DiNucci, Bowers and coaches comment about Pitt, PSU and other subjects

Written by Mike White on .

Football recruiting in Western Pennsylvania has been pretty quiet lately, but there was a lot of noise all at once this afternoon.

Pine-Richland quarterback Ben DiNucci announced on his Twitter account that he had backed out of his commitment to Pennsylvania of the Ivy League and decided to attend Pitt. DiNucci's decision to accept a scholarship gave new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi his first WPIAL recruit. Pitt didn't start showing interest in DiNucci until Narduzzi became coach. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney watched DiNucci work out last Monday and Pitt offered him a scholarship Tuesday. DiNucci visited Pitt this weekend.

Meanwhile this afternoon, Pitt also lost a WPIAL recruit when Kittanning tight end Nick Bowers decided to attend Penn State. He committed to PSU while coach James Franklin visited him in Kittanning. Bowers had committed to Pitt during his junior year, but Penn State offered him a scholarship in September, the same day that the NCAA lifted scholarship sanctions against the Nittany Lions.

Bowers said he started to look seriously at Penn State when Pitt coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph left for Wisconsin.

DiNucci set a state record this past season when he threw for more than 4,000 yards and led Pine-Richland to a WPIAL Class AAAA championship. He finished as the third-leading passer in WPIAL history with 7,619 yards.

Here is what DiNucci, Bowers and their coaches had to about their decisions and a variety of other things:

Ben DiNucci

About telling Penn that he was going to Pitt: "It was the hardest thing I ever had to do to make that call to the Penn coaches. But in the end, I had to do what was best for me."

Ben DiNucciAbout how he was still set on Penn when he went to visit to Pitt: "The visit changed everything. The biggest thing was how comfortable I felt with the coaches and to just have the opportunity to play big-time football. I am only 30 minutes from home so it's close enough where I can come home on a Sunday and eat dinner with my parents. But yet, it's still far enough way."

On how hard the past two days were. He left school early today and came home because he was so tired of hearing everyone's opinion on what he should do: "I can't even begin to tell you what it was like having so many people on Twitter, in the community, in school telling me to go here, go there, don't do this, don't do that, don't talk to this person and that person. I'm just glad it's over with and I think I made the right choice."

About when he decided on Pitt: "I talked to my parents a lot yesterday, but I went to bed and when I woke up [today], I kind of said, 'Oh man, I still have no idea what to do.' Then coach Narduzzi and coach Chaney called me on the way to school. I left school early because I just couldn't deal with everyone telling me what to do. I came home, talked to my Dad some more. Then I called my mom and told her to come home because I knew what I wanted to do."

On did he ever wonder why more major colleges didn't recruit him: "There was always a part of me wondering why bigger schools weren't contacting me. But it really wasn't a question I was concerned with because I was content with Penn - until Pitt came along." Ben DiNucci

On the knocks against his throwing motion and how he sometimes throws off his back foot: "The Pitt coaches have told me they're not going to change my motion at all. They said there might be a thing here or there, but coach Chaney said he likes the way I throw. That was a little surprising, the way some people talk about my motion [laugh]. But I try not to listen to people who say that or criticize. If anything, it makes me work harder."

On whether he can play at Pitt's level: "I do, yeah. If I didn't think I could play at that level, I wouldn't have made the call I did today [to Pitt]. I know it's not going to be easy and I'm going to have to work my tail off."

On what he is feeling tonight: "I'm extremely excited. Some of the guys who I was with on my visit or other recruits called me today, or got in touch with me to offer congratulations, like Jordan Whitehead, Dane Jackson and Tre Tipton."

On whether there was anything else he would like to say: "Hail to Pitt."

Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz

On how hard the past few days have been on DiNucci: "I'm happy for him. He made a good decision, I thought. He's content with it, and that's the key. He's at ease."

