Classic game a family affair for some

As the time drew near for Zach Ottaway to play in the Altoona Mirror Basketball Classic, he got some advice about the event from his older brother, Luke.

“He said, ‘The closer you get to 27 points, you better start cutting down [the shots],” Zach Ottaway said.

The reason for the glass ceiling on the 6-foot-6 Hollidaysburg Golden Tiger’s scoring output is simple: That’s the current boys scoring record for the Classic, and it’s held by Luke Ottaway.

While there is a lot of area pride whenever the Blair senior all-stars take on a dozen of the finest players from the rest of District 6 and District 5, there also will be a lot of family honor at stake when the squads clash on Friday night at Mount Aloysius College, beginning with the girls game at 6:30 p.m.

Zach Ottaway is the third member of his family to play in the game – his sister, Amanda, took part in 2008. Williamsburg’s Eli Fay will be the third Fay to suit up for a Blair County team, as well, and Matt Dry’s older sister, Courtney, was a 2011 Blair team member.

Cambria Heights’ Isaac Vescovi watched his brother, Ian, establish game records for rebounds (14) and blocked shots (10) in the 2010 event, while Altoona’s DeShae Lee watched his older brother, DeRon, dish out seven assists in 2011.

Luke Gallaher helped spark the Central PA boys score a Classic high 127 points in 2011; now his sister, Forest Hills guard Casey Gallaher, will be on the court.

“I was hoping that I would get picked for this game because I wanted to play in it, too,” Casey Gallaher said. “He was happy when I told him. He said, ‘Well, Casey, I assumed you would get picked for it.’ But I was happy.”

Also in the girls game, Hollidaysburg’s Morgan Griffith will follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Taylor.

In addition, there are two players in this year’s game who played with twin siblings during the regular season. Northern Bedford’s Tayler Pressel reached the District 5 Class AA championship game with his brother, Zach. Conemaugh Township’s Lyndy Baer joined with her 2-minute-younger sister Carly to win a 5-A girls title and reach the second round of interdistricts.

“It’s been nice growing up with her because we could practice together, and we’d push each other a lot and we just sometimes like know where we’re going to be on the court. One of the negatives was that we could yell at each other more. That was sometimes rough,” Lyndy Baer said. “We were pretty good at accepting each other’s awards and stuff. We were never jealous because we were so close. We’d just root each other on.”

Vescovi’s ties with the game go back even before there was a Mirror Classic, when it was the Big John Riley Classic pitting top seniors from Cambria County against those in Blair, and the game was at St. Francis University before NCAA rules forced it to be moved to nearby Cresson.

“Ten years ago, I watched my oldest brother play and I thought, ‘This is big time.’ It’s really neat,” Vescovi said. “From my family, it’s kind of surreal.”

Vescovi and Ottaway both are part of Classic royalty. Luke Ottaway also has the game’s 3-point record.

“It was pretty special, because I’ve never been in a game like this before, and I knew my brother and my sister played in it,” Zach Ottaway said. “My brother was the MVP it’d be kind of cool if I could win MVP, too.”

Ottaway said his older brother and sister were instrumental in his progress as a player. Amanda Ottaway played Division I basketball at Davidson.

“She’s the one who told me to start running the floor as a big and accept nothing but perfection with my game,” Zach Ottaway said. “She’s the one that helped me with my fundamentals, and Luke’s the one that helped me with my actual skill development.”

The younger Ottaway is more of a post player where his older brother was a big guard. The Vescovis are just the opposite – Isaac is a guard while Ian played inside.

“I can’t play the same position at [Ian]. That’s what all my brothers did. So I decided I’ll go somewhere that I can play, which is pretty much as a guard. That helped me a lot,” Isaac Vescovi said.

Isaac is the latest of four boys basketball standouts in his household, and his father, Bill, also was a star on the court – “It was cool in the sense that every time you wanted something to do, you had four brothers to play with, so you could always get a game going,” Isaac said – but that also led to some tension.

“When I was in eighth grade, people would come up to me and ask if I was Ian’s little brother. That kind of got to me. I wanted to be better than him. That’s really what drove me the most,” Vescovi said. “They set a high bar for me.”

The Lees also were extremely competitive.

“I would never admit to losing to him, and I know he would never admit to losing to me. We sure had our battles on the court,” DeShae Lee said. “That motivated me to want to be there and have an even bigger impact than he did.”

In fact, the younger Lee rushed back from a broken wrist to play on Friday.

“I just wanted to make sure I get a chance to leave my last impression in this game,” Lee said. “I definitely think it’s an honor to be considered one of the area’s best. Everyone comes around and can have a little fun, because it’s a long, tough season with a lot of emotions, especially this year with my injury. I was definitely a lot more appreciative to be where I was at.”

Ottaway said he might not be able to follow his brother’s advice, but he’s intent on keeping the scoring record in the family.

“If I have the chance, I’ll break it,” Ottaway said, “but I’ll try to stop someone else from getting it.”