REPOSTED from The Times Tribune BY MATT BUFANO
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — High school players, coaches and administrators filed into a news conference Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena, which, come Thursday, will be the epicenter of local basketball.
“If you’re a basketball fan, if you’re a basketball junkie, you need to be at the arena this weekend,” said Hazleton Area girls coach Joe Gavio. “Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you’ll see what you read about: the best teams in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton area.”
The home of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will host 12 District 2 championship games Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s going to be everything,” said GAR senior Keyshawn Palmer, whose third-seeded Grenadiers will play top-seeded Scranton Prep on Saturday at 4 p.m. for the Class 4A boys title. “This is what we dreamed of since we were in seventh grade, first playing basketball. It’s going to be a bigger court, bigger experience, bigger crowd.”
Given the PIAA’s recent expansion from four to six classifications in basketball, last season’s championship weekend lasted only Friday and Saturday with four fewer games.
Nonetheless, it was a universal success, bringing in 10,167 fans.
“This will truly be a rewarding experience for our member schools, the student-athletes, their families and friends, as they participate in this first-class event here at the Mohegan Sun Arena,” District 2 athletic committee chairman Frank Majikes said.
Commemorative 48-page programs — featuring photos, rosters and descriptions of all 24 teams involved — will be sold during the games.
Partial proceeds from ad sales will benefit the rehabilitation of pediatric patients at Allied Services, as well as the $1,000 “Miracle Shot” one fan will take during halftime of each game.
“I can’t imagine young people coming into this arena and walking down onto this court and feeling the energy in this arena,” said Allied Services president and CEO Bill Conaboy, whose company employs coaches, referees and parents that will be involved this weekend.
As Mohegan Sun Arena staff assembled the court Tuesday, Nanticoke Area girls basketball coach Alan Yendrziewski reflected on one of the most recent times he’d seen hardwood — rather than ice — at the arena.
“The WNBA was here … it was Connecticut and San Antonio,” he said. “I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but it was a preseason game and I sat maybe four or five rows off the court. It was pretty neat. Just to get close up to the action is neat.
“Now, we’re going to be real close to the action.”
In all, 14 participants are representing the Lackawanna League and nine from the Wyoming Valley Conference. District 4’s Williamsport rounds out the field in Class 6A boys.
There are four schools with both boys and girls teams playing for a championship: Abington Heights, Hazleton Area, Holy Redeemer and Susquehanna.
The first district championship last year at the arena featured Holy Redeemer beating Holy Cross, 52-47, for the Class 2A girls title.
Redeemer boys head coach Paul Guido attended as a fan, while this year he’ll be coaching the Royals 8 p.m. Thursday against Mid Valley in Class 3A.
“My guys are thrilled, man, they’re pumped,” Guido said. “I just feel great for them because this is something they said they wanted to do from the beginning of the year.”
One of the teams playing in a district final for a second straight year is Gavio’s Hazleton Area team, which shot the lights out in a 70-32 defeat of Pittston Area for the 2016 Class 4A championship.
Likening Mohegan Sun Arena to Hershey’s Giant Center, Gavio called the local arena as good a venue as there is in the state.
“Even though we’ve been there,” he said, “our team is very, very excited.”
Tickets for the finals will be $7 for adults and $4 for students. While one ticket is good for as many games that are played on a certain day, there is no free re-entry.