North Xtra: Vincentian is planning a title run

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More than 20 years ago, Vincentian boys basketball coach George Yokitis watched a VHS tape featuring Rick Pitino, who was then the coach of Providence College.

Pitino was playing a pressing, up-tempo style and something the coach who would go on to win NCAA championships with Kentucky and Louisville said on the tape has always stuck with Yokitis.

"He said kids are going to enjoy playing this style because it's exciting," Yokitis said. "Fans are going to enjoy watching this style because it's exciting. And it's most likely going to be successful, because you'll be playing this way every game, whereas your opponent will only play this way when it plays you."

Yokitis has installed an exciting up-tempo style in which the Royals look to shoot mostly all 3-pointers or layups, and it has helped Vincentian win two of the past three WPIAL Class A titles.

The Royals (3-0) are at it again this year, averaging 88.3 points in wins against Butler Area and Wilkinsburg at the Golden Tornado's tipoff tournament and a 92-66 rout of Northgate Tuesday night in a non-section game.

"We did a lot of good things and there are also a lot we can improve on," Yokitis said. "We played the style we wanted to -- fast-paced and transition basketball."

The Royals averaged 83.7 points per game last season on their way to a 26-2 record and a WPIAL championship.

Gone from that team is Tony DiNardo, who either led or finished second on the team in rebounds, assists, steals, deflections, blocks and scoring. The team also lost key players Matt Rathz and Ryan McCann.

That trio's work ethic set the tone for last season's team.

"Tony, Matt and Ryan, some people were saying they were the weak class," Yokitis said. "But they said, 'We're going to win the title again.' They didn't want to be the class that had a dropoff. So they would go get shots off at LA Fitness at 5:30 a.m., and then go back after our practice.

"They made that commitment and that was the difference."

Yokitis said this season's team has put in the same work. He challenged senior guard Kevin Fischer, a McCandless resident, to improve his shot in the offseason. Fischer's work has helped him average 16 points per game so far.

Junior guard Ryan Wolf was a third-team all-state selection last season after leading the Royals in scoring at 21.2 points per game, but an offseason filled with sweat has him averaging 39 points a contest through three games.

"I have to credit my trainer, Anthony DeCello, for helping me out this offseason," Wolf said. "He really helped me with my jump shot, my pivot moves and my shot off the dribble. I now just have more ways to score."

Senior Jim Kenna, another McCandless resident, has built off the career-high 24 points he scored in last season's WPIAL title win against Clairton with an increased role this season. Much more is expected out of sophomore Jamison Nee after he played well as a freshman.

Wolf, who scored 46 points against Northgate, likes the improvement he's seen from some of his classmates -- Jack Monahan, Ian Taylor and Greg Kaniecki.

"It gives us more depth," said Wolf, a Hampton resident. "Because we like to run up and down the court, it's important that we have more players to put out there that we can trust."

None of those players want to relinquish the WPIAL title trophy.

"Like the guys last year, this group doesn't want to let the school down," Yokitis said.

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