by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
Vincentian Academy High School junior Angelo Reeves had no choice but to “trust the process.”
The basketball player would be in practice multiple times per week, and boy, those practices, especially when head coach Tim Tyree is at the helm, are tough.
“It’s a little hard; sometimes you wanted to give up,” Reeves said. “But I stuck with it, and as it turned out, we won a championship.”
Most are aware by now that the administration at Vincentian Academy has decided to close the school for good at the end of this school year, due to financial problems. The news broke just a few days before Vincentian’s boys basketball team was due to play in the WPIAL 1A Championship game against Cornell, the team representing Coraopolis.
“To wake up on Tuesday (Feb. 25), and you’re gameplanning…and then…they (the players) texted me, and I didn’t believe them,” Tyree said about news of the school, located in the North Hills, closing. “Then they showed me and I was still in disbelief. I probably won’t really believe it until the doors are locked and the key doesn’t work anymore.”
“I just took it as motivation,” Reeves added, “so we could go out with a bigger bang.”
Reeves, the 6-foot-6 forward, grabbed 17 rebounds, scored 12 points, and the Vincentian Royals dominated on Thursday, Feb. 27, in the championship game over Cornell, 63-51, in a game played at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. With the win, Tyree joined Pittsburgh Obama Academy head coach Devas Simmons as the local Black head coaches to win a boys high school championship this season. Simmons’ Obama squad upset Allderdice in the City League Championship, 50-39, on Feb. 15, also at “The Pete.”
Allderdice’s girls basketball coach, Ellen Guillard, was the lone African American woman to lead their team to a basketball title this year, when the Dragons defeated Westinghouse prior to the Obama/Allderdice showdown on Feb. 15.
For Tyree, it was his second WPIAL Class 1A title as a head coach—the Royals won the championship over Union, 54-51, on March 1, 2018. It was Tyree’s first full year as head coach after being officially named to the position in May 2017. He was elevated to head coach from assistant coach, taking over for Shelton Carney.
As one would expect, Tyree is no stranger to basketball. He starred at Monessen High School, graduated in 2008, then played at California University of Pennsylvania.
During the day, he’s a client analyst for Fiserv. When the sun goes down, he’s known around Western Pennsylvania as not only a coach on the rise, but a coach who has arrived.
Tyree’s team made it to the WPIAL Class 1A Championship game last year, but was defeated by the upstart Nazareth Prep team, coached by another African American, Nehemiah Brazil.
So, it came as no surprise when, on Feb. 20, Vincentian began the WPIAL playoffs with a crushing of Geibel Catholic, 99-51. Four days later, Vincentian took care of Nazareth Prep, 65-54, in the WPIAL semifinals.
But when the news came the following day, Feb. 25, about the school having to close, that was a surprise.
“You always tell the kids, control what you control,” Tyree said. “So we controlled going out in the semifinal game on Monday (Feb. 24), we controlled coming out here (in the championship game) and playing for four quarters and leaving everything out on the court. But sometimes, in life, some stuff is above you. We don’t control administrative decisions. But these guys worked hard day in and day out to get to this point, and I’m really happy to see them go out there and lift that gold.”
But Tyree and the players weren’t done. The PIAA state playoffs were coming next. It seemed only fitting that Vincentian, the small, private school that’s been in existence for more than 80 years but now must close, would finish with a state title, in addition to their WPIAL title.
“Earlier this year I couldn’t stop watching those high school highlights from when Kobe Bryant was at Lower Merion (High School) at Hersheypark (Arena),” Tyree said at the news conference following his team’s WPIAL title win, Feb. 27. “I told the kids, the reality of me coaching at the Staples Center (in Los Angeles, where Bryant played for the Lakers), the reality of you playing at the Staples Center, is very slim, but we can go to Hersheypark and we can go down in history with Kobe Bryant and that ‘96 Lower Merion team as the state champion.”
And when the PIAA playoffs began for Vincentian on March 6, they were ready. They defeated Allegheny-Clarion Valley, 93-63. Then it was onto their second-round opponent, Berlin Brothersvalley, on March 10. But Berlin Brothersvalley, the team from Somerset County, was too much for Vincentian. The Royals fell, 74-54, ending the true storybook ending.
Still, for Tyree, he knows he and his players made history, winning that WPIAL title in the school’s final year. They were the “2020 champions forever,” Tyree said, “because after these guys, nobody else will put on a Vincentian jersey.”
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: RITA CANTON, principal of Vincentian Academy, congratulates head coach Tim Tyree after winning the WPIAL Class 1A title, Feb. 27.)