East/North Xtra: St. Joseph guard piling up points
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A sprained ankle and a few knocked out teeth and just like that John Arcuri was thrust into a starting varsity role as a sophomore at St. Joseph High School.
Injuries to starting guard Michael Connelly and his backup, Nick Farrell, two years ago, forced Arcuri into the starting lineup on short notice.
Turns out it was the opposition that needed notice, not Arcuri.
Right after stepping into the starting lineup during the 2010-11 season, he scored eight points in a win against Steel Valley and then made a huge impact the very next game in an overtime win against a strong Clairton team by making a tying basket near the buzzer to force overtime and finished with 16 points in the win.
"He hasn't looked back since," St. Joseph coach Kelly Robinson said.
Last season Arcuri averaged 15 points per game. This year as a senior he is among the highest scoring players in the WPIAL.
Through 15 games he is averaging 25.9 points per game, third best in the WPIAL behind Shaler's Geno Thorpe and Fox Chapel's Matt D'Amico.
Arcuri, a 6-foot point guard, has been scoring in a number of ways.
"It is very unusual for a point guard to be scoring like this," Robinson said.
Through 14 games, he had 86 2-pointers, shooting 48.9 percent from inside the 3-point arc. Outside of the arc, he has 27 3-pointers, shooting 36 percent.
He also has 116 free throws, and he is shooting 81.7 percent from the free-throw line.
He is a big reason why the Spartans (6-9, 2-2) remain in contention for a playoff berth in Class A Section 4. They are tied for third place with Leechburg.
"We are hanging in there," Robinson said. "It has been a struggle but John is playing really strong. He worked really hard in the offseason and we are seeing that now. John has really worked on his perimeter game since his sophomore year."
Arcuri, an Oakmont resident, attended Riverview High School in ninth grade where he played basketball before transferring during his freshman year to St. Joseph. His first varsity experience came during his sophomore year after the injuries to Connelly and Farrell.
"When coach first told me I was going to be starting, I didn't realize what it meant to start on a varsity team as a sophomore on a really good team," Arcuri recalled. "I didn't realize how much of an honor it was."
Arcuri recalls his first few games like they were yesterday.
"I remember that game against Clairton at home," Arcuri recalled. "They had [Division I football recruit] Desimon Green and they thought they were going to kill us with Michael and Nick not playing. To win that game in overtime, that motivated me the rest of my high school career.
"I knew I could be someone and do something and make a difference. That was my motivation. If I put work and effort into anything, I can be successful. I never stopped working."
Arcuri made his biggest improvement this past offseason, from his junior to his senior year.
"If you give him just a step on the outside, he can shoot the 3," Robinson said. "If you get too close to him, he will drive right past you."
During one stretch this season, Arcuri saw six consecutive box-and-one defenses meant to contain him. Eventually teammates such as sophomore guard Bill Sadecky, junior guard Chris Gamble, senior guard Nick Chepkevich, junior forward Joey Luciana, sophomore guard/forward John Ferguson and 6-6 senior forward Sam Predebon began stepping up and making plays.
"Once we started seeing all those box and ones, my teammates started to step up," Arcuri said. "They hit shots, they realized I cannot score 28 or 30 a game -- it is not going to happen every game. They have taken a lot off my shoulders."
Arcuri said he gets motivated when he plays another elite scorer. In a recent section contest against Trinity Christian, he went head-to-head with John Wallace, a player averaging 22.1 points per game. Wallace scored 22 while Arcuri poured in 36 in a 75-62 Spartans win.
"The younger guys all get me the ball," Arcuri said. "They throw me great passes, 90 percent of the reason I score most of my points is because the rest of my team [sets me up]."
Arcuri has received interest from collegiate basketball programs. He has narrowed his choices down to two Division III programs, Westminster and Juniata.
First Published January 17, 2013 12:00 am