Vincentian guard focal point of team
As a budding athlete, Vincentian Academy basketball standout Tony DiNardo always saw himself as a football player. The current senior grew up and became a guard, but on the court rather than on the field.
“I wanted to play football, but when I came to Vincentian, we didn't have football at the time,” DiNardo said. “I focused on basketball, and my sophomore year, when we won the WPIAL championship, it just made me want another.”
DiNardo also likes playing for coach George Yokitis, and a message the coach drills into his teams is to always play hard because the best team does not always win. Any team can be outworked.
“I like that mentality,” DiNardo said. “I never won much at sports, but (when I got here), winning fueled me. I wanted to play like Mike (Molnar) and John (Bray) — their play rubbed off on me. They were good teammates, and they made sure I got my shots when I played with them.”
Yokitis mentioned DiNardo's awesome basketball IQ, his coachable nature and determination as some of the qualities that make him one of the best players around.
“He is a coaches dream,” Yokitis said. “He is well conditioned and over the years he has developed into a leader. He is just relentless out there on the court.
“It has been a seamless transition he has made from a role player as a sophomore to a leadership role as a senior. Tony always has understood his role, there was no effort on that by me (it came from within him).”
DiNardo prides himself on defense, something he said allowed him to play more as a sophomore. He said he has become a better dribbler and more confident shooter.
As a senior, DiNardo has grown into a leadership role. One of the first things he and his teammates did was evaluate themselves, and the consensus was they were not that good.
“We got together, set goals and got great commitment from everyone,” DiNardo said. “We worked out in the spring and summer and got better. It was the previous seniors who laid the groundwork, and we want to keep that up.”
Yokitis is a players' coach, and DiNardo said he is a good guy.
“He cares so much about us,” DiNardo said. “He is always there for us for anything we need. I feel comfortable with him, and I appreciate everything he does.”
Being one of the more prominent players at Vincentian, DiNardo said he helps out teammates whenever he can but said each player is different.
“Some players need positive reinforcement to boost their confidence, while others need a fire lit under them,” he said. “Everybody works hard and usually nobody really has to say a word.”
There has not been much anyone can say about a team that opened the season 10-0, whose lowest scoring output was 75 and who averages 58 points allowed per game.
To keep that trend up and make another run at the playoff bracket, DiNardo said the team can't take the little things for granted and that intensity has to remain high at practice.
“You can't take anybody lightly,” DiNardo said. “We don't take any win for granted, and we have to practice hard each night and come ready to play. We still have to improve to make the playoffs.”
Although he has a WPIAL medal on his résumé, DiNardo said one of the most thrilling moments of his career was a PIAA semifinal game against Lincoln Park, the team the Royals defeated for the WPIAL crown weeks earlier.
The Royals trailed by eight late in the game when Bray knocked down a 3-pointer, and DiNardo cashed in the tying layup. Lincoln Park rallied past the Royals, but that moment was exciting for him.
“I will miss Vincentian when I graduate,” DiNardo said. “I will miss the bus rides home after a win, which are always fun. I will miss the kids I saw grow up and get so much better ... Jim Kenna, Kevin Fischer — to see them improve was so fun to see.”
DiNardo hopes the team has one more good run left in it. With a balanced and deep squad, it would be hard to imagine this team not being a favorite to win it all.
“Tony is just always in the right place at the right time,” Yokitis said. “It is amazing how he fills up a stat sheet. He leads the team in most categories.”
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.