BVA boys buying in to DeGregorio
First-year coach Kyle DeGregorio is selling a new beginning for the Belle Vernon Area boys' basketball program.
Judging by the numbers and participation, dozens of BVA boys have bought in.
“When we were first there in June, we had 20 to 30 kids in our gym every day and we've been going four or five days a week since,” DeGregorio said. “At first, it's belief without evidence. Once they see the evidence, they're a little more motivated, a little more passionate about what they're doing.”
DeGregorio, a former head coach at Baldwin High School from 2002-11, is trying to revive a BVA program that's won just seven games in the past three seasons. Following a 3-18 campaign last season, the Leopards have been a wretched 7-56 since making the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2009-2010.
He hasn't been shy about grabbing the reigns.
“This team was my team from Day One,” DeGregorio said. “The first letter I wrote the kids was I'm not coming in for a three-year or five-year rebuilding project. I'm not patient enough to wait three years for results.”
“The key thing I've learned the past few months is Belle Vernon kids have a capacity to work hard,” DeGregorio added. “It's not just the number of kids we have out. We don't have kids just taking up a uniform. The kids are capable of competing at a (Class) AAA level.”
DeGregorio envisions an up-tempo offense and pressure defense.
“I think we have the athletes to do that. Rather than teach kids plays, we're teaching them how to play,” DeGregorio said. “We're dribbling, we're passing, we're catching, we're shooting. You're spending a lot of time on the skills and how to use them in a game situation. In the long run, I think that's beneficial.”
The Leopards will count on two seniors: point guard Jason Capco (6-foot-3) and forward Jake Sweitzer (6-4).
DeGregorio's rotation will include six juniors: guards Phil Baldini (5-7), Billy Burrows (5-10), Travis Snyder (6-0) and Jimmy Yantko (6-1) and forwards Logan Varnum (6-5) and Devin Hannan (6-3).
“We do want to play fast but not out-of-control and that's going to depend on how we progress in the next month or two because you're not a finished product three weeks into the season,” DeGregorio said. “The one thing we can do is play harder because now you're playing with more of a purpose.”
The first-year coach said he's not taking in any late-comers.
“I don't have anybody who just showed up two weeks ago and say ‘I want to play basketball,' … those days are over,” DeGregorio said. “I didn't have to turn anyone away, but our kids that have put the time in have earned their keep. … If kids want to come out right before the season starts and we play them, then I'm not very good at what I do.”
DeGregorio, a guidance counselor at Baldwin, had been an assistant coach at North Allegheny the past two seasons under his brother, Dave.
But BVA superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson put in a call and the rest is history. The two worked together at Baldwin, where Wilkinson had been assistant superintendent from 2005 to 2012.
“I could've been an assistant with my brother and been happy the rest of my life,” DeGregorio said. “I'm not here to stroke my ego. I'm here because Dr. Wilkinson is a good man and these kids deserve someone willing to work hard with them in the gym every day.
“I've done this for a long time. It's a process and we're going through it day by day, but I think we're approaching it the right way.”
The Leopards will compete in Section 4-AAA with Elizabeth Forward, East Allegheny, Ringgold, Steel Valley, Thomas Jefferson, and West Mifflin. They open the season at home Dec. 10 against Uniontown. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.