OLSH’s DiMichele, Spadafora named Trib HSSN Boys Basketball Players of the Year
Tuesday, April 6, 2021 | 9:47 PM
Jake DiMichele and Dante Spadafora were the perfect combination this winter, but the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart basketball teammates weren’t always fast friends.
“I was in fifth grade; he was in sixth grade,” said DiMichele, remembering back to their days on rival Catholic grade school teams. “Everyone in the Diocese was hyping up this Spadafora kid. ‘Spadafora. Spadafora.’ Nobody was really talking about me. I kind of took that personally.
“I didn’t like him.”
Spadafora can relate.
“The friendship with me and Jake definitely didn’t start when we were in grade school,” said Spadafora, with a laugh. “I wouldn’t say we were rivals, but we were two of the better players in the Diocesan league. There was always that feeling of I thought I was better and he thought he was better. We weren’t too fond of each other at first.”
Fast forward six years, and the two shared a hug last month in Hershey’s Giant Center as they celebrated one of the greatest seasons in WPIAL history. OLSH won WPIAL and PIAA titles this winter, and did so with a perfect 24-0 record. In WPIAL history — which spans more than 100 years — only 14 boys basketball teams can call themselves undefeated state champions.
Now as friends, they’ll freely admit their perfect season needed both of them.
“Once I got to OLSH and started talking to him and got to know him, we really became friends,” DiMichele said. “That translated onto the court.”
Said Spadafora: “When Jake came to OLSH, I was grateful to have a kid like him.”
In recognition of their shared success, Spadafora, a senior, and DiMichele, a junior, are the TribLive HSSN Boys Basketball co-Players of the Year for the 2020-21 season.
A 6-foot-3 wing, DiMichele averaged a team-best 29.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Spadafora, a 5-11 point guard and West Liberty recruit, was a 19-point scorer who averaged 5.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 4.7 steals per game.
Each finished the season with around 1,800 career points.
The two grew up not far from one another in Sheraden and McKees Rocks, and both are from families with championship traditions.
“It’s more than just where we’re from. It’s kind of the legacy that our families have left for us,” said Spadafora, whose uncle Paul is a former IBF lightweight boxing champion. “Seeing Paul when I was younger, going to watch those fights, seeing all those fans and just all the bright lights, that’s almost inspired me to do what I do today.”
The DiMichele family already has a collection of WPIAL and PIAA medals. In fact, Jake’s father Daren won an undefeated PIAA basketball title with Sto-Rox in 1983.
“It starts when you’re young,” DiMichele said. “If you go to a party, everyone’s there and they always told stories about how they won. My dad and his team. Adam and his team. The expectations are set high. Not just to be a good player but to win too.”
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What made you two such a good tandem on the court?
DiMichele: It’s our different styles. I’m more of a perimeter-type scorer who rebounds the ball. Dante is a quickness guy, hounding the ball on defense and getting by guys. He can kick out if the defense helps off me. If they don’t help, he’s just going to go by his guy. The contrasting playing style ultimately is what led us to do what we did.
Spadafora: I wouldn’t say we’re polar opposites, but we express ourselves differently on the court and life in general. Jake is just an assassin. He’ll score 30 and you won’t even know it. I bring the fiery energy, and he brings a laid back chill. He won’t talk a lot of trash, but he’ll kill you in other ways. He can knock it down from anywhere. I can pass the ball and run the floor pretty well. When you put those two together, not to be cocky, but it’s unstoppable at times.
If you could copy one skill from your teammate’s game and add it to yours, what would it be?
Spadafora: There’s not even a question. That’s his shooting. In my eyes, I think he’s the best player and shooter in the WPIAL. The kid can shoot it from everywhere. I definitely would take his stroke.
DiMichele: Handling the ball. I need to get better on that. He’s a great ball-handler. Everyone knows it. That ability to have the ball on a string and get by guys is the one thing I would take.
How did it feel when time was winding down in the PIAA championship game?
DiMichele: It was obviously a feeling of happiness because we’d just won a state championship. But it also was a feeling of relief because of everything we had to go through with covid, not knowing if we were going to get shut down. Not knowing if we’d have another game. And that pressure of trying to go undefeated all year. It was a big relief to finally get it done.
Spadafora: The first thing that popped into my mind was the perfect season. You know the history in the WPIAL. Not a lot of people have done that. It was kind of surreal. When the clock was ticking down, there were tears flowing down. It was a bittersweet moment knowing I was done with high school basketball but I could finish as a state champ.
What was the hardest part of playing a basketball season during a pandemic?
Spadafora: We played one game against North Catholic and right after that it was canceled for weeks. After that, it’s always in the back of your mind, what if it happens again? The hardest aspect was staying focused.
DiMichele: It was the uncertainty. Every day at practice we didn’t know what would be next. With covid, if one person had it, would we be shut down? If we played somebody who had it, would we be shut down? We always had that thought in the back of our minds.
Was there a moment other than the state championship that you’ll remember forever?
DiMichele: It’s kind of related to the state championship, but going into the stands after the game. Just being with my family. Being able to hug my dad, my mom, my brother, that’s something I’ll always remember.
Spadafora: I would go back to the first practice of the year. If I was to say then we were going to go undefeated and win a state championship, I honestly would never believe it. We had three new starters, two who transferred from a different school. We struggled with the plays a lot and the chemistry wasn’t there in the beginning. My thought was, I knew we’d be good for 2A, but I didn’t think we’d go undefeated. All the battling and the adversity we overcame was a blessing.
Are people ever surprised to learn coach Mike Rodriguez was an FBI agent?
DiMichele: It surprised me at first. But as I got to know him, it didn’t surprise me. You could tell the kind of guy he is. He’s stern when he needs to be, but he likes to have fun too.
Spadafora: He is always calm under pressure. Before the state championship game, we didn’t know if we were going to play because the team Constitution played before us had a case of covid. Coach Rod always kept us level headed, then and the whole year.
Besides food and water, what three things would you need if you were stranded on a deserted island?
Spadafora: I definitely need some sort of gaming system, Xbox or whatever. A basketball. That’s one thing you have to bring with you as a basketball player. And for my third thing, probably a fishing rod. I like to fish.
DiMichele: I’d bring my Bible because I read that every night. I’d have my family. And I’d have a boat, so I can get off the island.
Three favorite meals?
DiMichele: My mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. My mom’s homemade stew with some crescent rolls. I’m a big Burger King guy. I might go with burgers and fries.
Spadafora: Ricci’s meatball sub. It’s a small Italian place around the Rocks. I probably go there two or three times a week. My mom makes a really good chicken-broccoli casserole. That’s definitely up there. Lastly, sushi from Saga.
Spadafora: I’m kind of seasonal. I’m a big “Home Alone” guy. Every Christmas I like to watch them. I’d say “Rocky IV.” That’s probably my favorite movie of all time.
DiMichele: “The Godfather.” Undoubtedly. When I turned 14 or 15, I watched it for the first time. That movie just blows you away.
Artist or band you like to listen to when warming up or working out?
DiMichele: I don’t really listen to music before the games. I just like to stay calm.
Spadafora: Everybody knows kids listen to rap, but I am going to West Liberty in West Virginia, so I have started listening to some country music.
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TribLive HSSN Postseason Awards
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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