On DiNucci's mindset before he made his Pitt visit: "I think he was content with Penn, but I think he went down there to Pitt with an open mind and I think he was wowed by the situation and the opportunity in front of him. It was too good to pass up. The thing is that he was wanted at Pitt. A lot of kids commit to schools and choose schools, but are they really wanted? I think Pitt really wanted him. It means a lot to be wanted by a program."

Jokingly, on whether DiNucci would ever go from quarterback to linebacker at Pitt, like Kasperowicz did: "No [laugh]. One thing is for sure. He's a quarterback."

On whether DiNucci needs to change his throwing motion: "Look, I've worked with quarterbacks a long time. One thing I know for sure is you never mess with mechanics that much, if a kid has a good enough release, a quick enough release, and he's accurate. Then you're not going to screw with it. It's like basketball shooters. People think there is one way to shoot better than another way. Ben has a quick enough release and he's extremely accurate. He might be the most accurate quarterback in WPIAL history. As long as you are getting it out quick, that's what matters. Colleges and the NFL, that's what they care about."

Nick Bowers

On whether the departure of Chryst and Rudolph was the biggest reason he started to seriously consider Penn State: "I only knew the Pitt staff for maybe two weeks. Maybe if there was more time, it would be different. I Nick Bowersjust thought I had a good relationship with coach Franklin and the other Penn State coaches. I just thought that was the best fit for me."

On what he liked about Penn State: "I really liked Penn State's campus and how everything was together. But one of the major things was my education. I really like the outdoors and they have forestry at Penn State, and I might major in that."

On how much he likes to fish: "I really like fishing. It's pretty much what I did this summer."

About the depth Penn State has at tight end: "I know that. No matter where you go, it's about competition. If you're going to play anywhere, there is competition."

Kittanning coach Frank Fabian

On Bowers' relationship with the old Pitt coaching staff: "Nick's tie to Pitt was [assistant coach] Joe Rudolph. He was going to play for coach Rudolph and they developed a close relationship. I think with Pitt there just wasn't enough time with the new staff. Nick is the type of kid who takes a while to open up. Pitt came up last Thursday and there just wasn't enough time to establish a relationship. He was a little unsure, he took his visit to Penn State and I think he really enjoyed it."

On deciding quickly after his visit to Penn State this weekend: "He didn't want to hold up Pitt. I asked him if he was sure because he was coming off a wave of emotion after the Penn State visit. He said he was sure and he felt he owed the Pitt staff to tell them as soon as possible."

About the effect a change in a college coaching staff can have on recruiting: "I feel bad for kids because they develop a relationship with a staff and then they see them leave. I've seen a kid go through it now. In an instant, it was all taken away for Nick. He kind of restarted the whole recruiting process again." 



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Football recruiting ..... sophomores make impact in basketball ..... other notes

Written by Mike White on .

Some things that fell off my laptop

That national holiday, letter-of-intent day, is only nine days away. While most of the top players in the WPIAL had already made up their mind about colleges, there are a few major-college prospects who still haven't made a decision.

Johnny Petrishen*** Central Catholic defensive back Johnny Petrishen (pictured) visited Penn State this past weekend and said he will make his final visit to Virginia next weekend before making a decision. He also has been to Pitt and the Panthers, Nittany Lions and Cavaliers are his three finalists.

*** Kittanning receiver-tight end Nick Bowers made a verbal commitment to Pitt during his junior year, but will the Panthers hold on to Bowers? Penn State had offered Bowers and he has been thinking hard about the Nittany Lions. He visited PSU this weekend, but has not made a final decision yet. Penn State coach James Franklin is supposed to visit with Bowers and Petrishen today. A decision from Bowers could come in the next day or two.

*** Pine-Richland quarterback Ben DiNucci said yesterday that he is not quite ready to make a decision. DiNucci is committed to Pennsylvania of the Ivy League, but Pitt started showing interest lately when Pat Narduzzi became coach and Pitt offered a scholarship last Tuesday. DiNucci visited Pitt this weekend and expects to make a decision within the next few days.

