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Keystone Recruiting

Up Close with PSR: Altoona Mountain Lions

By Greg Washington


The Altoona Mountain Lions downed State College 65-59 last night to capture the PIAA District 6 championship last night at St. Francis University. Altoona defeated Central Mountain 77-45 on Saturday to put themselves in position to win their first District 6 title since 2003, when they also defeated State College.


Altoona has now won nine District 6 titles since 1984, the most recent coming under the leadership of senior point guard Jesse Betar, who averages 17 points and 8 assists per game. Jesse, the son of Altoona coach Larry Betar, has seen his recruiting value increase after a solid performance in a 59-48 victory over Brian Walsh’s Moon Tigers. PSR’s Greg Washington spoke with Jesse and coach Larry Betar about Jesse’s performance against Moon and Jesse’s plan to play basketball at the next level.


PSR:  What is it like to have the opportunity to coach your son?

Coach Larry Betar:  It’s been a wonderful experience. This is my first year back coaching after a little bit of a hiatus and we have just a wonderful relationship on and off the floor. I’m so excited to be back in coaching first and foremost and then being able to coach my son, who is a pretty outstanding player, has just been pleasurable.


Talk about Jesse’s performance against Moon in the Moon Christmas Tournament.

 I think that Jesse has been a little under the radar so far in our ability to get him out there and get exposed. We have traveled and played and yes, we did beat Moon High School. Jesse was the Most Valuable Player of the Moon Holiday Christmas Tournament. In defense of the match-up, Brian Walsh and Jesse are two very different players Walsh is more of a swing guard, while Jesse is a point guard that has his hands on the ball the majority of the time, leads the team and is the guy that makes our fast breaks go. Jesse had a heck of a tournament over there.


Does Jesse plan to plan basketball at the next level? Have colleges shown interest?

We are working on that as we speak. He would certainly like to go to college and play basketball - that’s the short answer. There are a few Division II schools that have shown interest and a few more Division III schools, so he seems to be in that range. I personally feel that he can play at the Division II level and that some schools may be missing out on a pretty good prospect if they don’t at least take a peek as we go into the playoffs.


What schools have shown interest?

Westminster College has shown some interest. I think Coach [Bob] Kerr and I have had enough conversation to say they are very, very interested in Jesse. As far as a couple of the Division II schools, maybe I better hold off on that, but I would say we are getting some interest there. I am hopeful interest will continue to blossom as we continue to play in the playoffs. Playing in the District 6 championship Wednesday night provided some exposure and I think you might be hearing a little more about Jesse as we go further.


What makes Jesse attractive to these schools?

For a guard, he does a heck of a job rebounding. There are many nights he gets in there and grabs five, six, maybe seven rebounds, and that starts our fast break. He’s one of our leaders in rebounding.


Jesse really is a great kid and he deserves something nice to happen to him. He is right on the fringe. He is going to be playing in the Altoona Classic All-Star game later in March. Enough people have seen Jesse play because we have been all over the state. We went east and beat Hazelton and they were 18-0 at the time. From a coach’s perspective, there is a school missing out on this kid and Division III coaches are hoping to steal him, but we are hoping he can play at the Division II level.


Jesse Betar scored a game-high 18 points, including a clutch 10-for-12 effort at the free-throw line, to help the Mountain Lions past State College last night. The younger Betar also spoke to PSR.


PSR: What’s it like to play basketball for your father?

Jesse Betar: I really enjoy it. I have been playing for him for all my life pretty much, even if he wasn’t my actual coach he has always been a pretty big influence on me and my basketball game. I’m used to it and I enjoy it. It’s been a lot of fun this year.


Talk about your MVP performance at the Moon Christmas Tournament and playing against Moon guard Brian Walsh.

We had heard about [Walsh] being a pretty good player. We played some man against him and maybe even a little bit of Box 1 on him. We put our best defender D.J. Patterson on him and we just wanted to try and contain him. Obviously, we didn’t want him to hurt us, so we played tight defense to keep us in the game. For the most part we did and we were able to get a big win.


What are your strengths on the court?

I think my biggest strength is making my teammates better. I consider myself a good penetrater and I can get into the key and make nice passes to put my teammates in better situations to score and be better players. Particularly this season, distributing the ball makes us better because we aren’t so much a one man team and have a much more balanced offense.


Talk about playing basketball at the next level.

We are still playing this season so I haven’t really though much about where I'd like to continue playing. I definitely know I want to go to college and continue playing basketball somewhere. At this point, I haven’t really decided on where. I’m definitely undecided on where, but there are a few schools in the Pittsburgh area.


What are your thoughts about the District 6 Championship game?

State College is a very good team, but we were fortunate to beat them both times we played them earlier this year. We were really excited about it. Altoona hadn’t been in a position to win the district title in a couple years so my teammates and I were eager to have the opportunity to win a championship.

Mar 01 2007 by Tony DeFazio