Union to face well-balanced Vincentian
Feb 23, 2010

It’s no secret that the Union High boys basketball team’s offense runs through Anthony Thomas.

After all, the senior’s 26.8 points per game pace all Lawrence County players in scoring and rank fourth in the WPIAL.

So, Vincentian head coach George Yokitis knows his Royals will have to limit the damage Thomas will inflict when the Royals meet the Scotties at 8 p.m. today at Keystone Oaks High in a WPIAL Class A first-round playoff game.

“When we looked at the Union team on tape, they look like a good team. Thomas — what a great player,” Yokitis said. “He can shoot off the dribble and create his own shots. I think he is a great teammate, too. He creates for others. Union has a lot of athletic kids and it’s a big challenge for us.”

Thomas has grown accustomed to drawing the attention of opposing defenses. That won’t be any different tonight.

“It’s really interesting. I am sure teams have tried a number of different things. We saw the Neshannock tape and how they tried to play him and they’d know him probably better than anyone after playing against him for all these years,” Yokitis said. “They gave some different looks, so I expect we’re going to try some different kinds of looks. He is probably going to get his share of points, no matter what we do. We just hope the other kids have off nights. Their shooting form looks very good on film, even if they don’t always make all their shots.”

For 11th-seeded Union (14-5), different players have picked up some offensive slack throughout the year. Scotties coach Dave Smialowski knows his troops will have to do that again to stay with sixth-seeded Vincentian (14-6).

“We’re just going to play our game. We’ll look to push the ball and get it down the floor. Hopefully, we can get Anthony some shots,” he said. “Our other four guys on the floor have to step up and make buckets to take some pressure off him. I am sure we will see what we have been seeing all year, in terms of gimmick defenses. That’s what I can’t stress enough to the other four players — that it’s very important they step up and hit some shots for us.”

Meanwhile, Vincentian has morphed from a similar offensive approach into a team-oriented attack. It didn’t happen on purpose, though. Just moments into the team’s WPIAL playoff game last year against Lincoln Park, star player Ross Cortese tore an ACL and was lost for the rest of that season. Once one of the WPIAL’s top scorers his sophomore and junior years, he’s settled into a lesser offensive role while working his way back to full health.

“We used to play very fast and trap all the time. We are a bigger team now and maybe not quite as fast as we should be after Ross Cortese had his very serious knee injury,” Yokitis said. “Coming back from that has been a struggle for him and he’s not quite at the level he was. We play a little more methodically now than I’d like. We do pound it inside and we go outside and can shoot 3s. We can score in the 80s and 90s. But, when the shots are not falling, it’s a little different. The kids play together well, though. They like each other. It’s a very team-oriented group.”

Cortese leads the team in scoring, but all five starters average close to double figures.

“We spread it around this year, which is a better way to play in certain aspects,” Yokitis said. “We wouldn’t be a good story for ESPN because we have no real star players. But, we have had a nice year. The kids are great teammates. They are so unselfish and work together so well. You can’t ask for much more than that.”

The Royals’ balance concerns Smialowski.

“They are a solid and well-balanced basketball team. They can attack the hoop and they are a tough matchup for us and could pose some problems,” he said. “We’ve put some things in that’ll work, hopefully.

“We just have to play hard and do things the right way. That’s the biggest thing,” he continued. “It’s the playoffs and anything can happen. We’re going to play our game. We’re not going to focus so much on what they do well, but focus on what we do well. Hopefully, that’ll get us victory.”
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