Sophomores make impact

The fourth-leading scorer in WPIAL basketball is only a sophomore. 

Nelly Cummings is a 6-foot guard at Lincoln Park who is in the 10th grade. He scored 33 points against Chartiers Valley yesterday and now is averaging 25 points a game.

Cummings is quick and looks to be a decent shooter. He has a lot of potential and it will be interesting to see how much he progresses this season and in the next few years. It's too early to tell what level of colleges might be interested in him.

Two of the other top sophomore guards in the WPIAL play in the same section. In fact, they play on the same AAU team in the offseason. Nick Smith of North Hills has played a big role in the Indians' surge the past few weeks. He averages 17 a game and has helped the Indians win five consecutive section games. They are only one game out of first place in Class AAAA Section 3 behind North Allegheny and Pine-Richland.

Pine-Richland also has a top sophomore guard in Andrew Petcash, who is averaging 15 a game. Petcash and Smith play some AAU basketball together for the Cavemen.

In fact, Section 3 of Class AAAA is home to a handful of talented sophomores. Tanner Reinheimer is a 10th-grade guard at Shaler who averages 19 a game. Butler's Tyler Frederick is a 6-5 sophomore forward who has displayed plenty of potential, but he has been slowed some recently by an injured ankle. Smith, Petcash, Reinheimer and Frederick all play in Section 3.

Look at the leading scorers in the WPIAL and sophomores are all around. I think the sophomore with possibly the most potential of anyone is Josh Creach of Beaver Falls. He is 6-5 to 6-6, has long arms and is only going to get bigger and better. He averages 19 a game. Teammate Donovan Jeter is a 6-4 sophomore who averages 17.

Darius Wise, also a football standout, is a sophomore who averages 19 at Beaver. Paris Ford is a sophomore at Seton-LaSalle who is probably a future Division I football player. But he has had some shining moments for the Rebels' basketball team.

Sophomore Avram Abramovitz averages 19 a game for Woodland Hills and sophomore A.J. Myers 17 for Chartiers-Houston. Antonio Ionadi is a sharpshooting sophomore who has had some big games for Hampton.

I might have missed a sophomore or two who is doing some good things. But add them all up, and these sophomores give the WPIAL some players to watch in the future.

This and that

**** Sam Breen has been destroying opponents lately for the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic girls basketball team. In the past two games, she had 32 points and 24 rebounds, and 32 points and 17 rebounds. For the season, Breen is averaging 23.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 steals. She is shooting 56 percent from the field, including 58 percent from 3-point range.

**** There is no doubt a coach can have a big impact on a high school team. But it's still about having players. Want an example? Adam Kaufman did a terrific job the past four or five years at Montour, taking the Spartans to heights they hadn't seen before and winning two WPIAL titles. Kaufman was tremendous, but he also had players, like Devin Wilson, now a starter at Virginia Tech. Now Kaufman is in his first year at Moon and the Tigers just don't have the same kind of talent right now that Montour had. Moon's record is 3-12. It's not like Kaufman suddenly forgot how to coach, but sometimes the talent just isn't there.

**** Great to see people like Allen Deep and John Giammarco putting on these one-day basketball events that might have four or five games. It's good for basketball in the area. The key is getting top teams to participate and having good matchups, like yesterday's Chartiers Valley vs. Lincoln Park game at Montour. It was one of five games in the Pittsburgh Basketball Classic and it was pretty much a packed house for that game.


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Billy Knight, Tom Richards head PBC Hall of Fame class

Written by Mike White on .

Forty-five years ago, a kid from Braddock scored 41 points in a WPIAL basketball playoff game. The kid went on to be an All-American at Pitt and played a long time in the NBA.

That 41-point effort by Billy Knight still stands today as the most points scored in a WPIAL Class AA playoff game. The "kid" is now 62 and will be back in Pittsburgh this weekend to be honored as one of the new inductees in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Hall of Fame.

