Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wpial Contingent Helps Shippensburg to Impressive Start

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wpial Contingent Helps Shippensburg to Impressive Start

Article excerpt

Try as they might, the WPIAL Five at Shippensburg University can not convince their teammates that carbonated beverages should be referred to as pop, not soda.

"They won't buy into it," said Antonio Kellem, a graduate of Lincoln Park. "They're staying with soda ... for now."

That's OK, because this quintet of local products is providing all the pop necessary for an unbeaten Raiders basketball team that is off to its best start in school history.

Junior forward Dustin Sleva of Montour High is the veteran of the bunch, the player who helped turn Division II Shippensburg into WPIAL central three years ago.

Viewed as one of the top players in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, Sleva said there is nothing like playing with familiar faces.

"We're all tight and we all have a great bond," said Sleva, a McKees Rocks resident who averages 21.0 points and 11.8 rebounds. "You can see those things when we're on the court together."

So much so that Shippensburg has raced to an 8-0 overall record, including 5-0 in the PSAC Eastern Division, with three former district stars in the starting lineup.

In addition to Sleva, the others are sophomore guard Kellem and freshman center John Castello of Mars. Kellem averages 13.0 points and Castello 10.9 points and 9.5 rebounds.

Castello replaced another WPIAL alum, sophomore Manny Span of Altoona, in the starting lineup two games into the season after the latter sustained a knee injury. The fifth district product, freshman guard Daylon Carter of Ambridge, contributes 2.8 points off the bench.

"The guys from the Pittsburgh area have a family-type relationship," said Kellem, who leads Shippensburg with a .415 shooting percentage from 3-point range. "It's not that we don't have great relationships with all of our teammates, but it's just nice to be around guys from where you grew up. We've known each other, we've played with or against each other in high school or in AAU. There's that familiarity."

There is also that Pittsburgh passion.

"We talk about the Pirates, the Steelers, Pitt, whatever," Kellem said. "And of course, we talk about Primanti sandwiches. I tell our other teammates that they don't know what they're missing."

On Dec. 5, Sleva was named the PSAC Eastern Division Player of the Week and Castello was selected as Rookie of the Week. Each has been honored twice during this amazing start by the Raiders.

The man behind it all is coach Chris Fite, another WPIAL alum who graduated from Latrobe High in the late '80s.

In just four seasons, he has built a bustling pipeline from Pittsburgh to Shippensburg, which is a 2-hour, 45-minute drive from town.

"The WPIAL guys are all hard-nosed and they know how to play the game," said Fite, who welcomes Latrobe senior point guard Jake Biss next season. …

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