Each winter, the Vincentian Academy boys basketball team proves to be among the best Class A squads in Western Pennsylvania.
It turns out the Royals are pretty darn good in the summer, too.
The prize might not have been as celebrated as a WPIAL or PIAA title, but what Vincentian accomplished last week was noteworthy, nonetheless. Competing in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Summer League, Vincentian captured the small-school title with a 62-50 win against Northgate.
The 10-team league consisting of Class AA and A schools saw each team play each other once in the round-robin format. The top four teams advanced to the playoffs. Vincentian topped Seton-LaSalle in the semifinals before defeating north suburban rival Northgate in the championship game. Vincentian finished the summer schedule with just one loss.
"I couldn't be more pleased because we have kids who work really hard," Vincentian coach George Yokitis said. "I think there's such a direct relationship between hard work and results, and I think they're seeing that. I think they've learned how to win.
"The kids before them have won. They've learned to win as a result of the kids who have won before them and because of the hard work they're putting in now."
Yokitis was quick to point out that it's difficult to put too much stock into summer league results as some teams are often missing players due to other commitments. Vincentian, for example, had high-scoring senior Ryan Wolf for only about half of the team's games. Wolf has been playing in tournaments with his AAU team, Team Bounce.
Still, as Yokitis said, winning is contagious. Vincentian has learned that. Over the past four seasons, the Royals have amassed an outstanding 99-13 record, tying them with Lincoln Park (99-21) for the second-most wins by a WPIAL team. Only three-time defending WPIAL champion New Castle (107-10) has more.
Vincentian beat New Castle in the North Hills undergrad tournament in May. Central Catholic and Pine-Richland were also in Vincentian's "pod" of four teams, and the Royals beat both of them. The Royals toppled Quaker Valley in the first round of the playoffs, but were eliminated in the following round.
In the PBC Summer League, Vincentian wasn't putting up the same ridiculous number of points it normally does (the Royals averaged a WPIAL-best 90.5 last season), but that might have just been a case of lack of time. The games are split into two 20-minute halves with a running clock. The clock only stops during the final two minutes of each half.
Most of the games were played at Cornell High School, but the championship game took place at Montour High School. Winning there was a bonus for Vincentian. The Royals lost four games last season, two coming at the new Montour facility. The last one was a 110-99 loss to Monessen in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.
"We like going over there, but we had never found a way to win until then," Yokitis said.
Two of Yokitis' top players this summer have been junior Jamison Nee and senior Greg Kaniecki. Nee (14.1 points per game) was Vincentian's second-leading scorer last season behind Wolf (23.8). Kaniecki was one of the team's top reserves.
"[Jamison] was playing so beautifully," Yokitis said. "He works so hard. He's in the gym six hours a day working on weights, working on his quickness, working on his shooting. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people.
"The other kid playing great is Greg Kaniecki. He's bigger and stronger. He's dunking the ball and running around well. He's really picked up his game."
Yokitis spoke highly of the contributions from players such as seniors Jay Cortese, Jack Monahan, Connor Kreutzer, Evan Fitzgerald, Vinny Miller and Nate Elias, as well as junior David Jen, sophomore Seth Welch, and freshman Zach McDonough.
"These kids are working to get better and showing a lot of improvement, and that's great to see," Yokitis said.
Wolf, Nee and Cortese are all returning starters for Vincentian, which has advanced to the WPIAL semifinals four years in a row. The Royals won WPIAL titles in 2011 and 2013.