TJ's Dom DeCicco named 2013-14 Daily News Coach of the Year
When Dom DeCicco looks back on it now, the list of achievements that his basketball team was able to accomplish this season was a bit overwhelming and, actually, a bit inconceivable.
A team that lost its top two scorers; a team that had pinned an unknown and inexperienced senior Charlie Scharbo to do most of its scoring; a team that was only deep enough to bring one player off the bench in one of the most athletic, competitive and talented section in Class AAA was able to do the unimaginable.
Thomas Jefferson set a school record for wins with 23, including 15 consecutive; won its fourth Section 4 title in six years; advanced to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time in eight seasons and won its first state playoff game since 2006.
Throw in the three last-second come-from-behind wins; their four losses coming to teams with 18 or more wins; and getting within 90 seconds of making it to the WPIAL championship game for the first time since 1988, and that is why DeCicco is the 2013-14 Daily News Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. But it's not why the veteran coach took so much satisfaction out of the season.
Actually, the “White Squad” is what was so gratifying to DeCicco and what he believes what made players like Scharbo, Zach Talley, Eric Fairman, Jason Horan, Chase Winovich and Zack Good be so successful.
The “White Squad” is a group of 11 reserves — including five seniors — who weren't able to get on the court much but were plenty talented enough to give the starters fits at practice.
“They would make our starters better every day in practice,” said DeCicco, who has eight playoff appearances in nine years. “You just don't see that coming, because you would expect guys to be unhappy because they weren't playing especially when you are a senior. They made us better every single day.”
DeCicco wasn't exaggerating. The group, led by seniors Dan Terpin, Steve Andros, Christian Breisinger, Ben Miscavage and Zack Michak, routinely humbled the starters during practice and provided much needed competition.
“They were tremendous, and they pushed us,” Scharbo said. “They really helped us. They played better than us at times. We had a strong group of kids who wanted to be around each other and play.”
DeCicco takes no credit for the season the Jaguars had even though he was able to motivate senior non-starters to provide competition and even though he was able to set specific roles for his starters and have them buy into it.
The roles were defined and not often altered.
“As far as they eye test, they weren't the most talented team in our section,” said West Mifflin coach Lance Maha, who has coached against DeCicco 17 times in nine years. “But they played together the best and played the hardest night in and night out, and that's a tribute to Dom.”
Talley was the heart and soul of the team at point guard. Fairman was a defensive specialist typically matched up against the opponent's best player. Winovich was a physical, low-post player. Scharbo was the scorer. Horan did the dirty work, and Good was 3-point shooting sixth man.
“Everybody bought into their role,” DeCicco said. “Let me give you an example: Zack Good was good enough to start but he knew for us to be successful that he had to be our sixth man.”
Thomas Jefferson rolled through the regular season losing only two games — the season-opener at Quad-A Bethel Park and a two-point defeat to Elizabeth Forward.
The Jaguars won some games they probably shouldn't have. TJ was trailing EF by eight points with three minutes left before going on a late run and winning the game on a late layup by Fairman. Eleven days later, TJ hit three 3-pointers in 21 seconds including a buzzer beater by Fairman to rally past Steel Valley.
“I think Dom is really an underrated coach, and I say that sincerely,” Maha said. “His kids play hard every night, they defend and they share the ball. His team was fun to watch from the standpoint of being a coach from another team because they played so hard.”
The Jaguars got the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL playoffs and beat West Allegheny and Blackhawk before blowing a six-point lead in the final 90 seconds to lose to Central Valley.
Two weeks later, TJ squandered a six-point fourth-quarter lead to Central Valley in a second-round state playoff game as the Jaguars' season came to an end.
“The basketball gods have a way of evening things out,” DeCicco said. “I don't think I pushed the right buttons. I believe that when you have good kids, you have a chance to win. It wasn't me who made one shot, it wasn't me who got one rebound. To be honest, our kids had the will to be great this year.”