Induction ceremonies will take place tomorrow at the DoubleTree Hotel near the Pittsburgh airport. John Giammarco runs the Pittsburgh Basketball Club and on Sunday, Giammarco will stage the Pittsburgh Basketball Classic, a five-game event at Montour. The event has some of the top teams in the WPIAL and features a 4:30 game between Chartiers Valley and Lincoln Park.

Billy KnightAs for Knight  (pictured during his Pitt days), he had that memorable playoff performance in 1970. He was a 6-foot-6 forward for Braddock High and his 41 points led the team to a 79-63 victory over Penn Joint in a WPIAL quarterfinal game at Greensburg High. The playoff game was in the Class B tournament, which is now the equivalent of Class AA.

The win put Braddock into the semifinals three days later against Mohawk at the Civic Arena. Ambridge played Clairton in the second game of the doubleheader that drew 9.147 fans. Knight was super again for Braddock, scoring 30 points and grabbing 29 rebounds, but Braddock lost to Mohawk, 69-56.

Knight went on to a great career at Pitt, leading the Panthers to the Elite 8 in 1974. After Pitt, he played two years in the ABA and nine in the NBA. Twice he averaged over 20 points a game in the NBA.

Another player who will be inducted into the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Hall of Fame was a teammate of Knight on the 1974 Pitt team. Tom Richards was a terrific player at Moon High School before going on to play at Pitt.

Richards, a guard, averaged 32.3 points a game as a senior at Moon. He also had one of the most memorable games in WPIAL history as a senior. On Feb. 18, 1972, on his final home game, Richards poured in 63 points in a 108-91 victory against Beaver.

Richards (pictured during his Pitt days) shot 45 times that night, but made 27. The 63 points ties for the third-most in WPIAL history. Larry Hardesty of Mohawk has the record with 71 in a 1959 game. Micah Mason of Highlands scored 64 in 2011. Besides Richards' 63, Sam Sims of German Township also scored 63 in 1959.

Richards will long be remembered as one of the WPIAL's best guards. I will always remember him as my great coach and great teacher of the game at Pitt's Play Basketball Day Camp at the Pitt Field House when I was a kid many moons ago in 1975. 

Other players who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame under the "Legends" category will be Wilkinsburg's Bruce Atkins, Aliquippa's Myron Walker, Mt. Lebanon's Tony DeCello, Upper St. Clair's Joe David (now Mt. Lebanon's coach) and Point Park's Bobby Franklin.

Coaches who will be inducted are Aliquippa's Red McNie, Beaver Falls' Frank Chan, Sto-Rox girls coach Bill Palermo, Bishop Canevin's Jack Burik, deceased Beaver Falls coach Dave Podbielski and John Sikora of the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers.

Contributors who will be inducted are Dave Ambrose, Ray Morton, Jim Hoy and Nello Giammarco. 

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Chartiers Valley's McConnell nearing 500 wins -- already?

Written by Mike White on .

Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell has a good chance to hit a coaching milestone this season. But it's not reaching the milestone that is remarkable. It's how fast McConnell has gotten there.

McConnell needs only four wins to reach 500 for his career. After Tuesday night's win, his record is 496-116, which is an .810 winning percentage.

But McConnell is in only his 22nd season as a coach (all at Chartiers Valley). To get 500 wins on the high school level in 22 years is likely something that has never been seen in the WPIAL. (McConnell is pictured coaching his oldest son, T.J., now the starting point guard at the University of Arizona. Ya think T.J. has changed just a little?).

Fewer than 20 coaches in WPIAL boys basketball history have 500 wins and only six active coaches have reached the milestone. Not one of those six active coaches reached 500 nearly as fast as McConnell. Ambridge's Mark Jula did it this year, his 34th season. Ringgold's Phil Pergola reached 500 in his 41st season, Monessen's Joe Salvino in his 27th, Central Catholic's Chuck Crummie in his 29th, Washington's Ron Faust in his 28th and Sewickley Academy's Win Palmer in his 27th.

