Ex-star Kalafat: Balanced MHS could make run


Any scouting report on Morgantown High's basketball teams from 1998 to 2001 began and ended with the same three words:

Stop Justin Kalafat.

Many of you will remember Kalafat as a high-scoring machine and one of the biggest offensive threats in the North Central Athletic Conference during his three varsity seasons with the Mohigans.

In fact, when the shooting guard and his 20 points-per-game average graduated from MHS, last June, skeptics wondered whether the Mohigans would ever be able to replace his offensive firepower.

Coach Tom Yester's team answered that pivotal question with a 21-3 record and a No. 1 ranking entering tonight's state tournament opener, against Robert C. Byrd, in Charleston.

While Kalafat served as the Mohigans' go-to guy the last time they journeyed to Charleston, in 2000, MHS heads into tonight's clash with a go-to group that includes all five starters.

Is a go-to group better than a go-to guy? Kalafat believes it is.

"This team seems a lot more balanced than the team we had a couple of years ago," said Kalafat, now a freshman student at WVU. "I remember I was the only one in double figures, and now they all are pretty much.

"If you shut down one guy, everybody else can score. The defense really has no guy to focus on. They have to play them all. I would say our team had more size, but this team has more speed. They're not necessarily more athletic; they're just all basketball players. Sometimes, having basketball players is better than having athletes on your team."

Kalafat has followed this year's MHS team from afar, having attended just three games -- Parkersburg South, North Marion and Martinsburg.

He would be among the first to concede he never would have predicted such a gaudy record for MHS back in November. Like most observers, Kalafat thought the Mohigans' lack of size would hurt them in the NCAC.

Then, when he took a look at MHS's offense, which featured four potent outside shooting threats, he realized the lack of height wouldn't be an issue.

"You really don't need a center with the offense they run," Kalafat said. "It hasn't hurt them that much on defense, except when they played (Kevin) Pittsnogle, from Martinsburg, because he was so much bigger (6-10)."

The Mohigans could be faced with the task of defending Cabell Midland's 6-8 Mark Patton in their second game. Nonetheless, Byrd comes first, and Kalafat believes that first-round matchup is a favorable one for the Mohigans, who beat the Flying Eagles in December, 73-63.

"They're familiar with them," Kalafat said. "I think they can definitely make a good run at it. The way they've been playing and the way they came off that West Fairmont game, they can definitely make some noise down there."

Point guard Bobby Prim is the only member of the current MHS team who participated in the Mohigans' last state tournament appearance. He spent most of that season on the junior varsity and played sparingly on the varsity. His teammates will be playing their first game in Charleston.

"It definitely takes a while to adjust to the atmosphere of the place," Kalafat said. "You're not used to the depth perception of playing down below ground with people sitting up above you.

"The games usually start off with a couple of turnovers and airballs because everybody is nervous. By the time you hit midway through the first quarter, you get used to it all."