St. Vincent men's basketball looking like a PAC contender again
St. Vincent men's basketball coach D.P. Harris has that giddy feeling again.
Harris thinks the Bearcats can make another run at the Presidents' Athletic Conference title.
After losing eight players from last season's PAC championship team, Harris patiently waited for the moment his Bearcats would reveal their identity. That moment came in early December, he said, when they knocked off then-undefeated Catholic University (D.C.), 69-64, to extend their winning streak to three.
“When you beat Catholic University ... you come out of there and say, ‘Hey we might be able to make some noise,' ” said Harris, who is in his 14th season as coach.
After handing a team its first loss of the season, players and fans might be expected to celebrate. Not these Bearcats. Harris marched his team over to the library for a study hall instead.
“We have a saying a here: not too high and not too low,” Harris said. “We're a boring group, and I think I'm the most spoiled guy in America with the guys I have here.”
Harris knows his team well, and much of the Bearcats' success this season isn't rooted exclusively in on-court skills. St. Vincent more than makes up for its youth and inexperience with its smarts.
“They are extremely smart, and we don't make many mistakes,” Harris said.
Coming off its fourth PAC title in the program's six seasons since making the leap from NAIA to Division III — and a fourth straight trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament — St. Vincent was expected to rebuild, not reload.
“I think we're certainly happy to be 7-3 (overall), 3-0 in our conference and tied for first place with Thomas Moore,” Harris said.
Riding a four-game winning streak and winning seven of its last eight games going into the holiday break, a three-week break from game action seems detrimental, something a coach might dread.
What coach wants to stop playing while his or her team is stacking wins?
The Bearcats return to the court when they host third-place Geneva (5-3, 2-1) on Tuesday and Bethany (5-4, 1-0) two days later for back-to-back PAC games that will go a long way in shaping the standings.
“We're going to knock the rust off (after the break), but the good news is that they're both at home,” Harris said. “This is tough place to come play. If we can win those first two games, it makes it very difficult on the (rest of) league.”
It's no secret the success to this season's Bearcats starts with junior forwards Tom Kromka, Austin Dedert and senior forward Austin Ford. The 6-foot-5 Kromka is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds, and Ford and Dedert are averaging 9.9 and 5.7 points, respectively.
The Bearcats' ability to dominate in the paint has allowed shooters to grow on the perimeter. Sophomore Michael Simmons sat at the far end of the bench as a freshman and now has worked himself up to a seat beside the coach as Harris' sixth man. A 6-2 guard, he is averaging 6.9 points and more than 21 minutes of playing time. Harris said Simmons' physical growth from last season coupled with his ability to shoot with confidence makes him as dangerous as anybody in the PAC to score.
“I think compared to last year, I've already grown up as a player,” Simmons said. “I'm not doing anything perfect. I'm just doing the right things.”
Simmons has plenty of help. Junior guard Matt D'Amico leads the Bearcats with a 13.7 scoring average and 6-3 junior guard Jason Capco (Belle Vernon), a Cal (Pa.) transfer who hasn't played college basketball in nearly 18 months, is averaging eight points.
“We've surprised people and, our guys are relentless,” Harris said. “They keep getting better and better every day, and that's all we ask them to do.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.