Trib HSSN boys basketball team of the week for Jan. 18, 2021

Monday, January 18, 2021 | 10:50 PM

At Thomas Jefferson, football is king. It is also the prince, duke, count and baron in Jaguars country.

However, now starting his 16th season as TJ boys basketball coach, Dom DeCicco has learned to feed off the success of the football team instead of competing against it.

“I think people fail to realize we have been to three WPIAL semifinals, four PIAA playoffs and four section titles in the last 14 years or so, but honestly that’s not good enough,” DeCicco said. “We expect to compete every year.”

The Jaguars football team proved this fall that while the names change, the results do not. Both the football and basketball programs lost a lot of key players from last year. However, with a new cast of athletes, the Jaguars football team kept winning this season, and the basketball team is trying to follow that blueprint.

“I think the key to this year so far is the experience (Aidan) Kelly, (Shawn) McSwiggen and others got last year when we did not have football guys because of their state run,” DeCicco said. “We thought we would have growing pains, but our senior leadership has been great. They are holding everyone accountable.”

Thomas Jefferson entered last week at 2-1 overall. The Jaguars swept the week, including a section win over Uniontown and a nonsection victory over Moon.

“I like how our kids bounced back after a tough loss (the previous week) at Albert Gallatin,” DeCicco said. “Beating Uniontown and Moon showed some mental toughness on their part. Before the shutdown, we were really starting to jell, but when we came back, we were definitely off. We know if we can defend , even if we are not shooting well, we give ourselves a chance. That has been our mindset.”

Thomas Jefferson capped off the 3-0 week with an impressive win at Bethel Park. Earlier in the week, the Black Hawks came close to stunning the top-ranked team in Class 6A, Upper St. Clair.

“After watching Bethel Park on film, we knew they were a very good team and well coached,” DeCicco said. “We felt if we could rebound well and get some transition, we had a chance. I think we were very good defensively that game, especially in the second half. Our guys hit some big shots in the fourth quarter that gave us some breathing room.”

Three seniors have chipped in to lead the Jaguars scoring attack. Jake Pugh, Ethan Dunsey and Ian Hansen have taken turns leading TJ in scoring.

However, it is another senior who has been a spark to Thomas Jefferson and has played a big part in the team’s current four-game winning streak.

“I think Preston Zandier has been a pleasant surprise,” DeCicco said. “He is rebounding, defending, and the energy he gives is contagious. I think our team has several guys who can score in double digits each night. We all need to step up if we want to achieve our goals.”

Those goals are much like the football program. Get better during the season, make it to the postseason playing well and shoot for a long playoff run.

“Our expectations are always the same, be playing your best basketball at playoff time and give yourself a chance,” DeCicco said. “I think 5A is the deepest conference in the WPIAL. There are so many good teams. Every night you have to play really good to have any chance of winning.”

Last year, Thomas Jefferson finished 16-9 with a run to the district semifinals. There is a lot of basketball to be played, but DeCicco loves his team’s work ethic that will make them a tough out.

“The most pleased I have been is how they come to practice every day,” he said. “They compete hard in every drill. What’s funny is we have played six games and have only played one team that wears a mask while playing like we have to. I like the fact that our kids don’t complain and just play. To me, that shows they are getting mentally tougher. We have a long way to go but these kids play hard, win or lose.”

2019-2020 Trib HSSN Teams of the Week

Week 13 – Sto-Rox Vikings

Week 12 – Aliquippa Quips

Week 11 – Laurel Highlands Mustangs

Week 10 – Belle Vernon Leopards

Week 9 – Neshannock Lancers

Week 8 – Jeannette Jayhawks

Week 7 – Hempfield Spartans

Week 6 – Chartiers Valley Colts

Week 5 – Central Catholic Vikings

Week 4 – Blackhawk Cougars

Week 3 – Brentwood Spartans

Week 2 – Bishop Canevin Crusaders

Week 1 – South Allegheny Gladiators


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