This transition, Vinny DeAngelo said, adjusting to Swarthmore College as a freshman, and adjusting to Swarthmore College basketball as a freshman — kind of a parallel track.
“There are changes you need to make,’’ DeAngelo said this week, noting that his academic time-management skills had to get better, “some things I couldn’t get away with” in class work. On the court, old tricks didn’t always work.
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“It’s hard to be a point guard in our system, and really hard to be a freshman point guard,’’ Swarthmore coach Landry Kosmalski said.
Maybe what’s special about this freshman from Sun Valley High is how the learning curve in this case seemed shortened, from years to weeks. DeAngelo came off Swarthmore’s bench early, on merit.
“I sort of had to think a little before I could act,’’ DeAngelo said. “A lot of learning curves. You have to pay attention to some details you didn’t even know existed.”
First scrimmage at Cabrini, he said, “I realized those cracks closed much more quickly in college.”
Yet here we are in March, Swarthmore, coming out of the regular season as the top-ranked team in Division III hoops, preparing to host an NCAA Tournament first-round game Friday against Brooklyn College, with DeAngelo in the starting lineup. Swarthmore became the last NCAA men’s team in any division to fall from unbeaten status when Johns Hopkins, ranked eighth nationally, won the Centennial Conference final Saturday on a buzzer-beater.
If Swarthmore had prevailed, DeAngelo would have been a huge reason, since the freshman scored 23 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Swarthmore — still 26-1, mind you — is deep, and defensive-minded, and has seniors who lead the way, on and off the court. But this new guy, he’s a factor. You watch DeAngelo get a step on his defender and realize early that he’s a problem with which opponents have to deal.
“The thing you may or may not notice, he’s just, for lack of a better term, very old-school,’’ Kosmalski said. “He doesn’t argue calls. He doesn’t react when he gets bumped. You’re just not going to mess with him. Even in practice, he shows his mental toughness. He bounces back from mistakes. Very mature for his age.”
DeAngelo was the youngest of four growing up in nearby Aston, tagging along with siblings as they played all the sports, then basketball not just in the family but also in the family room, hoops attached to skylights for a miniature full court. Mom had been a four-time all-American running the 5,000 and 10,000 at Kutztown. Dad had played high school hoops and a little bit at Penn State Hazleton. “Peaked in high school,’’ Paul DeAngelo said.
At home, Vinny is Vincent. But even his parents switch to yelling for Vinny when he hits the court.
DeAngelo is the kind of player who can fall both under the radar and get coaches excited about what they see in front of them. That’s sort of how his Swarthmore recruiting played out.
“So we found out about Vinny pretty late, which is bad, because he’s local,’’ Kosmalski said.
Really local, like a town over. Sun Valley’s school district borders the school district where Swarthmore is located. Kosmalski explained that while they weren’t on DeAngelo as a high school junior, assistant Bill Turley saw him that June at one of Josh Verlin’s City of Basketball Love camps and touted him.
Then DeAngelo attended Penn’s camp that August. Swarthmore assistants Shane Loeffler and Ryan Ansel were coaching, Turley was a referee, and Kosmalski was in the stands.
“I couldn’t wait for the game to end,’’ Kosmalski said. “Two minutes to go, I’m making my way down to the court. Vinny, by the way, hit a shot to send it to overtime, then hit a shot to win it. It was already clear: This was our guy.”
The coaches converged with the same thought. Were they allowed to talk to DeAngelo?
“After the event is over, yes,’’ Kosmalski said. “I just remember talking a lot because I was excited. I should have asked more questions. But I wanted him to feel that we thought he was a good fit.”
A chemistry teacher had mentioned Swarthmore as a strong local school the year before, DeAngelo said. But he really hadn’t been following the hoops team’s rise in the D-III ranks, until the school employed its full-court press.
“We’re at six games — Bill Turley was at almost every game possible,’’ Kosmalski said. “I actually drove by his house one time with my daughter and son. ‘Hey, what’s up, man?’
“End of the year, middle of the third quarter in a game — I’m usually locked in the game,’’ Sun Valley High coach Steve Maloney said. “For some reason, I looked up and saw the whole Swarthmore team. The players, like five or seven guys. The coaches were there, too.”
Maloney had been there himself. When he got the Sun Valley job, he’d heard about this eighth grader, knew he had to keep him in the district. Which is how Maloney’s girlfriend ended up on a Valentine’s Day date at a middle school basketball game. (She’s now Maloney’s wife, in case you’re wondering how she handled that.)
Maloney makes it clear that DeAngelo’s and the team’s rise, from starting every game as a freshman, to leading the team to a district title and a spot in the state tournament as a senior, were one and the same.
At 6-foot-1, DeAngelo didn’t really get Division I attention. Haverford had contacted him, and Scranton had shown interest. (“His SAT scores pop out at you,’’ Maloney said.) But Swarthmore’s recruiting turned out to be as intense as its players come at opponents on the court. He was sold.
“The intensity of our practices was pretty insane to me when I first got here,’’ DeAngelo said.
He’s not saying his transition is complete. But by winter break, things started to get easier in a sense.
“The upperclassmen were all super supportive,’’ DeAngelo said. “They will answer any questions, any concerns you have. I think our team has some of the best leaders in the country.”
So, no, the new point guard doesn’t have to lead them. Sounds like he’ll be ready to, though.
“We always talk about having poise, and I think that’s one thing I try and do,’’ DeAngelo said. “When I have the ball in my hands, the other guys, if I’m calm and collected, maybe they’ll follow suit.”