By Greg Gulas
The recently completed USA “3-on-3” national basketball tournament included a bevy of national talent. Two Mahoning Valley players helped their respective teams to a silver medal and final-four finish.
Boardman’s Holden Lipke and Struthers’ Carson Ryan participated in this year’s event, which took place April 7-9 at the U.S. Olympic Training Site in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Lipke, a junior, helped lead Western PA Elite Gold to a silver medal finish. Ryan, a freshman, was instrumental in the Western PA Elite Black squad advancing to the final-four round. Eighteen teams competed in the 18U bracket.
“To be around so many great players, not just on your team but others that you went up against was a humbling experience,” Lipke said. “The talent and skill level was exactly what I expected it to be and will only give me confidence as I move forward.”
Lipke’s team went 5-1, falling short in the title tilt.
He said the experience has helped him.
“I didn’t know where I stood, but felt like I held my own and definitely learned a lot,” he said.
A 6-foot-4 guard-forward, Lipke has been a three-year starter for head coach Pat Birch, leading the team in scoring (14) while placing second in rebounding (6.5) and assists (2.5) last season.
He was a first-team All-America Conference Red Tier selection and first-team district all-star. He earned second-team NEO Inland District and was an honorable mention All-Ohio pick.
“Holden has been a major factor in the turnaround of our program,” Birch said. “He is a dedicated player that has put time into getting better, which has been evident with his on-court performance and statistical improvement each year.
” I have been very proud of his development and am anxiously looking forward to watching him mature as a leader,” Birch said.
“The trip to Colorado to compete in a national tournament was an awesome experience and a credit to his skill and dedication to the game,” Birch said. “It’s also a great recognition for our basketball program.”
Ryan helped the Wildcats to records of 15-8 overall mark and 8-4 AAAC White Tier. He averaged 7.5 points per game, 5.2 caroms, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals and was the only freshman invited to participate.
“It was an incredible experience; absolutely fantastic,” Ryan said. “This was a dream come true for me. It was truly an amazing time.”
Jim Franceschelli, Wildcats head coach, said the experience will help Ryan’s overall game.
“What an experience for one of our players to play in such a high-caliber event, especially one that is hosted by Team USA,” Franceschelli said. “Our program is lucky to have a player like Carson and we look for him to on to be one of our team leaders over the next three years.
“His success didn’t happen overnight as he puts in countless hours every week on his own and in the weight room,” Franceschelli said. “We couldn’t be more proud of the way that he represents the Struthers basketball program.”
USA Basketball national director Joe Lewandowski has a connection with local AAU coach Mark Metzka. They were teammates while playing professionally in Denmark and both are graduates of Slippery Rock University.
Lewandowski has hopes that the the annual competition will attract Mahoning Valley talent.
“Holden and Carson are both great kids, each of whom possesses a ton of talent,” Lewandowski said. “Carson is a tough, hard-nosed player and one of the youngest, yet most competitive to have competed in tournament.
“Holden is incredibly skilled and was without question, one of the best shooters in the entire tournament,” Lewandowski said. “Both players possess high basketball IQs.”
Metzka serves as head coach of Team Cure, which is an AAU entry under the JBL Hoops umbrella.
“This was a tremendous opportunity for two extremely talented players from our Valley,” Metzka said. “It was the first year that we were able to send more than one team to the national competition.
“it is our hope to send multiple players and teams, not just in the boys division but the girls division as well.”