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Thomas Jefferson JV basketball squad soars

March 13, 2018 GMT

It may not have achieved national acclaim, but Thomas Jefferson’s boys junior varsity basketball team had a terrific season.

“All year, our coach Ryan Alderson preached to us: ‘JV national champs.’ He said we had to win almost every game to be considered JV national champs,” said freshman point guard Jake Pugh, an integral team member. “So that stood as motivation to go out and compete every game.

“I thought our JV team worked well together. It showed both in the games and in practice. We were able to get up and down the floor fluently together.”

After starting 9-0 (from Dec. 9 to Jan. 9), the Jaguars finished 18-3 overall.

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“I was very pleased with our outcome and how well our kids competed every single game,” Alderson said. “The kids really embraced the early success and challenged themselves to get better each game.”

They averaged 51 points while allowing 44. The Jaguars lost to Trinity twice and to Albert Gallatin at the buzzer.

Alderson, a 2009 Thomas Jefferson graduate who played basketball and football in high school, said two keys to the banner season were the players’ ability to handle adversity and to play with maximum effort.

“I preached these two aspects every game, and the kids really took them to heart,” Alderson said. “Basketball is a game of runs: How will you respond when you’re down, and how will you act when you’re winning? I told the kids that no matter if you’re skilled or not, the one thing you can control is how hard you play, and we accept nothing less than 100 percent at TJ.”

Alderson rotated 11 players into the lineup: Pugh, sophomore guard Noah Pierce, sophomore guard/forward Shane Stump, sophomore guard Dan Deabner, freshman forward Ethan Dunsey, freshman guard Aiden Kelly, sophomore forward James Martinis, junior guard Mark Fedor and sophomore guard Cam Dimidjian. Junior guard John Adams and sophomore guard Isaac McNeil also saw some time.

“Our starting lineup and JV roster fluctuated game by game due to needs on the varsity level,” Alderson said.

Pierce, Stump, Deabner, Dunsey, Kelly, Martinis and Pugh netted 100 or more points each. Pierce, who led the team with 152 points, and Kelly also are members of the TJ golf program.

“Our team had skill both inside and on the perimeter,” Pugh said. “We had a few big men with talent inside that could score around the rim. To go along with that, we had guards who could handle the ball and shoot well. So we were able to score from most parts of the floor, which always helps.

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“On the defensive side, we had many good athletes who were able to trap opposing teams all over the court.”

Pugh, a quarterback for TJ football, saw JV and varsity playing time over the course of the season. He started out as a JV player but by midseason was competing for both squads. At the end of the year, Pugh was a varsity starter.

“Jake’s an extension of the coach on the court,” Alderson said. “He’s mature beyond his years and everything you want in a point guard to lead the team. To go along with his basketball IQ, Jake has a solid skill set. He shot well from 3-point range and made some incredible passes. You can see he’s a quarterback from the way he plays basketball. He and Shane Stump (TJ’s starting varsity quarterback) had a great connection on the court, finding each other a lot for layups and open shots.

“Jake is a great kid and a coach’s dream. He was moved up to the varsity as a freshman and really flourished as the year went on. By the end of the year, Jake was one of our best players on varsity and a starting point guard in a very tough Class 5A section.”

Martinis, a starting linebacker on the WPIAL champion football team, also secured a starting job on the varsity hoops squad.

“James was not always the tallest kid on the court, whether it be JV or varsity, but he always found a way to get his hands on the ball. His strength was rebounding,” Alderson said. “Aside from being a good rebounder, James is very coachable, a lot like Jake Pugh.

“It’s a lot easier to coach when you have selfless players that will do whatever it takes for the team to win. James knew his job was not to score a lot, but he did all the little things, like rebounding and defending, that will help your team win games.”

The 2017-18 season proved a tough one for Thomas Jefferson at the varsity level as the Jaguars ended up 5-17 overall.

“Starting varsity was a good experience as a freshman,” Pugh said. “Our record showed that we struggled as a varsity team this year, but we played in many close games that in the end turned out not going our way. This led to some of our games looking worse than what they actually were. There are no excuses to be made about the season. We just weren’t able to capitalize when we needed to.

“This offseason, I️ know many of my teammates and I️will be working to get better for next year. I definitely have a lot of room to improve this offseason into next year.”

Alderson graduated from Cal (Pa.) in 2013 with a degree in geographic information systems. He is employed as a transportation permit coordinator at MarkWest Energy, an oil and gas company located at Southpointe in Canonsburg.

He has been coaching the JV team at Thomas Jefferson for three years. He was a ninth grade coach in 2014-15 and a ninth grade assistant in 2013-14.

“The future of TJ basketball is very bright,” Alderson said. “This year’s JV team proved that we have some talent on the way, and with hard work and dedication we can get back to the playoffs and hopefully make some noise in the WPIAL for years to come.”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.