Sunday, November 19, 2023 | 5:19 PM
The Highlands boys basketball program has been among the elite programs in whatever classification it’s been in 10 years, and the expectation is to be a force again among an elite Class 4A crop.
Having a future NCAA Division I forward certainly helps the Golden Rams’ prospects.
Bradyn Foster, a 6-foot-8 Penn recruit, is one of three returning starters along with Cam Reigard and Jordyn Tavarez from a team that made the WPIAL semifinals and second round of the PIAA playoffs last season.
“He’s been starting since he was a sophomore and got some valuable experience as a freshman,” Highlands coach Corey Dotchin said of Foster. “He’s continued to get better in all aspects of the game. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on him with what we lost in our senior class from last year. Teams are going to focus on him a little bit more than they could last year. I’m really looking for him to expand and grow on his leadership abilities and his playmaking ability. If he can do that, I think we have the pieces around him to perform the way we expect them to and be in the mix in Class 4A.”
Highlands will have to replace Jimmy Kunst, a four-year starter and 1,600 point-scorer at point guard, and Chandler Thimons, who brought a lot of toughness and intangibles.
Dotchin said junior Ali Shareef will take over at point guard after being a key contributor off the bench last year.
“It’s kind of been the long-term plan for him,” Dotchin said. “He’s a hard worker. He does a lot of things on his own. He really mapped out the areas that he needed to get better at, and I’m expecting a big junior season out of him. He’s put the time in, and we have all the confidence in him as a coaching staff and his teammates do as well. It just comes down to him realizing his ability to do it.”
With the three returning starters and Shareef in the lineup, there’s still one more spot to be determined as well as who will make an impact off the bench.
“The last spot in the starting lineup is up for grabs,” Dotchin said. “We have Tommy Callender, who’s a senior that didn’t get much time for us last year due to the depth we had, but he’s been in the program since he was a freshman. He’s a very smart kid basketball IQ wise, and he’s a team guy. Those are the type of guys we need. Troy Bielak, who’s a sophomore, had a really good spring and summer. He actually grew and is about 6-foot-2 now. Aaran Randolph, who’s a standout on the football team, is back out for the team. We definitely see the intangibles he can bring with his physicality and athleticism, which can help us.”
They are in with Hampton, Freeport, Knoch, Indiana and Greensburg Salem. Highlands finished second to Hampton last season but beat the Talbots in the playoffs before falling to Lincoln Park in the semifinals. Lincoln Park also ousted the Golden Rams in the state tournament.
Class 4A is expected to be a juggernaut just like it was last year.
“In my opinion, 4A was the best classification top to bottom last year and I think it is even more so this year with the likes of Lincoln Park, North Catholic, Uniontown, Belle Vernon, Laurel Highlands, South Allegheny, Quaker Valley, Montour, Hampton and us,” Dotchin said. “I think Knoch is going to open some eyes, as well, even though they are young. There’s some different playing styles that you see. We just have to make sure we’re prepared for everything once we get into the playoffs. That’s been our M.O., and it’s worked out well for us in the past.”
Highlands boys at a glance
Coach: Corey Dotchin
Last year’s record: 22-6 (8-2 Section 1-4A)
Returning starters: Bradyn Foster (Sr., F), Cam Reigard (Sr., G), Jordyn Tavarez (Sr., G)
Top newcomers: Troy Bielak (So., G)
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer