Trib HSSN boys basketball player of the week — Week ending Jan. 18, 2020

Monday, January 20, 2020 | 4:57 PM

Last year, he wasn’t even in high school yet and his team was not a member of the WPIAL.

A lot can change in a year.

While Aquinas Academy is adjusting to life back in the WPIAL, no adjustments were needed for the Crusaders fabulous freshman.

Vinny Cugini is averaging just under 35 points per game and has surged to the top of the WPIAL scoring leaders.

“He never backs off and is fearless in his approach,” Aquinas Academy coach George Yokitis said. “He is on attack mode at all times on offense and frequently on defense, turning steals into transitional baskets. He attacks the hoop with aggression, quickness, deceptiveness and fearlessly.”

Last week was just another week at the office for Cugini, as he racked up 124 points in three games.

“Last week’s games were probably played at a quicker pace, and our other players are truly improving,” Yokitis said. “The result is we have more opportunities to score.”

Cugini scored 48 points in a loss to first-place Imani Christian. He scored 38 points the next night in a win over Chewick Christian before closing out the week with another 38-point performance in a loss to Clairton.

“Other players have recognized his competitiveness,” Yokitis said. “I recall after our Clairton game, a couple of their players gave Vinnie a hug in line after the game, acknowledging what he was able to do.”

With Cugini’s continued success, he has garnered a lot of focus from opposing coaches, who have turned to junk defenses to try to slow the freshman down.

“Some of our opponents have utilized a box-and-one or diamond-and-one,” Yokitis said.

To minimal success, as Cugini continues to rack up the points.

“Vinnie is an outstanding young man and is competing very well in the classroom,” Yokitis said. “Vinnie also exhibits an advanced basketball IQ. He is a byproduct of the competitive Catholic grade school system and was very well coached.”

The points have come a lot easier than the win for Aquinas Academy, which rejoined the district this season. The Crusaders are 2-6 in Section 3-A, 5-10 overall.

“I guess you could say we are struggling, but I don’t see it that way,” Yokitis said. “We are playing hard, fast, displaying dramatic improvement and for the most part, the games have been truly competitive.”

Honorable mention:

Michael Noonan, Latrobe

Last year, scoring was no issue for Latrobe with the dynamic duo of Reed Fenton and Bryce Butler. Those two have since graduated and life without them has been a bit of a struggle for the Wildcats. Michael Noonan provided the points last week in losses to Hempfield and Penn Hills as the senior scored 26 points in each contest.

Malik Ramsey, California

Last year, Malik Ramsey dominated the regular season but was ineligible for the postseason. Now California is in a battle just to make the playoffs in Section 2-2A. It helps that the Trojans won three games last week, including a pair of section victories as Ramsey scored 28 points against Bentworth, 28 more against Beth-Center and 33 against Carmichaels.

Mark Stanley, Union

Vinnie Cugini isn’t the only outstanding freshman in Class A. Mark Stanley is making a name for himself as Union battles for a playoff spot. The Scotties’ hopes of getting back to the postseason improved with a pair Section 1-A wins with the freshman Stanley scoring 29 points in a win at Western Beaver and dropped 29 again in a home victory over Eden Christian.

Previous Trib HSSN Players of the Week:

Week 4 – Frank Stumpo, Keystone Oaks

Week 3 – Adou Thiero, Quaker Valley

Week 2 – Camden Polak, Steel Valley

Week 1 – Jake Hoffman, Mt. Lebanon

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