The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


January 31, 2013

Jon Gerardi's boys basketball column: Milton starting to turn the corner

When his team got onto the bus after their final game last season, Milton coach Steve DeLong turned to his players and told them they were already better than everybody in the league.

That may be a strange thing to say of a team that just ended the season with a disappointing 6-16 record, but the Black Panthers coach -- now in his third season -- knew what he was talking about.

Milton would lose just one player to graduation and have plenty of talented players returning, whereas many teams in the league would lose pieces of successful teams.

Some may have thought DeLong was crazy to suggest his team was already better at season's end, but looking at them this year, it's not that crazy after all.

The Black Panthers are currently sitting at 10-6 after Tuesday's loss to Southern Columbia, and need just one more win to ensure a District 4 playoff berth, which would be its first since the 2009-10 season.

Milton also has a chance to match or exceed its win total from the last three seasons combined (12) with seven games remaining on the schedule.

"We got better just by the guys that we knew we had coming back," DeLong said. "I know a lot of people weren't expecting what we've done, but I've always believed that we could make a run this year."

They're making one.

It obviously starts with the five on the court and, luckily for DeLong, the Milton seniors have been stepping up this year.

"If they hadn't, we wouldn't be (11-6) right now. I think if you talk to any coach and you talk to them about the success of their season, usually it has to do with a couple seniors leading the way and that's no different for us," DeLong said. "I knew that was going to be the strength of our team this year. Those guys -- Michael Jacobs, Ty Kling, Chad Diggan, Brandon Rogers -- they started to show signs of leadership last year, but they weren't quite ready last year to fill that role. But this year's different. It's their team."

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