Cuyahoga Falls boys basketball coach Rob Slone compares the physique of senior Angelo Cugini to that of a deer.
“He has always been long, like Bambi,” Slone said with a laugh after a recent practice as he described the 6-foot-7 and 205-pound Cugini.
Slone’s son, senior Jay Slone, then chimed in jokingly: “He has a little hop in his run.”
Regardless of Cugini’s physical appearance, he has emerged this season as one of the top players in the area on a Black Tigers team that is 14-6 overall and 8-1 in the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division.
Cugini leads Cuyahoga Falls with averages of 21.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game into its game tonight at Jackson. His continued development is a key reason why Falls has clinched a share of the NOC River title and is seeking to win it outright Friday night at Lyndhurst Brush.
Cugini is in his second year at Cuyahoga Falls after transferring from St. Vincent-St. Mary. He grew up in Stow and played in the Bulldogs youth system. His family moved to Silver Lake, which feeds into Cuyahoga Falls, after his sophomore season at St. V-M.
“Angelo can be a force inside and outside, but he’s always been more comfortable on the perimeter,” Rob Slone said. “He had always been a perimeter player until he came here. It was one of the things his parents wanted him to improve on when he moved into the district.
“At St. Vincent-St. Mary, he sort of spotted up and waited to receive the ball to shoot. Now he posts up, or catches on the perimeter and has the ability to attack. He does have the ability and strength to play down there. It has been a bit of an adjustment for him, but he has really improved and when he’s motivated, he’s extremely tough to guard.”
Cugini, who has signed to play at Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia, has known the Slone family since he was a child. The Slones formerly lived in Munroe Falls and moved to Silver Lake when Jay was in fifth grade. Angelo and Jay were teammates on the Stow-Munroe Falls youth teams.
“The driving factor of coming here was simply they treated me like family right away,” Cugini said. “The Slones are like family to me. I have known them since I was 4. Cuyahoga Falls had open arms right away when I was coming in. I felt like I was at home. It has been a great decision.”
Building a winner
Rob Slone is in his 10th year at Falls and has guided the program to a resurgence with this year’s 14-6 record after marks of 14-10 last season, 11-11 two seasons ago and 9-14 three seasons ago.
The goal is to get Falls back to its glory days. Slone credits the development of Tiger Youth Hoops, which has 348 children playing basketball between grades 1 through 8. The past two senior classes benefited most from playing on organized teams as kids.
“There has been a lot of pressure on these guys to be the team that turns it around,” Rob Slone said. “Last year we finished over .500 at 14-10 and had a strong group of seniors.”
Cugini and Slone join a Cuyahoga Falls starting lineup that includes senior guards Josh Ricker and Simon Moskowitz and junior forward Tyler Adams.
Ricker, who is 6-foot, averages 17.5 points, 4.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. Slone, who is a 6-foot-3 point guard, is at 13.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Adding the big man
Jay Slone said the addition of Cugini makes the team more potent and also allows the two to reconnect to their youth playing together.
“I am glad to have a big man for the first time since eighth grade,” Jay Slone said. “It is big having Angelo on the team. It is always nice when you have a friend like that to play with because with Ang, I know I can get on him at practices if I see something and he will be like a brother about it. He will react and do what needs to be done. Some of the guys you might not have that relationship with.
“As a leader, it is nice to know he will listen and if you are slacking he will get on you too. I always know where he is going to be and he knows where I am going to be. It is good to have a chemistry with someone you have known since you were 4.”
Cugini prefers to keep things simple on game nights and produce for Falls.
“I know I have to score and rebound,” Cugini said. “Tyler and I are down there and then the guards are helping us out. We are a pretty athletic team this year who can jump with the guys they are guarding. I just gotta focus on getting stronger down there and learning to keep my guy in front of me when big games are on the line.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.