After historic 2016-17 season, Northeastern boys' basketball team prepares for encore

Patrick Strohecker
York Dispatch
  • Northeastern is coming off a 30-3 season in 2016-17, the best in program history.
  • The Bobcats won Division I, the Y-A League tournament and the District 3 5-A tournament last season.
  • Northeastern returns its top two scorers from last year, Antonio Rizzuto (19.0 ppg) and Fred Mulbah (17.0 ppg).

The hardest thing to do in almost any endeavor — sports, music, film, etc. — is successfully pull off an encore.

Northeastern senior Antonio Rizzuto, who is signed to play for the University at Albany in college, returns after leading the Bobcats in scoring in 2016-17 with 19.0 points per game. John A. Pavoncello

Typically, when a first act is breathtaking, it's all anyone can remember. The second act then gets compared — usually unfavorably — to the first.

The Northeastern boys' basketball team is facing that challenge this season. After having the best season in program history in 2016-17, the question raised is: "How can this team top last year?"

"We take it one game at a time," senior Nate Eyster said last month during winter sports media day. "Just focus on what's ahead of us and try not to look ahead."

Whether it's on or off the court, there's a looseness and confidence with the Bobcats.

During media day, the players couldn't stop laughing. On the basketball court, they might be even more confident, playing with a swagger that never disappears, throwing each other alley-oops and, at times, making it seem like they want to embarrass their opponents.

Memorable season: Individually, the players know each one is good, but, together, they make the team great. It showed on the floor last season when the Bobcats rattled off win after win and collected trophy after trophy.

Meadville's Simeal Wofford looks to get the ball past Northeastern's Fred Mulbah during PIAA Class 5A boys basketball semifinal action at Altoona High School in Altoona, Monday, March 20, 2017. Mulbah scored 17.0 points per game for the Bobcats last season, helping the team capture Division I, Y-A League tournament and District 3 5-A titles. Dawn J. Sagert photo

They started by winning the York-Adams League Division I title in the team's first year competing in the top division. Northeastern then went on to roll to a Y-A League tournament crown, the first in program history. That was topped by the program's first District 3 championship, grabbing the Class 5-A crown.

Lastly, there was the state tournament run to the PIAA semifinals before coming up two wins short of being the best 5-A program in Pennsylvania. All together, the Bobcats went 30-3.

It was a joyous ride that the team, and the entire Northeastern fan base, reveled in.

This season, the goal for the team will be to try and distance itself from what was accomplished last year. Every step of the way, people will want to compare game-by-game results to how things played out a season ago.

This year's Northeastern squad must somehow make this season stand alone.

"We're not really thinking about how we made it deep into the playoffs," senior Fred Mulbah said at media day. "We're thinking about our first game and going from there."

Some key losses: There were losses from last year's team, most notably Brandon Coleman and Austin Greene, who both graduated. Coleman was the third-leading scorer on a Bobcats team that averaged 71.6 points per game, the most in the Y-A League. His 14.3 points-per-game will surely be missed, while Greene's 9.6 average and willingness to play any role asked of him also won't be easy to replace.

However, pretty much everything else will remain the same from a year ago, and possibly get even better.

University at Albany signee Antonio Rizzuto is back for his senior season after leading Northeastern in scoring as a junior at 19.3 points per game and leading the league with 91 3-pointers. Coupled with Mulbah, who put up 17.0 points per game, the two created arguably the most dynamic backcourt in the league a season ago. 

The addition of D.J. Hamilton from York Country Day will help Northeastern replace two key players lost to graduation. John A. Pavoncello

For rivals, seeing both of them back is worrisome, but the Bobcats will be more than just Rizzuto and Mulbah. Nate Wilson is back as just a sophomore after starting as a freshman, and Eyster will likely start down low, even though Northeastern is a team that more or less plays five guards and spreads out the defense.

Then, there's the addition of D.J. Hamilton from York Country Day, where he won back-to-back District 3 1-A titles as a sophomore and junior the previous two seasons.

Enjoying being the target: All of this together easily makes the Bobcats the team to beat, not just in the Y-A League, but in District 3 5-A, as well.

"Being the target makes it more fun to win," Rizzuto said. 

Northeastern gets its season underway on Friday night, Dec. 8, in its tip-off tournament against York-Adams Division III contender Delone Catholic.

It'll be just the first of many games in which everyone waits to see what the Bobcats have in store for an encore.

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at