A ‘Classic’ case of ‘what if?’
Readers of our newspaper should be pulling out their sports pages to read about last night’s Altoona Mirror Basketball Classic.
It could have been one of the most memorable yet, with at least seven future NCAA Division I girls players set to lace up their shoes and one of the strongest Blair County boys teams since the Mirror Classic began in 2006, extending the Big John Riley Game, which started in 1984.
But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
The Mirror Classic was officially canceled on March 13 after Penn State Altoona, the scheduled host of the game, closed its facilities.
A day before that, basketballs were dribbled in meaningful games across the state for the last time to date as the PIAA wrapped up most of its second-round state playoff games.
There still has yet to be an official decision to cancel that tournament — six teams from the Mirror coverage area are still alive in the PIAA quarterfinals — but Ohio’s PIAA equivalent decided to cancel its tournament earlier this week after originally postponing it just before the PIAA did.
Some fun storylines could have taken place in this year’s Classic.
Eleven girls from Mike Reed’s CPA Dynamite AAU team were set to participate in the annual Blair County vs. Central PA game.
They included Halee Smith, Caranda Perea, Hayden Taylor, Jamison Consiglio, Maya Bokunewicz, Emilie Leidig, Sakeria Haralson, Chloe Weakland, Kylie Metzger, Allison Hileman and Stevie Webber. A 12th player, Alli Campbell, also was once a member of the program.
Every former Dynamite player will continue their basketball career in college.
“The biggest thing though is the love and respect that these girls have for each other, and the fans would have gotten to see just how unselfish these kids have been with each other,” Reed said. “Every one of them is a star at their school, and each of them gave up some of themselves to make the team successful.”
Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney had committed to coaching the Blair County girls in the game. Swaney picked up his 500th career win earlier this season and had the Lady Blue Devils three wins away from their third straight PIAA Class 2A title when the season was halted.
The veteran coach could have been playing four of his regular starters — Campbell, Haralson, Leidig and Macy Decker — on the court at the same time for Blair County.
“From my end, it would have been the perfect way to end our season and my seniors’ high school careers,” Swaney said. “I have had the privilege of coaching in both the John Riley and Altoona Mirror Classic four previous times. It is always a great time for the kids and one of the best organized all-star games you will find anywhere. I feel very bad for the current groups of seniors from every school. They have had so much taken from them through no fault of their own.”
Speaking of Campbell, it’s likely that Blair County’s all-time leading scorer would have missed the game anyway if the coronavirus had not changed our way of living. She was selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic in Chicago, just another of the tremendous accomplishments she reached while making a name for herself as the best female to play the sport in the area.
On the Blair County boys side, Bishop Guilfoyle coach Chris Drenning would have been in a similar situation as Swaney. Four of his five starters, Jessiah Witherspoon, Kyle Ruggery, Michael Montecalvo and Will Helton, were selected.
The Marauders wouldn’t have had to shake off much rust for the game, either. BG was another team just three wins from a state title, and their style of play would have fit perfectly into an all-star game atmosphere.
Then there’s Tristan McDannell of Bishop Carroll.
When McDannell last saw a competitive court, he was sinking three straight free throws with his Huskies down by two and 1.6 seconds left against Shade in the PIAA’s second round.
For McDannell, it wouldn’t have been his first Mirror Classic. As a small child, he thrilled the audience with an impromptu halftime pickup game years ago.
Not getting a chance to see this final showcase for some of the biggest basketball stars our area has seen in decades is a tough pill to swallow.
But a nice cure would be the PIAA somehow announcing that the state tournament will be completed against all odds to give the players still alive in it one last chance to shine.
Michael Boytim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 946-7521