Trib HSSN Boys Basketball Player of the Week for Jan. 25, 2021

Monday, January 25, 2021 | 11:50 PM

In 1984, rocker Sammy Hagar hit it big on the charts with a song about his struggles keeping the speed limit of 55 miles per hour on the road and in life.

Nearly 40 years late, Aquinas Academy super sophomore Vinnie Cugini proved he could drive, stop and pop for 55.

Last season’s WPIAL boys basketball scoring leader is proving his record-breaking opening act to his scholastic career was no fluke as he is off and running through defenses around Western Pennsylvania.

Cugini had one of the biggest scoring nights in WPIAL history Friday night when he scored 55 points in an 87-78 overtime victory over Nazareth Prep.

“Our game against Nazareth Prep was exciting for Vinnie and all of our kids,” Aquinas Academy coach George Yokitis said. “Nazareth is very good and a well-coached team. Vinnie was extraordinary that evening, converting, I believe, nine threes and was exceptionally efficient in scoring his record points.”

The 55-point performance by Cugini shattered his own school record set last year when he tallied 48 points in a game.

Less than 24 hours later, he was at it again.

On Saturday afternoon, he scored 35 points in the Crusaders’ 86-74 triumph at Avella.

“He received very strong support from freshman John Bence (21 points) and junior Theo Austin (10 points) in a very hard-fought victory,” Yokitis said of his game against the host Eagles.

Those wins improved Aquinas Academy’s record to 5-1 overall. Its lone loss of the season came this past Tuesday to Eden Christian Academy, 73-58. Cugini led the Crusaders with 26 points.

“Eden Christian is a perennial Class A contender, and we believe our kids gave them a competitive game,” Yokitis said. “Possibly the most significant development in our program is the enhancement of our competitive spirit, which is a real tribute to our players, their families and our school.”

So what makes this basketball phenom so good, so early in his scholastic career?

“Vinnie has many strengths. Some of the most pronounced are his keen competitive spirit, his strong work ethic and on the more objective level, his basketball quickness,” Yokitis said. “He has an uncanny ability both to change speed and direction. He appears to play faster with the ball than without and is difficult to stay in front of.”

As a freshman, Cugini was 5-foot-11 and led the district in scoring with 34.1 points per game.

Cugini has grown to 6-1 and through the Crusaders’ first six games, he is averaging 35.3 points per game.

“His most palatable improvements have been his jumping and shooting mechanics,” Yokitis said. “His development in these respects has been attributable to his tireless work.”

Another big difference from last year to this season is the team success for Aquinas Academy.

Despite the historic season by Cugini last year, the Crusaders finished 6-16 and did not make the playoffs. They are already one win from matching that victory total.

“Our school is an extraordinary academic institution; however, it is very small,” Yokitis said. “I don’t have the numbers, but I think for PIAA purposes in the three grades (ninth through 11th), we have 50 or fewer boys. Nonetheless, it is inspiring to see the boys compete.”

2021 Trib HSSN Player of the Week

Week 1 – Jackson Juzang, Winchester Thurston


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