West/South Xtra: Pair of cousins leads Char Valley to No. 1 spot

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If a single play this season best demonstrated the on-court relationship shared by Chartiers Valley's Jerrad Tuite and Matty McConnell, his cousin, it occurred last weekend in the Colts' 82-40 win against Keystone Oaks.

McConnell, a 6-foot junior guard, only needed a look from Tuite, a 5-9 senior guard, to know that a play was on. McConnell passed the ball to Tuite, who quickly gave it right back.

The give-and-go opened up a pocket for forward Joe Antonucci, who took a pass from McConnell and put away an uncontested lay-up.

"[Tuite] knows what I'm going to do, I know what he's going to do," McConnell said. "I read his eyes and I know what he wants me to do."

McConnell and Tuite are the top two scorers on the Post-Gazette's top-ranked Class AAA team, which was 13-1 overall and 7-0 in Section 5-AAA before Wednesday night's game at Waynesburg Central.

"Playing with Matty is a lot different than playing with a friend. It's different, it's family," Tuite said. "If I see him get a mismatch, I'm going to get him the ball. As close as we are, we really know how each other works."

McConnell averages 22.5 points per game -- showing shades of his older brother, T.J., who is now starting point guard for the top-ranked University of Arizona. Of course, his dad, Tim, coaches the Colts.

Tuite, a playmaker by nature, averages 16.6 points and 3.2 assists each contest. They account for 55 percent of Chartiers Valley's 70.7 points per game, the fourth most among WPIAL Class AAA teams

The play, the statistics, they typify the relationship the duo has shared on the court in their first full season playing together as starters.

Off the court, the bond takes on another dimension.

The 2012-13 season was supposed to be the first in which McConnell and Tuite started together. But after just five games, Tuite sustained a broken kneecap when he tried to plant his foot to make a sudden stop. He fell to the court, a fragment of bone piercing through his skin.

His season was done. Completely immobile, he faced a year of physical rehabilitation.

"Not being able to walk on my own, it was terrible," Tuite said. "I couldn't even leave my bed for a month."

It's easy to feel sorry for yourself and a little left out after such a brutal, unexpected injury. To an extent, Tuite said he did.

Chartiers Valley marched on and was very good. The Colts reached the WPIAL finals and the PIAA quarterfinals. All the while Tuite was sidelined, McConnell grew as a player.

"Watching my best friends out there having a great time and knowing there's so much I could do to help them, so much I could give the team ... that definitely hurt me just as much as the injury," he said.

But Tuite, who played at Baldwin as a freshman before his family moved and he transferred to Chartiers Valley for his sophomore season, said while he was out everyone -- friends, family, teammates -- lent their support. He said that two people in particular stood out: his sister, Molly, and his cousin, Matty.

"Almost every day he'd come over. We'd talk about how practice is going, play a little X-Box, talk about everything," Tuite said. "He's always been my best friend, he did everything he possibly could to keep my spirits up and make sure I wasn't down."

After a month, Tuite was out of bed. He was able to walk normally about four or five months later. Gradually, he continued to ramp up his physical activity and regain confidence in his knee.

McConnell said he knew how tough it would be for his cousin to get through his time sidelined, but he always wanted to keep Tuite's eyes focused on the future, on better things.

"I was over his house pretty much every day saying 'Next year, me and you, it's going to be our year. We're going to be the top duo in Triple-A. No one's going to stop us,'" McConnell said.

Thus far, no one has. Chartiers Valley is undefeated when the pair is in the starting lineup together.

McConnell had to undergo emergency appendectomy surgery on Dec. 18 after feeling what he called one of the worst pains of his life.

He missed three games. The third was Chartiers Valley's only loss so far this season, a one-point defeat to Ambridge on Dec. 28.

"Without Matty, it's a lot different," Tuite says. "His play adds another dimension to the game."

McConnell was given clearance to play again on the afternoon of Jan. 3, scant hours before a key section game against Montour.

He went off in the third quarter of that game, scoring 17 of his 32 points in a 74-59 win.

Both cousins stressed, however, the current makeup of the No. 1-ranked Colts is about more than just the two of them.

"I think this team is very special, and the most important thing about us is the unselfishness," Tuite said. "One of us could score 20 one night and then not score a point, but that doesn't matter to us. As long as we're winning games, it dosen't matter.

"We're not the biggest team, but it doesn't matter because we have the biggest hearts. We play as hard as we can and it shows. It's about how hard you work, not how big or talented you are. That's why we come out on top most of the time, because our work ethic is second to none."

Echoed his cousin:

"I think we work harder than any team in the WPIAL every day in practice. And I think we just outwork teams every game. Some teams go into every game thinking they want to win; we go into every game thinking that we demolish the other team."

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