One town’s name keeps popping up on college basketball rosters all over the place, up and down the East Coast.
From New England to Florida — and many stops in between — “Latrobe” is a common hometown among lists that also include jersey numbers, classes, heights and positions.
Latrobe graduates, men and women, are playing at the Division I, II and III levels. And many are making a significant impact, a few as starters in their early years at the next level.
Latrobe basketball is about family. Siblings pass the torch to one another as they try to establish their own legacies, while bringing more pride to their last names.
Butler, Fenton, Graytok, Mueseler, Sobota … the list goes on. And it carries on.
“Any player from any town who goes on to play basketball at the collegiate level, with very few exceptions, has some common traits,” Latrobe boys basketball coach Brad Wetzel said. “They worked when nobody was watching, and they appreciated — not necessarily liked — being pushed by their coaches and others around them.
“This, combined with a desire to be the absolute best they could be, would be a trait that is common with those who go on to play four more years of college basketball. … They had something inside that made them unique.”
Austin Butler is a third-year starting guard at Holy Cross. Latrobe’s all-time leading scorer in the boys program is averaging 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds this season in five games for the Crusaders.
The 6-foot-5 junior started all 33 games last season and put up 12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals.
He said basketball is ingrained in Latrobe players at a young age, that aspiring youth get a glimmer in their eyes when they attend Wildcats games.
“I think basketball around the area is getting more buzz and hype over the past couple of years, and younger kids come to the games and see these talents night-in and night-out,” Butler said. “Right away, they want be in our shoes one day.”
Shippensburg junior guard Jake Biss was one of the WPIAL’s top point guards when he played at Latrobe. These days, he is a 16.3 point-per-game scorer in the PSAC.
He also is averaging 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists for the Raiders (6-1), who are coached by Latrobe grad Chris Fite.
“We all have a love for the game,” the 6-2 Biss said. “We all knew we wanted to play after high school, and we knew the amount of work we had to put in to get to that level. Countless hours in the gym and weight room getting as many reps as possible.
“Sean and I would run countless hills, and we would go to the sand volleyball courts at Legion Keener (Park) to do agility workouts in the summer. We knew what it took, and we all had that dog mentality, simple as that.”
Freshman Reed Fenton worked his way into the starting five at Lehigh after a stellar career at Latrobe. Fenton, a 6-4 guard, recently had 14 points and four assists in a win for the Mountain Hawks (3-4) over Misericordia.
Fenton said he can only speak to his personal experiences coming out of Latrobe.
“I know for me, it was just being surrounded by my older brother and my dad who pushed me to get better,” he said. “Also, growing up with the Biss family and working out with Jake all the time definitely helped me a lot. Same thing with the Butlers. We all just have worked out together and helped each other reach our goals.”
Wetzel said the flare-up of college talent began a decade ago.
“I think something happened when we finally got over the hump in 2009,” Wetzel said. “Many of the youth clinics and programs we were running had players — as well as our middle school players — there to witness the nets come down (to celebrate a section title). This town has supported us, and many boys grew up and came of age thinking, ‘Why not me? Why can’t I, too, cut down the nets?’ ”
Other Wildcat alums playing collegiately include:
• Bryce Butler, a freshman at West Liberty, has played in all six games and averages 8.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per game.
• Madison Kollar, a junior forward at Saint Vincent, is averaging 14.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 25.3 minutes a game for the Bearcats (3-1). She scored 22 against Baldwin-Wallace. Kollar missed the 2017-18 season with a foot injury.
• Laura Graytok, a sophomore guard at American in Washington, D.C., is seeing increased minutes in the second year of her college career.
• Senior Sean Graytok is a reserve guard for the Coast Guard Academy. He has started 23 games in his career while providing 5.1 points and 1.2 assists.
• Freshman Mackenzie Markle is a starting forward at Westmoreland County Community College, which resumed its program after having to cancel last season. Markle has been an effective frontcourt presence for the Wolfpack (2-4) with 15.2 points and 11.8 rebounds.
“We have been blessed with some young athletes who, at a young age, fell in love with the game of basketball,” Latrobe girls coach Mark Burkhardt said. “All of these players were willing to work extremely hard to reach their academic and basketball goals. Something that I believe that they all learned at Latrobe was to give their maximum effort every time they step in a classroom and on a basketball court.”
Austin Butler said Wetzel and his assistants have created a true culture.
“Coach Wetzel and the staff deserve a lot of that credit because the success is behind the scenes with all the work they put in for us past players and the work they put in for the present players now,” Butler said. “And Coach Wetzel never loses connections, and that’s something very special.”