Chucks stressing defense and intensity in first week

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsy boys' basketball team — which features a half-dozen football players — is looking to use the school's football success as a jumping-off point in 2010-2011, rather than worrying about last year's struggles on the hardword.

The Chucks finished 4-17 overall in 2009-2010, including 0-12 in the D9 League. But rather than looking back to last season, Punxsy has its sights set on the year at hand under first-year head coach Dirk Neal

"They're really focused. The attention level and the want roll over from the football season," Neal said. "Coming from an undefeated (football regular) season, that's just a bonus. They're hungry to win, they've been winning, and they want to continue to win."

With just three seniors last season, Punxsy battled inexperience. Not helping matters was the fact that five of the Chucks' first seven losses were by six points or fewer.

With some early-season success, Neal feels the team can flip the script from last year.

"The key is getting a couple of early wins in the year to let the kids see and know they can do it and get those struggles put behind them," Neal said.

A main focus of the first week has been defense, defense and some more defense. During each of Punxsy's victories last year, it held the competition under 50 points.

"Just to take that defensive word a step further, the intensity and enthusiasm, I think, are really coming back to the team," Neal said. "When you're playing defense with that kind of intensity and enthusiasm, things start rolling forward rather quickly."

Even though this is Neal's first year as the team's head coach, he's been part of the system for a long time. Neal, a 1981 PAHS graduate, has been part of Punxsy's basketball program since the late '90s, having coached at least one season at every level from seventh grade to junior-varsity until getting the varsity gig for the first time this year.

Unlike most new coaches, who sometimes take a while to transition, Neal feels right at home.

"I've always had a good relationship with all these guys coming up through the program," Neal said. "I've been with them at the elementary level and seen them at some level clear to where they're at now."