US Basketball Season Recap: An Interview with Assistant Coach Nick Scira

Jack O'Neill, Staff Writer

Standing in the packed student section, the clock on the scoreboard felt like it was moving in slow motion. Ten-Nine-Eight-Seven. The clock ticked, as Justin Belcher Jr. calmly held the ball at half court. “What is he going to do? Time is running out,” I thought. Suddenly, Justin passed the ball to David Jennings, who was standing right in front of half court. Unfazed from a blatant Hawken foul, David released the shot. Falling back, the shot rattled its way in the basket. The fans went ballistic. The scoreboard, now at zero, added three points. 38-39-40-41. The two-point game going into the fourth quarter turned into a five-point lead. This remarkable three-point shot gave the Preppers all the momentum, as we went on to defeat our rival Hawken.

As warmups were going on, it felt like there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. The Preppers were down two starters, including their senior captain Ryan Sleeth. A few players had to play their first real varsity minutes in front of a packed crowd against one of our biggest rivals–and it’s safe to say they didn’t disappoint. After all, Jennings’ shot would’ve never happened if Sean Fiorrito, in his first varsity game, didn’t grab multiple offensive rebounds in the possession. 

Overall, this Hawken game summed up our season pretty well. A team without any major varsity experience stepping up to the occasion and not failing expectations, and it was only made possible with a lot of hard work. David Jennings would’ve never been able to hit a near half court three-pointer if he didn’t spend hours perfecting his deep three-pointers. Jennings is one of many examples of this year’s varsity players working nonstop in the offseason to reach their goals. Now, for the interview with the man that constantly trained with Jennings, Coach Nick Sciria.




It would only be fair to ask Coach Nick a question about stats, as he is an analytical basketball enthusiast. Coach Nick made sure to share every stat possible, sending a three page stat sheet which included team and player stats. In summary, Justin Belcher Jr. ‘24 led the Preppers with an impressive 15.2 ppg. The sophomore standout also led the team in the rebounding category with 6.2 rebounds per game–an incredible accomplishment for a guard. Also a sophomore, Duke Brennan ‘24 averaged the highest amount of assists at 2.5 assists per game. 


Regarding the team stats, the first thing that I noticed on the sheet is the Preppers’ ability to shoot the lights out. University School shot on average 26.4 three-pointers per game and made them at a respectable 33 percent. The parking lot shooting trio of David Jennings ’23, Jonathan Diaz ‘24 and Alec Condgon ‘25 shot on average 15.9 three-pointers out of the 26.4 taken per game. In addition to these impressive shooting stats, Coach Nick mentioned he is the most excited about our shooting next year with expectations for an already incredible shooting team to become even better. Fortunately, the Preppers will have most of the major stat leaders back next season, as the team only graduates two seniors (Ryan Sleeth and Joey Valerio).


Now, onto the questions.


How did this team improve so much in the short, 4 month season?


 “We returned only one player with significant varsity experience, so there was a huge learning curve initially. We used the preseason as a time to build the foundation of our offensive and defensive concepts and to make sure we were all on the same page with various scenarios that we would encounter. Our two seniors, Joey Valerio and Ryan Sleeth, were instrumental in leading our younger guys and making sure everyone knew what was expected of them.” He added, “Looking back at our first scrimmage against Avon Lake through our last game against Mentor, I think our shot selection improved the most. By the end of the season, everyone knew their role and the type of shots we needed to take to be successful.” 


This vast improvement allowed US to finish the season with rewarding wins against teams such as rival Hawken, Trinity and Triway.


What was your favorite game of the year, and why?


“My favorite game of the year was the Hawken game. The fans were incredible and the student section was packed! We came into the game with several key injuries—and players who didn’t have a whole lot of varsity experience previously (Josh Belcher, George Minello and Sean Fioritto) were asked to step into bigger roles. All three players stepped up and made huge plays for us throughout the game. My favorite moment was at the end of the third quarter when Sean Fioritto’s offensive rebound led to David Jennings’ three-pointer from just inside halfcourt as the buzzer sounded.” 


I would have to agree with Coach Nick here. Beating a rival such as Hawken, especially with a less than 100% roster was an awesome memory from this season. It was really cool to see guys rise up to the occasion and shine against a rival in some of their first varsity minutes. As I mentioned earlier, the crowd went absolutely ballistic when Jennings hit the near half-court three-pointer, putting Hawken down by 2 possessions going into the fourth quarter.


Although this season was a blast, it’s in the past and now it’s time to focus on next year’s team. I asked Coach Nick about his thoughts on the future of US hoops.


What should we look forward to in the future?


“This year, we gained a ton of experience that we can now build upon heading into next season. We will be returning most of our rotation from this year, and we played some really good Division I competition like Green, St. Ed’s and Mentor to set ourselves up well for the future.”


Gaining this much experience for a youthful team is critical for the upcoming years. Coach Nick made it clear that the future is bright for the University School basketball program, and I can’t wait to see the progression.