By Matt Parrino firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The North Tonawanda basketball team was young last season. With three sophomores in the starting lineup, not many had high expectations for the Lumberjacks.
But by the end of the season, youthful inexperience started to give way to a budding chemistry that helped NT put a scare in Niagara Frontier League power Niagara Falls in the playoffs.
The Jacks' talent level was undeniable but they had to learn how to win first. Now, one year older, a loaded junior class has many in the Western New York community tabbing NT as an NFL favorite this season.
NT coach Ryan Mountain has kept the message simple from the start of practice: nobody wins anything in November.
"It's something we addressed Day One — we're going to keep our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground, and stay grounded," he said. "Those are all opinions of other people and the greatest opponent is the one that lies within. We're going to stick to our only expectation: to be the best team we can possible be. Hopefully that team goal can translate into an extension of our season into March."
The Jacks have their own version of the ultra-popular 'Big 3' this season in senior Joe Piotrowski and juniors Chris Woodard and Nehemiah Stone.
Woodard is an inside and outside threat who can run the floor and make teams pay with his defensive prowess in the paint. Stone runs the show and often pushes the pace for the Jacks, who relied on his consistent energy and playmaking abilities last season.
Piotrowski has a high basketball IQ and has spent six days a week in the gym for the past year preparing for his season. Mountain expects big things out of all three players.
"We've all worked on our games in the offseason, maybe none more than Joe," Mountain said. "He's a basketball player first. A lot of the other kids are other sports like football first. Joe has worked six days a week for the last year, and he looks good and is real confident.
"Nehemiah played a lot of basketball and Chris is that rare cerebral athlete who is coachable," he continued. "You tell him something once and he remembers it. His body has improved and he's grown into a man. We've all put in the time and hopefully it will pay off."
Junior Donovan Book and senior Mike Awad will fill out the NT starting lineup. Seniors Alex Billie and Christian Lemke will be first off the bench, and Mountain said their experience, leadership and skill sets will have a big impact on both ends.
Guards Jake Ferry and Kiel
Davignon and center Adam McNeil both bring toughness off the bench, and Mountain expects to go nine or 10 deep in most games this season. Up from JV, Ryan McDonough, Ryan Gilbert, James Garavaglia and Drew Krantz have all looked good in practice, Mountain said.
Practices have been very competitive and Mountain said he's been happy with the progress and the overall mindset of his team. As for the league title, Mountain knows the Jacks have a target on their back and he's preparing his players for that dynamic once the games start tonight.
"Coach Mountain talks about it sometimes, he says 'We're the team everybody wants to beat this year and we're the team people are going to prepare for,'" Woodard said. "But you keep that in the back of your mind. You have to prepare to play every game, and at the end of the year we want to be playing for a championship."Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.