Two months ago, the top priority for any basketball coach in the area was fighting to get their kids back on the court. In a year that was almost lost because of the pandemic, any playing time is worth it.
With a limited schedule in a condensed season, U-Prep’s boys basketball team scheduled up to face Pleasant Valley, winners of three of the past four Northern Section Division III champions. But the Panthers, the two-time defending NSCIF D-IV champs, didn’t shy away from the challenge and took down the Vikings at home and finished the week with a win over Northern Athletic League foe Anderson to be named the Tri Counties Bank Boys Basketball Team of the Week.
“It was awesome to start the year,” U-Prep coach Mark Stephens said. “(I’m) so thankful to have the kids back in the gym playing again.”
The PV game was a litmus test for how far the U-Prep program has come. The Panthers weathered an 8-0 run at the end of the first half and outscored the Vikings 12-6 over the final 3 minutes, getting double-digit scoring outputs from Connor Gilbreath, Tanner Stephens, Aiden Lipman and Kameron Morphew. Even athletic senior guard Kevin Cox’s five points were all timely.
U-Prep parlayed that win into a 74-45 rout of Anderson the next night. Against PV, only five players scored for the Panthers but nine found their way into the box score against the Cubs with Stephens leading the way with 19. Lipman added 13 points and Cox chipped in 12.
U-Prep is back in action at home against West Valley on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.