Consistency, rapport key for Penn-Trafford boys basketball this season
School of Rock is in session again. Only this year the pupils are much more comfortable with the lesson plan.
Boys basketball coach Jim Rocco brought a new system to Penn-Trafford in 2015 and supplemented it with skill-intense training. With a few seasons to absorb the change, players appear to have “bought in,” as coaches like to say.
There just might be something to Rocco’s orange cones, emphasis on fundamentals and point system in practice.
“It’s exciting around here,” Rocco said. “There definitely is a lot of energy and enthusiasm. More kids want to play basketball. We had over 60 kids try out for our middle school team. We have a lot of teams, from fourth grade up, including two seventh- and eighth-grade teams. That’s a credit to all the families who want to put in the time to build the program.”
Penn-Trafford is 26-39 under Rocco, but a group he began with begins its fourth season together. He thinks that consistency and rapport among his nucleus of players could produce a more competitive team, one much better than last year’s 6-16 group that ended the season on an eight-game losing streak.
The Warriors bring back four starters in seniors Kevin Stinelli, Chris Abreu and Brayden Puskar, and junior Zach Rocco.
“Traditionally, we’ve never had a consistently relevant basketball program here,” coach Rocco said of Penn-Trafford. “We want to get to the point where we’re relevant every year. We knew we might take some lumps. But the kids have learned accountability, and they have played a ton of games together.”
Rocco has players seeing the benefits of sharing the ball, an assembly-line approach to better shots and mistake-free possessions.
Players compliment one another in practices when they deliver a nice pass or do something that leads to a positive result. It is something Rocco learned from Bob Hurley, Sr.
“Everything is competition,” Rocco said. “Kids get points when they do something well. They see the importance of the little things that lead to good baskets. The parents and grandparents see the shots and the ball go in the hoop, the scoring, but they don’t always see what goes into getting good looks and chemistry within the team.”
Stinelli and Zach Rocco will provide a solid backcourt combo. Both averaged around 14 points last season and shot better than 45 percent from 3-point range.
“A lot of the teams we’ve played over the summer were really good,” Zach Rocco said. “I think if we can play to our potential we have a good shot. A lot of our younger guys have all grown up with the same system.”
Rocco averaged 7.5 assists.
“The nice thing is they have always been good friends and appreciate each other,” Jim Rocco said of his son and Stinelli. “They complement each other.”
Abreu and Puskar both are 6-foot-4 and give the Warriors size and experience around the rim.
“We’ve got a lot stronger,” coach Rocco said. “Chris has really developed his game, his skills. He has worked as hard as anybody. Brayden is an old-school post player. He’s a bear. We call him ‘Bear.’ ”
Seniors Luke Fabac, Hunter Destefano and Jordan Sabol will add depth at guard and provide firm defensive minutes, while sophomore Ethan Carr and junior Cam DePalma, who Rocco calls “crafty,” should provide a boost when they enter games.
Cam Shields, a 6-4 sophomore, is returning from injury but should see time.
Penn-Trafford hopes to be one of the four teams from a six-team Section 3-6A that advances to the WPIAL postseason. The Warriors will have to contend with Latrobe, Fox Chapel, Norwin, Hempfield and Connellsville.
Rocco said Latrobe is the team to beat with senior standouts Reed Fenton (Lehigh) and Bryce Butler (West Liberty).
“They have two Division I guys,” Rocco said, recognizing West Liberty’s well-respected Division II program. “Any time you have players like that, you’ve got to be the favorite to win it all.”
Rocco added former Kiski Area girls head coach Nick Ionadi to his staff. Ionadi played for Rocco at Penn Hills and was a key guard on the Indians’ WPIAL championship team in 2000. He joins Gary Ingelido and Doug Kelly as assistants.
Ingelido used to be the head coach at Woodland Hills, while Kelly coached at Franklin Regional.
“That gives us four guys who have been head coaches,” Rocco said. “You have some guys who have been around the game for a while.”
Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.