WPIAL Class 5A, play Ch­ester in the Stand Against Vi­o­lence Show­case at 6:30 p.m. Sun­day.

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