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Ionadi finds success at Case Western

| Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Shaler's Bella Pilyih competes during a match Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, at Penny Park Lanes in Cranberry.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Shaler's Bella Pilyih competes during a match Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, at Penny Park Lanes in Cranberry.

In high school, Antonio Ionadi was known for a lot of things, and others, not so much.

Shooting the lights out of the place? Yes. Passing and creating space? No. Starting each game he was healthy since his junior year of high school? Yes. One of the last guys to come off the bench? No.

Times change and teams change, but Ionadi has adapted quickly as a freshman at Case Western Reserve. The prolific scorer who averaged more than 20 points per game over his last two seasons and led Hampton to the WPIAL Class 5A finals in February has had an immediate impact at the Division III level.

As of last week, Ionadi, a part of coach Todd McGuinness's first recruiting class, was second on the team in minutes per game (26.3), third on the team in scoring (10.6 points) and second in assists (2.1).

“When I got the job in July one of the first things I did was reach out to some contacts to find Pittsburgh kids who could get into Case Western,” said McGuinness, a Pittsburgh native who starred in basketball at Gateway High School and Bethany.

“He was one of the guys that showed up very early with his test scores and GPA. Then when I saw him play, I knew he was really good and was going to have an impact on the program right away.”

Known for a great scoring touch as a shooting guard for Joe Lafko's Hampton program, Ionadi has — at least for now — transitioned to point guard for a young team that features no juniors and one senior. It's a challenge he might not have predicted, but has embraced.

“Coach McGuinness said I could come in and compete, but he didn't say anything about (starting),” said Ionadi, who said he feels like he has quickly overcome the difficult transition many freshmen face.

That reutilization came quickly, the first game of the season in a double overtime loss to Frostburg State, when he was one of the last players off the bench but led the team in scoring with 20 points in 22 minutes.

“Part of it is a mental gap,” said Ionadi. “Some of the guys that are older, they are a little more mature, a little stronger. You have to get past that.”

The biggest reason for Ionadi's early success, however, are his tangible improvements in passing and defense, as well as his ability to drive the lane and create space.

“He's a really good passer,” said McGuinness. “I think that's something that got lost in high school. This year he's being asked to play point guard more than he needs to, but he's able to do it so it helps our team.”

After losing their first three games, the Spartans rebounded to take three of the next five.

“The thing I like about coach McGuinness is he 100 percent cares about winning,” said Ionadi. “If you look at Case basketball before he was there, it wasn't very successful. He's all about changing the culture and putting a new face to it.”

McGuinness, who served as an assistant for three years at Case Western from 2006-2009 before taking the lead at Hartwick (N.Y.) for seven years, continues to recruit out of the region. Though Ionadi is the only WPIAL recruit on the roster, the Spartans have had success in the past with the likes of Tom Summers (Franklin Regional) and Eric Duerr (Pine-Richland).

“(Antonio is) a nice player, so that helps,” said McGuinness, whose brother, Scott, is athletic director at Washington & Jefferson. “Any time I can come home and see a Pittsburgh play, it always gives me a reason to stop and see my folks and my brother.”

An accounting major, Ionadi is enjoying his time in Cleveland, despite the perceptions of its rival city in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He plans to take in a Cavs game or two over winter break.

“It helps that LeBron is there,” he said. “He does so much for the city and its morale. Hopefully he can stay.”

Devon Moore is a freelance writer.

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