Mike Mastovich: Tough times sparked undefeated Greater Johnstown boys hoops turnaround

Jan. 7—This past season's adversity has helped mold the Greater Johnstown High School boys basketball team into a winner — again.

The Trojans will bring a 9-0 record into a Saturday afternoon, nonconference game against Tyrone at Doc Stofko Gymnasium.

"We got back to our identity and what it means to wear that Johnstown uniform and the responsibility that comes with it," sixth-year Trojans coach Ryan Durham said. "At times last year, we forgot that and lost our way, even while dealing with injuries, youth and adversity."

A mix of youthful and veteran players used this past season's 7-15 record as motivation. The Trojans decided to work. They wanted to build something special throughout a long offseason.

"Going through rough times, it just really built a hard shell on these guys," said Durham, a former Trojans and Pitt-Johnstown player. "I think they really took it personally in the offseason.

"This offseason might have been the best offseason we had, with guys just digging in from Day 1, guys going to and staying in the weight room.

"About mid-July, we kind of knew what we were going to be this year."

The strongest portion of Greater Johnstown's schedule awaits the Trojans, including Saturday's game against a Tyrone team with a deceiving 4-3 record that includes three losses against teams entering the weekend with a combined 24-2 record.

There is no denying Greater Johnstown's turnaround.

The Trojans have outscored nine opponents 681-403. That's a 30.9-point average margin of victory (75.7-44.8).

Sophomore Donte Tisinger has a team-high 23.8 points a game average, with senior Nyerre Collins next at 22.1 points a game. Both can tear it up from beyond the 3-point arc. Junior Jahmir Collins averages seven points a contest.

"We're really coming together," Durham said.

"The kids could see the progress and what the hard work they put in has done. They just keep building.

"The scary part with this group is that every day they continue to get better and learn because of their youth. They haven't hit the ceiling yet."

This past season was a blip on a long string of success by Greater Johnstown. Durham-coached Trojan teams had won 76 games and three district titles in his first four years with the program prior to the 15-loss season.

Unlike this year, Greater Johnstown opened 2021-22 at 1-4. The Trojans evened their record at 4-4, but injuries and other setbacks piled up, leading to a pair of four-game losing streaks.

The losing record snapped a run of five consecutive Trojans' appearances in the District 6 title game (four of those under Durham).

Greater Johnstown won the District 6 Class 4A title in 2021, while claiming gold in District 6-5A in 2020 and 2019.

The Trojans were District 6-4A runner-up during Durham's first season as coach in 2018.

Former coach Rich Price led Greater Johnstown to a District 6 Class 4A crown during his final season in 2017.

"We're still fairly young," said Durham, whose team is in District 6 Class 4A this season with Central, Juniata and Somerset.

The next few weeks will provide the Trojans one challenging opponent after another in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.

Among some of the anticipated matchups are at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (7-1) on Wednesday, at home against Penn Cambria (9-0) on Jan. 20 and Central (8-0 entering Friday's games) on Jan. 25.

Games against rivals such as Bishop McCort Catholic, Westmont Hilltop, Richland, Forest Hills and Bishop Carroll Catholic also await.

"This team has taken a lot of pride in representing what our program stands for and trying to get it back to what it was prior to last year," Durham said.

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.