Specialized training boosts Belle Vernon boys basketball

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Monday, January 29, 2018 | 8:54 PM


Kyle DeGregorio finished up the first half of his day and was rapidly heading to the second phase when he slowed to return a phone call.

Hopefully, whatever it was, it wouldn't be too demanding.

Not that DeGregorio didn't want to engage, but time was against him. Pretty soon, though, he was fully engaged.

DeGregorio, of course, kept moving while adding a tone of urgency to his voice — probably a carry-over from his day job. But he offered plenty of insight, no less.

“The future is bright,” DeGregorio said of his basketball team.

He starts most days as a high school guidance counselor at Baldwin before trekking 17 miles south to Belle Vernon, where he's in the midst of his fifth season as boys basketball coach.

The Leopards (13-4, 8-2) lead Section 3-5A of the WPIAL following victories Friday and Saturday against Waynesburg and Uniontown.

“We play (at least) 10 kids every game, and they're all talented,” he said. “On any given night, any one of them can give us a lift.”

Belle Vernon has wandered in and out of the Tribune-Review rankings this season, dropping out recently following injuries to several key players who gradually have returned to the lineup.

There were no excuses from DeGregorio, just the matter of facts.

“We value more than just scoring,” he said later on, adding, among other things: “What we do defensively is very complicated.”

You get the gist. The energetic guy seemingly always in motion transitions most days from the classroom to the court, where he's spent 26 years as a coach, including nine seasons (2002-11) at Baldwin and two (2011-13) as an assistant to his brother, Dave, at North Allegheny.

Dave DeGregorio since has taken over as coach at Hampton.

Belle Vernon isn't your conventional basketball team. Some of it is easy to identify, a lot of it isn't. But winning has happened more often than not under DeGregorio, who passes off most of the credit to his assistants.

He threw out at least two names and offered great respect for the entire bunch.

“Dana Zajac puts a rotation sheet together. I don't even make the substitutions,” DeGregorio said. “It's kind of like watching a hockey game. He subs the kids at will. We've got guys playing 25 minutes down to 8 minutes most every game.”

There's Ronnie Drennan, the Belle Vernon J.V. coach and a varsity assistant who attended Baldwin and played for the Highlanders during DeGregorio's tenure.

Drennan also is certified in skills-enhancement training by Micah Lancaster, founder of the I'm Possible Training team.

“It's just a new, innovative approach in the way the game of basketball has changed,” Drennan said. “Today's game is built on skill. We emphasize that more than most high schools. We build our program on skills.”

Drennan said the I'm Possible Training program also has had an increased influence on NBA players. He cited the Celtics' Kyrie Irving, the Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns and the Trail Blazers' Evan Turner as three NBA players under Lancaster's watch.

The company's website describes Lancaster as “the creator of skill training innovations that have been popularized around the world.” He is “the inventor of the Rip Cone, the Weighted Tennis Ball, the Training Backboard and the world's first and only basketball Football Training System.”

“Ronnie is doing such an excellent job with our kids, and it's starting to show up at all levels,” DeGregorio said. “We went into this with a plan. Part of it was to play a certain style, to press and constantly look for ways to play faster. And part of that certainly is our skills-development program.

“Our J.V. team is good, and you can see why. Our younger kids, our sophomores and freshmen are very skilled. The eighth-grade team (was) 18-1, and that's a direct reflection on Ronnie. We've also got really good families involved. There's just a lot of people to be thankful for who make up the whole scenario.”

Belle Vernon was a combined 7-56 in the three seasons before DeGregorio's staff took over the program five years ago. The Leopards last season finished with a 17-7 record and won a section championship.

In Saturday's 68-53 victory that stopped Uniontown's winning streak at seven, Derek Thomas scored 17 points and Joey Sabolek added 16 for Belle Vernon.

“We've spent countless hours in the gym working on our skills — innovative-, purposeful-, accountability-training,” Drennan said. “It goes deeper than just our high school team. We work with all ages in our youth program on the same skill-development training as our high school kids, and it's allowed us to compete with some of the top (WPIAL) programs out there.”

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.

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