For Vincentian Academy boys basketball coach George Yokitis, the most gratifying aspect of a season that has vaulted the Royals to the No. 4 spot in the statewide Class A rankings and a 13-0 record has been his team’s work ethic.
Following Saturday’s heart-stopping, 95-92 Section 2-A victory against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic before a standing-room crowd at Avonworth High School and a 115-88 decision against Sewickley Academy Tuesday, the Royals’ scoring average lifted to 94.8 points per game, while the Royals are surrendering 67.2 points per contest.
High school basketball games are 32 minutes in length, divided in four eight-minute quarters. If taken to the level of a college game, which has a length of 40 minutes over two 20-minute halves, the Royals’ average is equivalent to 118 points a game. If the NBA length of 48 minutes were in place, Vincentian would be equal to an average of 142.2 points a game.
While those are lofty — and impressive — levels, they mean little to Yokitis, the sixth-year coach who has led the Royals to two WPIAL Class A titles in the past three seasons.
“The kids are playing so hard and with confidence,” he said. “The second thing I’m pleased with is so many kids are playing and contributing like they did [in a 101-57 victory against Quigley Catholic]. Most of our starters played for less than half the game.
“As a coach, you are proud the other kids are working so hard and showing their parents and grandparents that they are good [players], too.”
The Royals (13-0, 4-0) routed Sewickley Academy at the Royals’ tiny on-campus gym on Tuesday night. That gives the Royals the Section 2-A lead.
A key factor in the Royals’ success has been their frenetic style that has become known as “organized chaos.” Only two teams have stayed within double-digits of the Royals this season. One was Butler Area, a Class AAAA program, in a 91-85 Vincentian victory on Dec. 7.
The other was North Catholic this past Saturday night. That game featured three second-half ties and wasn’t decided until Ryan Wolf’s two free throws with six seconds left set the final score. Those two free throws were the fifth and sixth free throws he converted in the game’s final 76 seconds.
The two teams meet again Jan. 28 on Troy Hill at North Catholic’s Graham Court.
“You have to play hard every night and in every moment,” said a relieved Yokitis following the victory against the Trojans. “Give [North Catholic] credit. They wanted this game, and they had that look in their eyes. They were all over the floor, and we were, too. That’s about as hard as a team has ever played against us.”
Wolf’s contributions against the Trojans, in which he led all scorers with 28 points, was a sharp contrast to the 10 points he scored against Quigley Catholic in a 101-57 Royals’ rout last Friday night. Because the Royals held a 59-31 advantage at halftime against the Spartans, Wolf didn’t see the floor in the second half.
One similarity, though, was the Royals’ scoring balance. Against Quigley, five players reached double figures. Against North Catholic, four players reached double figures. That doesn’t surprise Yokitis.
“We’ve had great balance,” he said. “The kids share the ball. It so happens Wolf is an exceptional scorer, but he’s happy to share the ball, too. They are an enjoyable bunch to watch because they don’t care who scores. They have one goal: try to win the game.”
Yokitis adopted his offensive approach and the trapping defense from a video produced by University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino about 30 years ago.
“[Pitino] said it’s exciting to watch, and it’s exciting to play,” Yokitis said. “You can play a lot of players because even your star players get tired. And he said it can be successful.
“We play like that every night, and our opponents only play like this once. All of that contributes to good team morale. That’s important. All of the kids get a chance [to play].”
Wolf, a Hampton resident, likes his team’s offensive approach.
“Everybody who practices gets to play a lot,” said the 5-9 junior guard who is averaging 26 points per game. “We play so hard and so fast in the games that we [use] a lot of guys off the bench. Everybody knows how to play so we just keep running guys in there and playing our same game even when our starters come out.”
Players who begin at Vincentian as freshmen are used to the Royals’ up-tempo pace. But when a player such as Bradford Woods resident Nate Elias comes to the program after spending two years at Eden Christian Academy, the shock is significant.
“At Eden, we played at a much slower tempo and didn’t press a lot,” said Elias, a 5-10 junior guard who mostly plays in junior varsity games but saw a significant amount of playing time against Quigley. “We played a lot of half-court traps, half-court man and half-court zones [at Eden Christian].
“When I got here, I found myself so out of shape. I thought I was in good shape, but when I got here we started running all of those traps — I was winded 30 seconds into a game. It was definitely a big adjustment and I’m starting to get the hang of it now.”