When he was a 5-foot-8 freshman, soccer seemed like the safest route for T.J. DiLeo to leave his mark at Cinnaminson High, even though he still passionately played basketball - the sport in which his father and uncle had forged a family legacy in Pirates lore.
Now, as a 6-3 senior, DiLeo is a two-sport star who may get the chance to continue his career on both the pitch and the court in college.
"I've always loved and played both sports, and whatever season I'm in, that's my favorite sport at that time," DiLeo said.
The surprising growth spurt never clouded DiLeo's loyalties, and third-year Cinnaminson basketball coach Mike Fries has thankfully witnessed his star's physical and mental development.
"T.J. has grown tremendously over the last four years, both in his height and in his level of play," Fries said. "He's always had a great outside shot and excellent court vision, but now he's also able to go inside and get rebounds. He's unselfish with the ball. . . . He's the full package. And I can tell you it's great to have a 6-foot-3 point guard."
Perhaps it is no surprise that DiLeo is a huge fan of Steve Nash, the Phoenix Suns point guard who incorporated his soccer skills into superstardom in the NBA. It's also safe to say that Tony DiLeo, the 76ers senior vice president and assistant general manager, had some influence on his son's choice of pro player to emulate.
"My dad always tells me to watch [Nash], to see the way he handles himself on the court and tries to make his teammates better," T.J. DiLeo said. "I have the same attitude. If the [outside] shot is there, I'll take it. If not, I'll drive the lane and dish it off."
According to Fries, one of the Pirates' greatest strengths is an all-for-one attitude.
"Each night it seems like we have a different leading scorer," he said. "They look for each other. It's not like the ball's going to go to the same guy every time down the court. And T.J. fits right into that mentality. He's team-first and very unselfish."
The Pirates' options on offense just improved, as Fries recently found out that another soccer star - 6-2 senior forward Dan Korenyi - is expected to recover from a foot injury and join fellow returning starters Mark Tumas, a 6-3 junior forward, and 5-10 senior guard Dan Gilbert.