North Spotlight: North Catholic boys' basketball
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Danny Savulchak isn't much for small talk.
But Savulchak, a 6-foot-4 junior forward on the North Catholic High School boys basketball team, more than makes up for his reticence with a dominating style of play that has opposing coaches and players talking.
The Trojans have clinched the WPIAL Section 2-A championship with an 11-0 record (15-4 overall) heading into Friday's game against section opponent and Sewickley Academy.
Savulchak is averaging 19.0 points a game heading into North Catholic's final section game game tonight at Sewickley Academy.
The Trojans conclude the regular season Monday at Central Catholic in a rivalry that was resumed last year after a hiatus of more than a decade.
"The ability to score and rebound [are the best parts of my game]," said Savulchak, a Millvale resident. "We've been playing well because of our teamwork. Everyone cooperates."
The balanced scoring confirms Savulchak's assessment.
Brandt Gribbin, a 6-2 senior guard from Richland, is averaging 13 points, 4.5 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Jon LeGrande, a 6-11 senior center from Troy Hill, is averaging 10 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots per game.
One who appreciates Savulchak's versatility is Dave Long, North Catholic's head coach for the past 12 years and Savulchak's uncle.
"He's explosive," Long said. "His strength gets him to the glass, and he's a tough matchup for some because he has the ability to shoot from behind the [3-point] arc. He's a great individual in that respect and is a difficult matchup for most of the other players we've faced."
The Trojans also have benefited from a nice mix of veterans meshing with some younger players, Long said.
"Some youngsters have stepped in and filled some roles," the coach said. "We also have leadership in players such as Brandt Gribbin, who has been on the varsity team since his freshman year. He's played on some great teams and picked up the experience, and it's lent to his character and leadership ability and what we do on the floor.
"We do have some leadership with Brandt and Jon [LeGrande], who has been given his opportunity based on some changes in our lineup," Long added. "We're happy for Jon, and we're happy Brandt is still with us with all of his experience."
LeGrande's role with the team grew in significance as Ryan Lewis, a dominant inside player a year ago for the Trojans, transferred from North Catholic to Montour. He recently was declared eligible by the PIAA and is competing for the Spartans as a senior.
LeGrande, a Troy Hill resident, transferred to North Catholic from Oliver High School before his junior year. He is tall, but no one then likened this 6-11 senior center to a dominating presence. That has begun to change.
"Yeah, he's stepped up a lot," Savulchak said. "Getting him the ball in the post is a key aspect [to our offense] and getting him to score. He's really improved a lot on his rebounding inside. He lifted a lot of weights and lost some weight."
LeGrande's evolution as a basketball player has given the Trojans an inside presence, thanks to his willingness to work with the head coach who has persuaded him to persevere.
"Jon decided in the past that he wasn't going to be an impact player, and he put forth a limited amount of effort in practice," Long said.
"What led to [his development as a basketball player] was my voice and the fact that I don't leave Jon alone much during practice. Jon, for the most part, shakes my hand and smiles at me.
"The last couple of weeks, he's found it difficult to do that because every time he turns around, that ugly-sounding voice is in his ear.
"He's a little reluctant to smile and shake my hand the last couple of weeks, but I tell him it's for his own sake. If he doesn't want to shake my hand because of that, I'll take it as a compliment."
While Savulchak has another year to consider life beyond high school, LeGrande has started to draw attention from some colleges. He's not saying which schools are interested.
LeGrande said his biggest regret is that he did not start out at North Catholic as a freshman.
"If I would have had coach Long when I was a freshman, I'd be 10 times better than I am now," he said.
First Published February 10, 2012 12:00 am