Prota maturing into force for Serra Catholic
George Prota always has been a big kid.
Heading into sixth grade at age 12, he stood 6-foot-5.
By the time Prota entered Serra Catholic as a freshman last year, he was 6-8, weighed 310 pounds and spent most his time sitting on the bench dreaming of being the go-to guy out on the court.
Sure, Prota was big, but for his liking, he was too big to be an effective basketball player.
“At the end of last season, I took a look at myself,” Prota said. “I looked at a picture of myself and said that if I want to take the next step, that I am going to have to change.”
So the 15-year-old, who has to special order his size-18 sneakers, went on a diet.
Out went the fast food, the soda and especially the late-night meals. The weight melted off.
Prota lost 60 pounds, grew two more inches and, according to Serra coach Vince Gibbons, is on his way in transforming himself into a legitimate Division I prospect.
“There is no doubt that he is on another level compared to last year,” Gibbons said. “He is better as a sophomore than just about any other big guy that I have ever seen.”
Heading into Tuesday's Section 3-AA game against first-place Greensburg Central Catholic, Prota is averaging 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the upstart Eagles (13-5), who is playing in Double-A for the first time in nearly two decades.
And a lot of that is because of the transformation of Prota.
A year ago, Prota wasn't much of a basketball player — seeing only an occasional minute or two of varsity time — and he blamed a lot of that on his size.
Once the weight came off, everything about his game got better.
“I run the floor better now, jump higher, everything,” Prota said. “Now, I want to do it all. I want to have that nice shooting touch, but I also want to be the guy who does the dirty work and get the rebounds.”
It was evident last week against Jeannette how far Prota's game has come.
Prota had 16 points and 16 rebounds against a talented, athletic Jayhawks team, but he also was able to score in a variety of ways. Prota hit an 18-foot jump shot from the top of the key; he took a defender off the dribble to the hoop; and he was solid from the foul line while he continued to pound it in the paint.
“Even on bad nights, he gets 12 to 14 points and 10 to 12 rebounds,” Gibbons said. “His hand-eye coordination finally caught up with him, and his foot work is getting better. This offseason he is going to have to work on his hands. He still doesn't have soft hands, but it is improving.”
It's improving because of hard work.
Prota stayed with assistant coach Rob Ramsey for nearly two hours following Monday's practice to work on his game.
“I want to get better,” said Prota, who will play for former Pitt player Julius Page's AAU team during the spring. “Just to prove I can do it and to do that, you have to work hard. I want to be the guy.”
The player Prota is getting compared to most is one of Serra's all-time greats — Pat Grubbs, a 6-8, 310-pounder first-team all-state center who helped Serra to WPIAL and state titles in 2008. Grubbs almost mirrors Prota in size — and even looks.
“I've been compared to him ever since I stepped into Serra,” Prota said. “A couple of people actually mistook me for him.”
Grubbs, who scored 1,100 points and grabbed 800 rebounds at Serra, didn't transform into a top-notch basketball player until his junior year. Prota is a year ahead of schedule.
Gibbons was an assistant coach while Grubbs was at Serra. He sees a lot of Prota's ability in Grubbs.
“(Prota's) footwork is better, his post game is better, and he has the intangibles that Grubbs didn't have as a sophomore,” Gibbons said. “But Prota isn't on the same wavelength as Grubbs was his senior year, but he is getting there. The kid is coachable, he doesn't have an attitude, he isn't arrogant. He is just a good kid.”