Playoff berth, strong offseason bode well for Jags
Just looking at the win-loss record, it might not seem like the Thomas Jefferson (10-13) boys basketball team had a good 2011-12 season.
Then again, considering the Jaguars overcame a five-game losing streak to start the season to finish in a second-place tie with West Mifflin in Section 4 to qualify for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, last season was a relative success. Their preliminary-round loss to Beaver also gave the team the impetus to be better prepared this season.
“I think what we took from (last year) is the experience factor for the younger kids of how to compete at that level,” coach Dom DeCicco said. “The one thing I explained to them is, when you're a senior, you don't get a do-over.”
Thomas Jefferson will have several starters back at key positions, including 5-foot-11 senior guard Zach Schademan and 6-2 senior swingman Joe Carroll, who bring not only experience but motivation after losing to eventual champion West Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAA football semifinals.
“We have a good combination of guys that are good athletes and a couple of guys that are true basketball players, and the level of competition in practice is as high as it has ever been,” DeCicco said. “We hold everybody to the same standard that, even if you come off the bench, you have to make us better.”
Still, it's not an accident that the team is progressing as it heads into its season opener Friday against Bethel Park.
“We had a really good spring and summer, and a lot of our kids got a lot of experience last year,” DeCicco said. “We really improved and we think we're going to have a very good year.”
At least DeCicco had time to put his team together. Thomas Jefferson girls basketball coach Dom DiMattia has been in a rush getting acclimated to his surroundings after former coach Jamie Polak abruptly resigned around Thanksgiving, citing personal reasons.
“I don't even know all that much just yet because I've only been here for a week. I've been working for like six or seven days,” DiMattia said “I'm trying to get to know the players and try to know their style. We have a lot of young kids and a lot of kids didn't come out, and we have a very small team.”
If figuring out the players' names and trying to determine their skill level wasn't enough, his tenure with the Lady Jaguars took a strange turn in one of his first practices.
“I'm coaching with one hand,” DiMattia said. “I was in the gym, and I slipped, and I put my left hand out, and I broke my wrist.”
Even with the slight turmoil in the program and a bad omen at the outset, Thomas Jefferson (3-19 in 2011-12) really has nowhere to go but up. And with a coach who has been around the block for almost 40 years with stops at Clairton and as an assistant with the Thomas Jefferson boys program, things could be worse.
“They're really great and they're responding great,” DiMattia said. “They work hard, and we've just got to work on the fundamentals and mix in my system and some of the things that I like to do, but they've done an awesome job.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161, ext. 1977.