Lebanon vs Warwick-LL Boys Basketball

Warwick's Kai Cipalla (22) drives to the hoop against Lebanon during first half action of an L-L section 2 boys basketball game at Warwick High School Saturday Feb. 13, 2021.

If Kai Cipalla was 6-7 instead of 6-4, he’d be playing Division One college basketball next season.

If Cipalla was, say, 6-1 but correspondingly quicker, he’d be an explosive combo guard, also likely headed to D1.

As it is, the best player in the Lancaster-Lebanon League this winter will be 6-4 swingman type with upside, a serious Basketball Jones, and a role in an apparent renaissance underway at Millersville University.

Cipalla announced last week that MU, and coach Casey Stitzel, had won the recruiting battle for the Warwick High School star over West Chester, Lock Haven, York and Franklin & Marshall.

“I love the school,’’ Cipalla said Thursday night. “It’s going to create an opportunity for a local fan following. There’s a good possibility of success for the team. And I love the coaching staff.’’

Cipalla was on college radar heading into his senior year, but he got a little bigger, a little stronger, a little more consistent. He averaged 23.78 points per game and seemed to have a sense of the moment.

His best games were generally against better opposition, and his final statement was masterful, a 34-point, seven 3-pointer effort in a season-ending loss to a very good Central Dauphin team in the District Three 6A quarterfinals. That game, and Cipalla’s career, ended with an NBA-length three at the buzzer that felt like a punctuation mark.

College coaches were at virtually every Warwick game. Once the games ended, recruiting seemed to get some clarity.

After talking it over with Warwick coach Chris Christensen, his parents and some friends, Cipalla met with Stitzel and MU assistant Chris Conway last week and came away, “having a great feeling.’’

Some paperwork remains before its official, which is why Stitzel can’t talk, yet, about what may be an important symbolic moment in his program build.

Another of those came the last time we saw Stitzel, exhorting a small crowd at MU’s Pucillo Gym to go nuts as the Marauders closed out a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoff win over Shepherd, the program’s first postseason win in five years, in March of 2019.

That team had everybody back. This March should have been a breakthrough, but COVID-19 pushed it back a year. So next year’s team has everybody eligible to come back and they’re all opting to return, including redshirt sophomore guard Jaden Faulkner, who figures to be one of the best players in the conference but missed all but six games of 2019-20 due to a knee injury.

When Stitzel was hired in 2016, he promised to base his recruiting on Maryland and Virginia, where he is well-connected among high school coaches and the hoop community at large.

That has turned out to be an understatement. On the 2020-21 roster are six players from Virginia, five from Maryland, one from South Africa who went to high school in Virginia, and just two players from Pennsylvania.

One of those is a walk-on senior who won’t be back next year. The other, senior guard Khari Williams, is a stud who transferred in from Clarion. Stitzel didn’t recruit him out of high school.

Stitzel has never had a scholarship player from District Three, much less the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Until now.

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