By Matt Popchock
In a surprising development originally reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike White, and now being corroborated by other sources, Shaler basketball standout and Class of ’13 Penn State recruit Geno Thorpe is transferring to West Oaks Academy in Orlando, FL for his senior season.
“It’s been real Shaler,” Thorpe, who thanked the North Hills-based district for its support, confirmed on his Twitter account.
According to White, Thorpe cited geographic closeness to his father as the chief reason behind his decision. Still, it’s hard to imagine basketball not being a factor. West Oaks plays in a prep league, which means, in theory, their schedule will be tougher than the average WPIAL schedule, giving Thorpe a chance to fine-tune his skills with and against top talent on a routine basis before he heads to Happy Valley.
“It was a tough decision [to leave Shaler],” Thorpe told the Tribune-Review’s Chris Harlan. “Not from a basketball standpoint, but because of the community. The community has supported me for so long, and I appreciate them for that.”
West Oaks finished 38-1 overall in 2011-12, good for a No. 8 state-wide ranking–regardless of classification–by MaxPreps, and won the NACA (National Association of Christian Athletes) Division I Tournament.
Meanwhile, with Thorpe averaging 21.5 points per game, Shaler went 25-4 overall and was ranked No. 7 in the Commonwealth by MaxPreps, one of its winningest seasons in program history. A disappointing WPIAL Class AAAA Semifinal loss to section rival Pittsburgh Central Catholic kept the Titans just shy of the Palumbo Center, but they eventually made it there anyway, scoring an upset of two-time WPIAL champ Gateway in the state playoffs that was sparked by Thorpe.
This upheaval will not have any effect on his college decision; I spoke to him in the middle of last season, shortly after the death of Joe Paterno. He has always been a big fan of the late PSU icon, and despite everything that has happened at that school, including the recent de-commitment of would-be teammate Brandon Austin, he is high on its revamped basketball program.
As far as the 2012-13 campaign is concerned, this is certainly a damaging blow to the Titans. Thorpe, a Post-Gazette Boys’ Fab 5 selection, has been one of the most highly-regarded guards in the area, and Shaler has already been ravaged by graduation. Given the wisdom of head coach Paul Holzshu, it can still be a competitive team in the long run, and even a playoff team this year, but another championship push now seems highly unlikely.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)