Freshman Vinnie Cugini leads potent offense for Aquinas boys basketball

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Saturday, January 18, 2020 | 12:17 AM


On Jan. 7, the Aquinas Academy boys basketball team won the first WPIAL section game in school history, besting Section 3-A foe St. Joseph, 76-73.

Three days later, the Crusaders (4-8, 2-4) started their first section winning streak by beating Propel Montour, 80-49.

The winning streak since has been snapped by Imani Christian, but it might represent a significant turning point for the program, which went winless in 66 section contests until the January victory.

“The kids are coming along. They’re wonderful kids. They work very, very hard,” coach George Yokitis said. “They’ve improved immensely, and they’re representing their school in a way that’s making everyone proud.

“We’re a competitive team now, and that’s exciting. You know how most things are in life: You start to get a little bit of traction where you might have been limited in your skills. Then, all of a sudden, you’re getting better at this. Then it turns into wanting to be good. Then, wanting to be great. And all of a sudden, you want to be the best. We’re starting to hit different plateaus.”

In his second year at the helm of the program, Yokitis is starting to see his team fire on all cylinders while growing accustomed to the freewheeling, high-octane playing style he utilized to guide Vincentian Academy to WPIAL Class A championships in 2011 and ’13.

The Crusaders are scoring 70.1 points per game, third among Class A teams.

The prolific production has been powered in large part by freshman Vinnie Cugini, who is scoring 30.9 points per game.

“He’s very quick. He’s probably one of those kids that’s faster dribbling the ball than he is without the ball,” Yokitis said. “He has great court awareness, and he changes speeds beautifully.

“When you watch him play, it’s such a fun way to play. He’s smart, and he shoots a lot of floaters to get it over those bigger, older kids that he faces when he gets into the paint. He’s determined, hard-working and he oozes with competitiveness.”

Cugini said he has grown to thrive in what he describes as a fun, loose offensive system. And to hear him tell it, he and his teammates are just getting started.

“We’re starting to get more confidence, and everyone is playing harder with each game. We feel like we can compete with any team,” Cugini said. “For my part, I just try to focus on being quick and taking it to the hole. Our team, we feel like we have nothing to lose. We are building our confidence, and we just feel like we can go out there and do what we know how to do.”

The production — and the wins — are more impressive considering Aquinas Academy only has 40 boys in the school. More than half of them play basketball.

Of those players, a few have developed into leaders, namely seniors Johnathan Bates, Gabe Vangura, Matt Flynn and Tony Bonsamra. Yokitis said each embodies the team’s hard-working, competitive demeanor.

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