If the 2003-04 season was any preview of what this season will be like for the Pitt Johnstown Mountain Cat basketball team, then 16th-year Head Coach Bob Rukavina has reason to be optimistic. Coach Rukavina’s team returns four starters and a total of nine lettermen from a team that posted a 19-8 record, including five straight victories to end last season.
Senior forward and First Team All-Independent selection Paul Byer (Johnstown, Pa./Conemaugh Township H.S.), senior center and Second Team All-Independent choice Carlos Cogsdell (Homestead, Pa./Central Catholic H.S.) and junior guard Nick Mezyk (Johnstown, Pa./Westmont Hilltop H.S.) the nation’s third leading three-point field goal shooter, all return to the starting line-up. Byer’s 14.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game and Cogsdell’s 11.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game anchored the inside game, while Mezyk’s 52.8% (65-123) shooting from behind the three-point line ranked him third in the country and led the way for one of the best shooting team in NCAA Division II.
The talent does not end there for Pitt Johnstown. Junior guards Joey Tutchstone (Vandergrift, Pa./Kiski Area H.S.), Dwight Hines (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa H.S.) and Steve Scorpion (Murrysville, Pa./Franklin Regional H.S.) all return after very solid sophomore seasons. Hines finished as Pitt Johnstown’s fourth leading scorer at 9.5 points per game. Tutchstone, who stepped into the starting line-up after transferring from the University of Charleston (WV), led the Mountain Cats in assists (4.0 apg.), was tied for third in rebounding (3.9 rpg.) and was fifth in scoring (8.9 ppg.). Scorpion, one of the team’s leading sharp shooters, came off of Coach Rukavina’s bench to average 7.7 point per game. Scorpion also made 35 of his 73 three-point attempts for an impressive 47.9%.
Coach Rukavina will also look to get production from his bench this season. At the guard position, seniors Erik Anderson (Curwensville, Pa./Curwensville Area H.S.) and Allen Robinson (Pittsburgh, Pa./Woodland Hills H.S.) and junior Ryan Durham (Johnstown, Pa./Greater Johnstown H.S.) have experience and give the Mountain Cats solid play off the bench. Sophomore James Booker (Plum, Pa./Plum H.S.) and true freshman Chris Gilliam (Baltimore, MD/Lansdowne H.S.) will provide depth in the paint. In his first season at Pitt Johnstown, Booker averaged 2.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. The experience he gained as a freshman should prove to be an asset as he continues to develop at the forward position. Gilliam, the only freshman who will dress this season, led his high school team to the title game of the 2A Maryland State Play-Offs in 2004. At 6’6”, 240-lbs., Gilliam averaged 11 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as a senior. Guard Eric Gillis (Pittsburgh, Pa./Plum H.S.) and forward Joe Pearson (Perkasie, Pa./Pennridge H.S.) will make their Mountain Cat debuts after red-shirting a year ago.
With nearly everyone returning, Pitt Johnstown should be one of the top shooting teams in the nation after finishing the 2003-04 season ranked second in NCAA Division II in Three-Point Field Goal Percentage at 45.0% and ninth in Field Goal Percentage 49.7%. The Mountain Cats also put plenty of points on the scoreboard. Pitt Johnstown ended last year ranked 24th in Scoring Offense at 83.0 points per game and 17th in Three-Point Field Goals Made Per Game at 9.1. Pitt Johnstown also outscored its opponents by a margin of 12.1 points per game, which ranked 12th in the country.
This year’s recruiting class was also one of the best in Coach Rukavina’s tenure at Pitt Johnstown. Along with Gilliam, several highly-recruited players signed to become Mountain Cats, including local standouts Marcus Tullis and William Sharpe from Greater Johnstown High School. Others included: guard Matt Ionadi, who led Penn Hills to the Pennsylvania AAAA State Championship in 2004, center Kyle Goldcamp, who led Central Catholic to the 2004 AAAA State Quarter-Finals and guard Quinton Davis (West Mifflin Area H.S.), who averaged 14 points, six rebounds and three assists per game as a senior. All five of these freshmen will red-shirt during the 2004-05 season.
The Mountain Cats have plenty of talent, but this year’s schedule could be one of the most difficult in recent memory. This year’s home schedule features 13 games, including match-ups against some of the top teams in the region and country, including Bowie State (MD) University and several teams from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and West Virginia Athletic Conference. Pitt Johnstown must also travel to perennial powers California University (PA), Clarion University, Southern Indiana University and local rival Indiana University (PA). In addition, home-and-away games are scheduled with Alderson-Broaddus (WV) College, University of Charleston (WV), Millersville University, University of District of Columbia and Bloomsburg University.