North Xtra: Despite attrition, Vincentian once again a WPIAL title contender in basketball
Vincentian's Ryan Wolf is guarded by Berlin Brothersvalley's Ryan Lynch, left, and Zac Cooney during a PIAA playoff game in March.
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In his five seasons as the boys basketball coach at Vincentian Academy, George Yokitis has often seen his Royals defy expectations.
This year should be no exception.
"A lot of people thought we'd be down this year, but some of the [players] pointed out to me that we've won 63 of our past 71 games," Yokitis said. "We went 27-2 and 22-5 the past two years, and we're 14-1 this year. The kids play hard, and they know how to win. I think we're the best-kept secret around."
If the Royals' accomplishments have been kept under wraps, it's not for long. Vincentian's only loss this season came against District 6 power Bishop Carroll, 83-81, on Jan. 12.
The Royals hope to continue their winning ways with a Class A Section 2 game Friday night at Eden Christian and a non-section game Saturday afternoon against Fairview of District 10 before playing North Catholic next Tuesday.
Originally scheduled to be played at Vincentian, the contest with North Catholic will take place at North Allegheny's Marshall Middle School, which is a larger playing floor and has a greater spectator capacity than Vincentian's cramped, grade school-sized gymnasium in McCandless, which seats fewer than 200 spectators.
The same scenario will take place Feb. 7 in a game involving the girls basketball teams from both schools.
No matter where Vincentian plays, winning has been a constant. It's a formula that is easy to follow but hard to practice.
"We score a lot of points because of our defense," Yokitis said.
When the Royals clear a defensive rebound, the ball rarely touches the floor as it is quickly passed to a streaking player in the forecourt.
"Seventy percent of our shots come out of transition," the coach said. "And many other baskets come out of steals. We average 21 steals a game, and we force 20 additional turnovers a game. So a lot of our points come out of our defense."
Because Vincentian plays most of its home games on a small floor, some think the Royals would be at a disadvantage on a larger floor. Not true.
"We like to spread out, which is what we can do on a larger floor," Yokitis said. "We have what we have with our small floor, but we don't allow it to be an issue.
"When we do practice, we practice on a full floor. Our kids have been forced to react quickly, and they have to learn to dribble through people on a small floor."
Balance also is key for the Royals. Yokitis said the only number that matters to his players are on the gymnasium scoreboard at the end of the game.
"Our kids aren't concerned with who shoots the ball or who has the most points in a game," he said. "But they do play hard, and they play unselfishly."
Yokitis, though, is aware of his players' statistics, and he's pleased that the Royals can rely on more than just one or two players for scoring. The wealth has been spread generously, and it's a formula his players embrace.
Ryan Wolf, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard from Hampton, is averaging 22.6 points and 3.4 steals per game for Vincentian.
"John Lee [a former high school coach at Bishop Canevin and Baldwin and currently a rado analyst for the MSA Network] says Ryan is just a 'quick twitch' because he's so fast," Yokitis said.
Tony DiNardo, a 6-1 senior guard from Marshall, is the team's most versatile player. His name is all over the Royals' score sheet, averaging 17 points, 9 rebounds, 6 steals, 4.9 assists and 2.5 blocked shots per game.
"He played with [John] Bray and Chris Koryak," Yokitis said of two players who sparked the Royals the past two seasons. "[DiNardo] might be the best player I've ever coached. It's just a joy to watch him play because he has such active hands that lead to a lot of deflections."
Vincentian's other leading scorers are 6-2 senior center Matt Rathz (9 points, 7 rebounds per game), 6-0 junior forward Jimmy Kenna (8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists per game) and 5-11 junior guard Kevin Fischer (7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 3.4 assists per game).
Rathz, a Marshall resident, brings an unusual quality to his game, Yokitis said. He has converted 100 shots, with about 30 of them from 3-point range.
"He's our inside guy, but he's not very tall, and he's effective from beyond the 3-point line," his coach said.
The greatest strengths of Kenna, a McCandless resident, lie in his defensive positioning and his passing abilities, Yokitis said.
"He plays some different roles in our trap, rebounds the ball well and has a nice 3-point shot," the coach said of the McCandless resident.
Yokitis said Fischer, another McCandless resident, is crucial to the Royals' success as the team's point guard.
"He's one of the best ball-handlers in the WPIAL, and we got to see a lot of good teams in the fall league," Yokitis said.
Fischer and the rest of the Royals will face a true challenge Tuesday against North Catholic. In the first meeting on the Troy Hill stage that is Don Graham Court, Vincentian earned an 80-68 victory.
"We hit a few more shots than they did, but [North Catholic coach Dave Long] does a great job, and they will play hard," Yokitis said. "They are taller than we are, so we'll have to play very tough on their guards and not allow them to get the ball inside to their bigger players."
First Published January 24, 2013 12:00 am