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Duquesne coach's tough, fair style led to victories

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 10:17 p.m.
Former Duquesne University basketball coach John Cinicola.

The last men's basketball coach to lead Duquesne University to the NCAA Tournament, John Cinicola displayed both a fiery and fatherly side.

“He was the type of guy who would sit down and talk to you. He would only show emotion when it was absolutely necessary. He wouldn't try to embarrass you,” said Jarrett Durham, one of his former players with Duquesne and now a basketball analyst for the Dukes.

John L. Cinicola Jr., formerly of Allison Park, died on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, on his 85th birthday in his home in Ben Avon.

He was born to Genevieve and John L. Cinicola Sr., a barber in East Liberty. The family was so poor that they paid the 25 cents-a-month dues for the Kingsley Association on the installment plan so that their children could play there.

Mr. Cinicola graduated from the Pittsburgh Academy and obtained a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne. An Army veteran, he coached Army basketball teams and Sharpsburg and Hempfield Area high schools. The latter team won the Westmoreland County Class A championship.

He served as assistant coach at Duquesne from 1960 to 1974, when he began a four-year stint as head coach. He compiled a record of 52-56 and coached stars such as future Los Angeles Laker Norm Nixon.

Durham, of Edgewood, called Mr. Cinicola a sharp tactician who loved to coach against zone defenses. He would fill the gaps made by the other team's positioning of players.

He was a tough disciplinarian who made players run when they broke team rules. In 1969, when Duquesne was playing vaunted North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament in College Park, Md., Durham went to see his girlfriend in Baltimore. He missed the 11 p.m. curfew by two hours.

He crept back into his room and saw the assistant coach sitting on his bed.

“‘I got you,' ” he remembers Mr. Cinicola telling him. “He said, ‘you better play the game of your life or you're going to be running for the rest of your life.' ”

Duquesne records show Durham scored 21 points, got five rebounds and six assists, but his team lost to North Carolina by a score of 79-78.

Mr. Cinicola was inducted into the Duquesne University, the Italian Sports and the Western chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Halls of Fame.

While attending Duquesne, Mr. Cinicola sat next to Eileen Conlon in a classroom arranged alphabetically. The couple later married, and he cared for her until her death in 2012.

“They had a magical love. There was no one else in the room when my father was in the room,” said their daughter, Eileen Painter of Montclair, N.J.

He was also preceded in death by his sister Lois. Survivors include his two sons, John Cinicola of Ben Avon Heights and Daniel Cinicola of Sudbury, Mass.; another daughter, Mary Mlinarich of Allison Park; and 13 grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 1 to 3 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in Lawrence T. Miller Funeral Home, Inc., 460 Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in Church of the Assumption, 45 N. Sprague Ave., Bellevue, at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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