Battle-tested Norwin ready to handle rigors of postseason play
Monday, March 1, 2021 | 5:31 PM
Abnormal best describes their season.
Resilient characterizes how they have handled it.
Norwin’s boys basketball team has run the gamut on and off the court, from player setbacks and covid pauses to impressive wins.
Buddy Valinsky never imagined his second year as coach of the Knights would be such an obstacle-filled venture.
“I’ve seen more adversity in Year 2 here than I did in 12 years at Allderdice,” said Valinsky, who guided Allderdice, his alma mater, for more than a decade and won six City League titles. “Never seen anything like it.
“I don’t know of a team that has had more adversity than us and still competed in every game with a tough schedule.”
Norwin (7-13), the 12th seed in the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs, will open the tournament at 6 p.m. Tuesday at No. 5 Butler (10-8).
Senior guard Ty Bilinsky has been sidelined for all but a few minutes as he deals with health-related issues. His absence jarred the Knights but forced others into fill-in roles.
“He is such a leader for us and losing someone like Ty, as dramatic as it was, was tough,” Valinsky said. “That was when we kind of had our slide. We hit a tough patch, which you might expect after something like that.”
Bilinsky, who had a stroke in December and was diagnosed with a blood disorder, played briefly at Penn-Trafford but was ruled out soon after, although in between appointments, he has been to just about every practice and game to support his friends and teammates.
He has inspired the masses. Blue “#TyStrong” warm-up shirts are showing up all over the WPIAL as numerous teams pitch in to help Bilinsky and his family pay for treatments.
Then there’s covid.
Two Norwin players have been sidelined because of it, and the junior varsity had to shut down because of virus exposure. Two assistant coaches also had to quarantine.
In one game, Norwin played with eight players. Another time, only seven dressed.
Valinsky is thrilled his team managed to get in 20 games in a touch-and-go regular season.
“We’re a 6A team playing top-notch competition with seven or eight kids,” Valinsky said. “The thing is, you don’t get any empathy from opposing teams. They still want to drill you every single night.”
The short-handedness has provided a stage for the emergence of players such as sophomore guard Adam Bilinsky and junior guard Michael Fleming.
Bilinsky has taken on a greater scoring role of late, while Fleming went from the bench to a key off-guard spot. He had 27 points in a win over rival Penn-Trafford, the fourth seed in 6A.
“Adam has flourished and keeps improving,” Valinsky said. “This has made him tougher. If ever there was a silver lining it’s that Adam was forced into a greater role sooner than we expected.”
As for Fleming, nicknamed “Waldo,” Valinsky said he went from “the 8th man to starter.”
“He’s our most improved player,” the coach said.
Norwin only lost by a point (39-38) to No. 2 Fox Chapel, beat Berlin Brothersvalley, the No. 1 Class A team in the state, lost to No. 3 Hempfield, 51-50, and won 63-58 over No. 5 Butler — as a rematch looms.
It dropped the second meeting against Penn-Trafford, 53-50.
“The way we look at it, we were five points away from being 6-4 instead of 3-7 (in section),” Valinsky said.
The Knights defeated Peters Township, the No. 11 seed in 6A, 76-66, as senior forward Tanner Krevokuch went for a career-best 22 points and 10 rebounds.
“Tanner didn’t play last year, but I knew when he came back out that he could help us,” Valinsky said. “I told him, ‘Imagine how much you could have learned had you played last year.’ ”
And imagine what might have been — and yet, still could be — for the Knights.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
More Basketball• After going winless, Ligonier Valley girls basketball showing improvement as season approaches
• Knoch boys basketball excited about improved depth alongside top scorer Ryan Lang
• Promising Kiski Area girls team coming together
• New Kiski Area boys coach has visions of turnaround
• Young Latrobe boys basketball roster looks to overachieve again