The Pitt-Johnstown men’s basketball team is in a state of transition, just like the school’s other programs.
There is a switch to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), which takes the Mountain Cats away from their previous home in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC).
That may not be the hardest thing to adjust to in the mind of coach Bob Rukavina, who starts this season just eight wins shy of the 400-win mark.
The Mountain Cats – 15-13 a season ago – will have to replace their two top scorers from last year in Nick Novak (21.9 points per game) and Jordan Miller (14.2 points per game).
With five returning letterwinners and an offense built to score in a hurry; the production will be missed, but not completely lost.
“We’ve lost two big scorers,” Rukavina said. “But, we’ve got a number of guys who can score, so I think we’ll make up the scoring. Those two guys are hard to replace, but I think we’ll have a few guys doing different things. We have some veteran guys and we have some younger guys, so we’ll have to bring those young guys along.”
Pitt-Johnstown opens the season at
7 p.m. tonight when it hosts Penn State-Altoona at the Sports Center. The Mountain Cats topped the Lions 100-60 last season in the only other meeting between the schools.
While the guard tandem of Novak and Miller have departed, the Mountain Cats return numerous key components from last season and bring in guard Nate Snodgrass, who transferred to the Richland Township campus from Division I Northern Kentucky.
Rukavina projects that his starting five will see Snodgrass at the point, Andrew Cressler at the off-guard, Greater Johnstown product Paul Weatherly at small forward, Bill Luther at power forward and Cambria Heights grad Ian Vescovi manning the post.
Matt Palo, Jake Laravie, Rasaun Mosley will be a part of the Mountain Cats’ rotation along with a pair of true freshmen A.J. Leahey - a Penn Cambria grad - and Adam Shaheen.
While the Mountain Cats’ style of play is heavily influenced by the WVIAC’s freewheeling tempo, seeing old rivals like Indiana (Pa.), Slippery Rock and Clarion return the the schedule is something that excites Rukavina.
“Coming from the West Virginia conference, it definitely was a different style,” Rukavina said. “Usually with four guards, sometimes with five guards. Everyone could shoot the ball, everyone could drive the ball. The Pennsylvania conference is more traditional with three guards and two big guys. We’ve always had that. We have some big guys who can shoot, but we’ll be more comfortable on the defensive end.
“The PSAC is a little different than West Virginia. It’s more physical, there are bigger, stronger guys in the post.”
But again, this Mountain Cats team brings a lot of that WVIAC influence to the PSAC.
“Two years in a row, I think we’ve led all of college basketball in 3-point shooting,” Rukavina said. “We shot 43.4 percent like two years running. I told the guys that I think we may have a better shooting team this year. We shot the ball very well at scrimmages.
“We’re looking to push the ball and take the first good shot we find. We’re not looking to run the shot clock down.”
Getting the Mountain Cats into the PSAC fold was something that the veteran coach was in favor of from the moment the idea became an opportunity.
“We’re really excited about it,” Rukavina said. “The minute that I heard about the teams in the West Virginia conference, the football-playing schools, pulling out of the league, I was on the phone with PSAC commissioner Steve Murray in about 5 minutes. That’s just where we belong. We’ll get a chance to reestablish a lot of rivalries that we’ve had over the years and I think it’ll just be better all around for everyone.”