Penn State York men surge to top of national basketball rankings in their division

RYAN VANDERSLOOT
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  • The Penn State York men's basketball team is 16-3 overall this season.
  • The local Lions have won 13 consecutive games since a loss in November..
  • PSY is 11-0 in Penn State University Athletic Conference action.
  • Three former York-Adams players are key figures in PSY's success.
Matt Rotonda

It not officially a team motto but it’s safe to say that the Penn State York men’s basketball team lives by a simple mantra: “Don’t be outworked.”

That mentality is universal among the players and it’s also at the forefront of Matt Rotonda’s coaching philosophy.

After a year when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out what figured to be a promising season, the PSY boss credits his team’s hard-working philosophy for helping the program reach unprecedented heights.

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Fresh off a 99-57 shellacking of Penn State Du Bois on Sunday afternoon in Penn State University Athletic Conference action, the local Lions (16-3 overall, 11-0 PSUAC) have ascended to the top spot in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II national rankings for the first time in program history.

“I thought that we would be pretty much on-par with where we’ve been (recently),” Rotonda said. “And that’s near the top of the (PSUAC) standings and where other teams kind of circle us on the schedule.”

After a setback against NCAA Division I University of Maryland Baltimore County in mid-November, the PSY men have been on fire and are now riding a 13-game winning-streak into February. That streak includes a pair of victories over Penn State Mont Alto and Penn State Wilkes-Barre, which are the only PSUAC setbacks for either program this season.

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Rotonda points toward the team’s buy-in to the philosophy of going all-in all-the-time as the key to success.

“We are certainly going to do everything possible to not be the reason we lose a game,” said Rotonda, who is officially only in his second season as head coach despite skippering the team for three years now.

The players’ dedication to continuing with the program during and after a full season was lost has been evident up and down the roster. Rotonda credits some of that to his good fortune of not having a single player lose his final season as a player because of the circumstances that the pandemic presented.

“The guys were diligent,” Rotonda said. “They showed up to every workout on the basketball court or in the weight room and they did everything they could through the entire wait-and-see (situation with the pandemic) to keep themselves in shape. And when we were finally able to see them go full contact, I thought that we had a really nice roster here.”

Strong recruiting despite obstacles: The strong roster has been helped significantly by the recruiting job that Rotonda did in the most unusual of circumstances.

Not being able to recruit in person nor host on-campus visits during the pandemic, Rotonda wasn’t about to allow the situation to become an excuse for missing out on talent.

“We were all in the same boat in the conference,” Rotonda said. “It was just about how you were going to navigate the waters. And I certainly was not going to be outworked. I was going to go out and try to get every good player that I could get because of all the questions. We didn’t have static answers to every question.”

UMBC loss was a spark: Things really started to click for the team during that showcase game back on Nov. 15 at UMBC, a program that played in D-I March Madness a few years ago.

Rotonda’s team kept the game close midway through the second half before UMBC put the game out of reach over the final eight minutes.

“I think the guys kind of realized that they could actually compete against, and play with, guys that play at this level,” Rotonda said. “We literally opened conference play 24 hours after that and have not lost since. It’s kind of funny how, even in a loss like that, that your confidence can rise in that type of a situation.”

Deriq Brown

Local players excelling: A good part of PSY’s success this year can be directly attributed to some local talent on the roster.

That includes several former York-Adams standouts in Northeastern grad Michael Coleman, New Oxford grad Deriq Brown and Delone Catholic grad Evan Brady.

Brown, a 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore, has been particularly dominant this season, leading the Yorkers in points per game (17.2), rebounds per game (8.1), field-goal percentage (57.2%) and 3-point field-goal percentage (47.4%), the latter of which leads the entire PSUAC.

“He’s been a really good player,” Rotonda said of Brown. “He has really taken his body and shape and our conditioning program to heart. He’s really been getting into a groove where he can go inside-out. He’s rebounding the ball and getting offensive rebounds.

"He’s definitely been better this season than he was as a freshman because he anticipates more and has been a big focal point for sure.”

Michael Coleman

Coleman is right behind Brown in all of those categories in his senior season. The 6-foot-4 forward averages 16.1 points per game while tallying 5.9 rebounds per contest.

“He’s been excellent,” Rotonda said. “He’s played and won championships at our school before and he’s approaching his 1,000th point for his career.

“One thing that kind of separates Michael from all of the other standouts that have been in the program is that he’s one of the best two-way players that the conference has ever seen. He’s fully bought into the idea of guarding the other team’s best player for a couple of years now. With his size and length, he’s able to switch out and guard multiple different positions.”

The 5-10 Brady, just a freshman, is tied for third on the team in scoring at 5.9 points per game. He is coming off an 18-point outburst on Sunday.

“He’s a good, solid basketball player with a really high basketball IQ,” Rotonda said.

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ydsports.