A winning season.

Two victories in the Holiday Bash tournament at North Allegheny.

A fourth-place finish and a WPIAL playoff berth out of Section 1-2A.

All solid reasons why the Sewickley boys basketball team enjoyed a successful 2023-24 season.

"When reflecting on the season based on the initial circumstances and the passing of coach (Win) Palmer, we felt the players responded extremely well to a multitude of changes and a different style of coaching,” SA coach Jim Dudas said. "As with any program, we had our share of challenges, but we were proud of the way our players embraced these opportunities. And it was interesting to watch them grow and develop as the season went along.

"I wasn’t sure how many had goals of making the playoffs, but as we approached the latter part of our season, they could see that this was a real possibility. The intensity and focus increased as we pursued this challenge. We were actually playing some of our best basketball over the last two weeks, and it was exciting for all to be a part of the playoff format. Unfortunately, we fell a couple of possessions shy in our (playoff) loss to Jeannette, but it was a great experience for our team.”

Sewickley won six of its first eight games to take a 6-2 record into section play. The Panthers went 5-3 at midseason before winning three of five down the home stretch. SA then lost a 52-47 decision to Jeannette in the first round of the playoffs.

"We really never focused on wins or losses, but rather the ability to compete at a higher level with a fairly young group,” Dudas said. "We needed to develop a greater level of intensity in practice and carry that over to game situations. This is one of our major accomplishments over the year and subsequently a reason for the success.”

Dudas was assisted in his first year as SA’s floor boss by Derek Chimner, Mike Fitzgerald and Almany Thiero.

"I think every year is a learning experience as a coach,” Dudas said. "This one was no exception. What made this unique was the approach of the 15 young men in this program.

"Virtually every component of our season, inclusive of practices, games, study halls, team meals, film sessions and more, was an opportunity for us to grow as a team. I have great admiration for this group and consider myself very fortunate to have been around them for the past few months.”

Seniors Jordan Smith, a 5-foot-9 guard, and Alex Wang, a 5-11 guard, and 6-2 junior forward Nolan Donnelly served as team captains for the Panthers in 2023-24.

"Another reason for (our) success was the leadership provided by Jordan, Alex and Nolan,” Dudas said

Smith said advancing to the postseason was a plus for the Panthers.

"I’m very proud of this team,” Smith said. "I feel like a lot of people underestimated us thinking we were just like last year. However, with the help of our great coaching staff and incoming freshmen, True (Robinson) and Garang (Garang), we secured a spot in the playoffs. Although we fell short in the playoffs, I thought this was a very successful season and a learning moment for the underclassmen who have never experienced a playoff scenario.

"I enjoyed playing my last year with all my friends at school and helping our head coach fulfill a must-needed role for the team. I want to thank coach Dudas for a great season and the things he’s done for this team. People don’t know how much he cares and how hard he works, and I hope he gets that recognition.”

Wang, who plans to study biology or biomedical engineering on a traditional pre-med track in college, noted that the Panthers succeeded in accomplishing several goals in 2023-24.

"I’m very proud of our team’s performance and continuous growth this season,” Wang said. "With only a few wins in the past two seasons combined, we had a couple goals. First, surpass our previous seasons’ win total, which we completed early on. Second, win several section games, qualify for the WPIAL playoffs and re-enter Sewickley into the WPIAL basketball competitive landscape discussion, which I firmly believe we accomplished. Anything beyond that would just be icing on the cake.

"On that note, so much of our success this year must be credited to coach Dudas and his dedicated efforts. He, along with the rest of the coaching staff, would always push us during practice to be the best versions of ourselves and would always prepare us extremely well for our games. Although it was disappointing to lose in a such a close fashion in the playoffs away from home, I feel we beat many expectations just being in a position to compete in that game.”

Wang said the team’s senior night recognition ceremony was one of the highlights of the season for himself and for Smith.

"It was just the best environment we’d had at home on a Friday night in a really long time,” Wang said, "and it felt great to get a closely contested win against a section rival.

"Also, I remember being a member of the team a few years back during covid that made a run in the WPIAL playoffs and the amazing environment at all the games. I always wanted to return to experience it one more time, and I’m happy that everyone on our team got that chance.”

Offensively, Sewickley was led this season by 6-3 sophomore forward Lucas Grimsley, who averaged a healthy 15 points per game.

"Our performance was a large improvement over last season,” Grimsley said. "We reached one of our goals, which was to make the playoffs. That was exciting for our school and fan base. Ultimately, we came up a little short in that game.

"Coach Dudas did a tremendous job his first season as head coach. His energy and passion for every player, the team and for the sport of basketball is amazing. Coach Win Palmer was also on our hearts all season. He taught us to stay together no matter how difficult the situation and to always conduct ourselves with dignity.”

Grimsley was complemented by Donnelly, 5-6 sophomore guard Caiden Battles and Garang, a 6-2 freshman forward, who all averaged around 10 ppg.

"Our scoring balanced itself out as the year went along,” Dudas said. "Nolan led us in rebounding with Amare Spencer and True Robinson making significant contributions in this area.”

Spencer is a 6-2 sophomore forward; Robinson is a 6-2 freshman forward.

While Sewickley will lose the two seniors to graduation, 13 players are expected back in 2024-25 including juniors Caleb McAdams and Kurt Armutat at forward, Jack Xu at guard, Henry Latte at center and Donnelly.

Grimsley, Battles, Spencer are the only sophomores currently in the program.

"For the most part, our core group is returning,” Grimsley said, "and we will definitely miss our outgoing senior captains, Alex and Jordan. But as a team we are excited about setting even higher goals next season.

"Each player, each coach can always improve on something. I can improve. The more each one of us improves, the more it makes us a better overall team.”

The SA coaching staff has five top freshmen to work with next season in Garang, Robinson, forwards Ben Terrell and Alex Sanfilippo and guard Grant Karlik.

Dudas is looking for the team to raise its game to another level.

"We believe this group will build upon the base they developed,” Dudas said, "and improve individual skills and team cohesiveness and hopefully the overall record.

"They would like it to make a deeper run in the playoffs and we are confident they will.”

The Panthers finished 13-10 overall and 4-6 in section play this season.

"This was really just the first year of a much larger team development plan, as almost all of the key contributors on the team are underclassmen and have plenty of time left in their high school careers,” Wang said. "Coach Dudas will help lead this team to bigger things as everyone continues to improve their skills and (team) chemistry continues to develop over time.

"I truly believe this group will be one of the best teams in the WPIAL 2A next year.”

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