By Matt Popchock
When someone says “Geno,” chances are you think of the soft-spoken man from Magnitogorsk putting the Penguins on his back.
But there’s another Geno in town, and this one not only wears a different number, but aims to dominate a different winter sport. Still, No. 23 in white is just as eager as No. 71 in black to lead his team to a championship.
Shaler is in search of its first gold medals in the history of its boys’ basketball program. Ever since senior guard Geno Thorpe transferred from Shady Side Academy, the Titans have found an identity as one of the most indomitable teams in Quad-A.
He led his team to the WPIAL Quarterfinals last season, and this season, Thorpe, once again, is one of the top scorers in the district, ranking second in the classification with nearly 23 points per game entering February. Shaler, once again, is in firm control of its own destiny atop Section 3.
I caught up with Geno after one of the Titans’ recent wins, and here’s what he had to say about his experiences at Shaler, the rest of the 2011-12 season, and his verbal commitment to the fledgling program at Penn State:
Does it feel like the team is coming together at the right time?
“Ever since we began the second half of our section schedule, it seems like we all know each other, and are used to playing with each other. That makes the game easier for me.”
How does the team build off its solid play recently?
“Just keep getting better. [That's the goal], to keep getting better in practice. We push each other every day in practice.”
What’s been the key to your own success?
“Working hard, and putting in hours after practice…and before practice…a lot of individual workouts. My jump shot is a little bit better this year, which really opens things up for me. It’s been a really good season so far.”
What’s been the biggest difference between playing at Shaler and playing at Shady Side?
“Here I’m with kids I was with my whole life. I’ve been playing with them since I was in seventh grade…so we click a lot better.”
What inspired you to choose Penn State?
“(Head coach) Pat Chambers was a big part of it. He just signed a big player, Brandon Taylor, who’s going there next year, and I knew I wanted to play with Brandon. That made my decision easy.”
Would you like to see other WPIAL players go there? They did offer Sheldon Jeter too…
“It’s nice to see Penn State looking at WPIAL players. I think Jeter’s between Penn State, Wisconsin, and South Carolina, so hopefully he picks Penn State.”
So I take it you were a JoePa fan?
“Yeah…as a fan, it’s tough to see Joe go. He did great at Penn State, and left a long legacy. I guess it was just his time.”
Was that recruiting tale a matter of you finding them, or them finding you, or both?
“It was a little bit of both. When Pat Chambers first got to Penn State, he knew I was about staying to close to home, because my mother is a single parent. So once he got to know me, that made things easy.”
What do the Titans need to do to be playing at the Palumbo Center?
“Play defense. We need to continue to get better [in that area], with all five of us rebounding. We need to play the way we’re playing right now, and hopefully we’ll be successful down the road.”
Shaler has now won 13 in a row overall after Friday’s 76-49 blowout of North Hills, and the Titans (10-1, 19-2), having already clinched the outright section championship, will end their regular season next Friday at 7:30 at Pine-Richland.
To learn more about Geno and his team, check out this great piece by Sam Werner in Friday’s Post-Gazette.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)