The winningest coaches in WPIAL history didn't reach 500 wins as fast as McConnell. North Catholic's Don Graham is the WPIAL's all-time leader with 801 wins from 1948-99, but he didn't reach 500 until his 31st season. Blackhawk's John Miller reached 500 in his 31st season also.

Not even Farrell's Ed McCluskey, who some consider possibly the greatest coach in WPIAL history, didn't reach 500 wins in his first 22 years. Consider that and it makes McConnell reaching 500 a gigantic feat.

McConnell's team this year is one of the tops in WPIAL Class AAAA. He has won five WPIAL titles and only four coaches in WPIAL history have won six. McCluskey leads with 11. Miller and Midland's Ed Olkowski won eight apiece and Duquesne's Rich Moran won six.

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Pitt offers DiNucci ..... Hamilton retires at Blackhawk

Written by Mike White on .

Have a bowl of Cheerios, maybe a fruit smoothie, get on the treadmill a little and coast through the morning before a day and night of basketball? Forget it.

It has been a pretty busy morning with news on the high school football front in Western Pennsylvania. First, news broke that Blackhawk High School's Joe Hamilton, one of the deans of WPIAL football coaches, has retired. Hamilton handed in a letter of retirement this morning to his friend and longtime Blackhawk athletic director, Jack Fullen. 

Then a few hours later, it is learned that new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has offered a scholarship to Pine-Richland quarterback Ben DiNucci, and DiNucci will make an official visit to Pitt this weekend. 

Ben DiNucciDiNucci made a verbal commitment to Pennsylvania of the Ivy League last summer. He had a superb senior season, becoming the first quarterback in state history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He led Pine-Richland to a WPIAL title and a spot in the state championship game. But no Division I-A schools ever offered a scholarship. Penn State showed a little interest and DiNucci attended a game at Penn State, but no offer ever came.

Then Pat Narduzzi became Pitt's new coach and quarterback recruit Alex Hornibrook of Malvern Prep (Pa.) decided to back out of his commitment to Pitt and follow Paul Chryst to Wisconsin. Pitt is thin at quarterback, so Narduzzi and his staff started to show some interest in DiNucci.

Pitt can't really schedule a workout with DiNucci. So on Monday afternoon, Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said DiNucci just happened to be throwing at the school. And it just so happened that Pitt stopped by Pine-Richland, if you know what I mean. Guess Pitt liked what it saw. Kasperowicz said this morning that Pitt offered a scholarship and DiNucci will visit this weekend.

Will DiNucci accept the offer? It's hard to say. All I know is he is very comfortable with the idea of playing at Penn. But maybe the idea of getting a chance to play major-college football in his hometown will change DiNucci's mind. Maybe not.

As for Hamilton, he is the second-winningest coach in the history of the WPIAL and get this - he was a head coach for almost a half century. Hamilton, 73, was a head coach for 49 years and his record was 342-170-11. The only coach with more wins is Upper St. Clair's Jim Render.joe Hamilton

Hamilton became a head coach at old Midland High School in 1966. He stayed there through 1968. He coached New Brighton from 1968-74 and Hempfield in 1975. He was at Blackhawk from 1976 through this past season.

Hamilton won four WPIAL titles at Blackhawk.

"I'm feeling a combination of things," said Hamilton. "I feel sad because I've done this [coaching] my whole life and it's something I still like to do. I have the energy for it, but sometimes you have to make a decision. There are a lot of things I haven't been able to do because of football. There are things I owe my wife. Football has controlled my whole life. I'm happy that I can do some other things now and help my wife out. We have some other things to do and some things we have dreamed of doing."

Read more about Hamilton's career and retirement in tomorrow's Post-Gazette.

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