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Scorpion 'pleasant surprise' at UPJ

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 3:22 a.m.

The lessons came with the rides. The advice was relentless.

For a young boy, there was no way around it. But as a young man, Steve Scorpion understands why his famous grandfather, Dick Groat, always seemed to be lecturing him back in the day about the “do's-and-don'ts” of basketball.

“We used to go to Pitt games when I was little, and on the way home, he'd always be asking me if I saw the way a certain player did something, or if I understood why something happened the way it did,” Scorpion said. “I was young. I didn't really understand.

“But now, I do.”

While he has heard the sensational stories about his grandfather's All-American basketball-playing career at Duke University, not to mention his years as a major league shortstop – most notably with the Pirates – Scorpion understands something else about himself: he has limitations.

To which he replies: No big deal. Turn the page. Move on.

“He (Groat) never put pressure on me,” said Scorpion, a redshirt freshman guard playing in his first season at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, an NCAA Division II independent school.

The 6-foot Scorpion attracted attention mainly from Division III schools after averaging 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game during his senior season at Franklin Regional High School. Instead, he opted for UPJ and sat out last season at the request of coach Bob Rukavina, a Lower Burrell resident.

“I told him I was going to redshirt him and I told him it was up to him if he wanted to stay because there are no guarantees here about scholarships,” Rukavina said. “I thought that by the time he was a junior or senior, he would help us in a certain role.

“Last year in practice, he was very impressive. His basketball I.Q. is real high. He plays very smart. He knows the game. He's a tough guy.”

Scorpion, through seven games this season – his first at the college level – was averaging nearly 18 minutes per game, with 9.9 points and 2.4 rebounds. He was shooting 50 percent overall (22 for 44) and from 3-point range (14 for 28) as UPJ jumped to a 4-3 start.

“He's been a pleasant surprise,” Rukavina said. “He's certainly not the most athletic kid we have, but he's aggressive.”

In his final high school season in 2000-01, Scorpion shot 41 percent from 3-point range and 92 percent from the free-throw line. He was a two-time Tribune-Review first-team all-section player.

He capped his high school career with strong performances in two annual area all-star games, scoring a team-high 17 points in the Pittsburgh Hoops Classic and registering 14 points in the Born to Run All-Star Game.

“Steve is a great kid, coachable. He knows the game. He's doing whatever he's asked,” Rukavina said. “He's right there in the top 6 or 7 guys. As long as he continues to do what we ask … “

Scorpion earned a starting spot in two of the Mountain Cats' first seven games and was named to the all-tournament team at the recent Gary Miller Classic at Gannon University in Erie.

“When he's open, he's going to make shots. He's not going to take you off the dribble, but he's very efficient,” Rukavina said.

Scorpion is excited to be involved with UPJ's program, which, incidentally, is no pushover. Rukavina recently recorded his 200th coaching victory in 13 seasons at the school. His 1998-99 team finished No. 5 in Division II with a 23-4 record, but, because UPJ is not affiliated with a league, failed to reach the Division II playoffs.

Rukavina, however, has led UPJ to two playoff appearances.

Meanwhile, this year's roster includes one other former Westmoreland County high school player. Senior forward Ryan Litterini, a Kiski Area graduate, is recovering from knee surgery and Rukavina said it is uncertain if he will play this season.

“He hasn't played yet and we're still deciding whether to redshirt him,” Rukavina said. “If he plays next semester, he'd be right in the mix. Right now, we're starting a freshman (Nick Mezyk).”

Meanwhile, Scorpion is concentrating on his opportunity to contribute right away. He said he is in good company.

“It was a good decision to come here,” he said. “I think we are about to show people that we can have a real good team.”

Among Scorpion's other teammates is 6-6 Paul Byer, who averaged 32.0 point per game as a senior at Conemaugh Township High School in Somerset County and broke former NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler's career scoring record at the school with more than 2,300 points.

“I told Steve that, when he was trying to decide where to go, he could go to a Division III school and have a pretty good career,” Rukavina said.

But Scorpion had other ideas.

“He picked the right choice,” Rukavina said. “We were the only Division II school recruiting Steve, and we're glad we did.”

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