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MATCHUP NIGHTMARE: Union’s Zander Laughlin Presents Huge Problem for Opponents With Size of a Forward and Skills of a Point Guard

RIMERSBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Zander Laughlin is a unicorn in a field of horses.

Not often can can a 6-foot-4, 250 pound high school junior handle the basketball the way Laughlin can. Or shoot from the outside the way Laughlin can. Or drive to the rim the way Laughlin can.

There are matchup nightmares. Then there is Laughlin.

“A lot of people, a lot of coaches, they don’t expect me to be handling the ball for how big I am,” said Laughlin, a junior — well, his position defies description. “They don’t expect that I can step outside and knock down shots. Coach (Eric Mortimer) trusts me to do all of that and that presents a big problem for the opponent.”

Laughlin is coming off a career-high 33 points in an 81-51 win over Titusville last week.

This season, the big man is averaging 15.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Golden Knights.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

He’s shooting 50 percent from the floor and has hit 12 3-pointers for Union, which has started out the campaign well with a healthy 6-2 record.

Laughlin, who last year as a sophomore cracked the starting lineup at midseason, has picked up the slack for Caden Rainey, who graduated.

“Coming into this year, I figured I’d have to step up because we lost our point guard last year in Caden,” Laughlin said. “He was a big part of the team. I knew I’d have to handle the ball and step up a lot.”

Growing up, Laughlin was always one of the biggest kids. He also always seemed to be able to play like a guard.

“Ever since I was younger, I used to shoot at the courts and played basketball with all of my friends and I was able to shoot and handle the ball,” Laughlin said. “As I got older, it helped that I play AAU.”

Laughlin plays for Rising Stars out of Clarion.

It’s been an invaluable experience, he said.

“The competition is so good and it really makes me feel more confident,” Laughlin said. “If I can handle the ball down there, then I feel like I can handle the ball up here because I feel like the level of competition in AAU is just different.”

Armed with that confidence and skill set, Laughlin has fit in nicely with a Union team like likes to apply offensive pressure to opponents with an up-tempo style.

The Golden Knights are averaging 63 points per game and around that many shot attempts every night.

The philosophy is simple: shoot the basketball.

Laughlin takes that directive seriously. He took 27 shots against Titusville and has put up a team-leading 106 field goal attempts this season.

“That’s pretty much the rule for everyone,” Laughlin said. “The coaches hate it when we pass up open shots. If you’re open, you better shoot. If you don’t, you’re probably gonna get yelled at.

“Our goals as a team is to run the other teams out of the gym,” Laughlin added. “That’s our main goal.”

That kind of style also puts a lot of emphasis on conditioning.

While not always a favorite activity for the players during practice, it pays off during games.

“We condition at every practice,” Laughlin said. “We do agility ladders, all that good stuff.

“It’s hard sometimes,” Laughlin said, pausing to let out a soft chuckle, “especially the first practice after Christmas. It was a bad one.”

But it’s all good in the end, especially for a team that has some mighty big goals this season.

Last year, the Golden Knights enjoys a solid campaign, but they fell short of many of the things they wanted to accomplish.

This year, the bar is set high again.

“We want to make the (Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference) championship game this year,” Laughlin said. “We want to win playoff games and win the D9 championship.”

Union believes it has the horses — and, yes, the one unicorn in Laughlin among them — to do it.

Payton Johnston leads the team at 16.4 points per game. Dawson Camper is having a huge years, averaging a double-double at 11.1 points and 12.9 rebounds each night. And guard Skyler Roxbury is at 9.5 points per game.

“If they decide to cover me in the paint, we have three other guys who can score,” Laughlin said. “They can do pretty much everything.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.