By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Basketball has always been in his blood, from the first time he picked up a ball.
He learned the game from his father, uncle and cousins. Year ’round, year after year. So it was inevitable Matt Votino would blossom into a ’baller.
“I don’t remember never being at a basketball game,” Votino recently related. “Both my dad and uncle coached, so as soon as I could walk I was in (the gym) watching and learning.”
Following a stellar scholastic career at Hickory High, Votino will matriculate at NCAA Division III University of Mount Union to continue his education and cage career.
“It just seemed right. I really love the coaches and really wanted to play for them. They seem like genuine guys,” Votino explained.
The 2012-13 Purple Raiders recorded a 13-15 ledger under head coach Mike Fuline, but advanced to the Ohio Athletic Conference title tilt before bowing at Marietta (80-76).
Votino visited the Alliance, Ohio campus, and after considering Allegheny, Juniata and D-II Slippery Rock University, he opted to matriculate at Mount Union.
“It just seemed right. I really love the coaches, really wanted to play for them. They’re real, genuine guys,” Votino said.
After securing 2nd-Team honors as a sophomore for Hickory head coach Nick Cannone, Votino vaulted to a 1st-Team District 10 All-Region berth as both a junior and senior. Ultimately he was chosen to the All-D-10 1st-Team (all classifications) as a senior. He scored 1,243 points for the Hornets, who qualified for the postseason all 4 years.
He honed his skills during that same span playing for the New Jersey Cyclones coached by Mike Cervillino.
“I traveled to New Jersey evey weekend during the the AAU season for four years (about 50 games a season) to play against the top AAU teams in the country, and was one of the leading scorers on the team,” Votino related. “Mike Cervillino has coached close to a hundred Division I and II players and a handful of NBA players.”
A standout for his father at the former Notre Dame elementary school, Votino recalled,
“Coming in to Hickory, they had a lot of really good players on that team, but my dad told me if I worked hard, I’d play varsity. I thought he was crazy — a freshman coming in and playing varsity? I didn’t think that’d be possible. But as my career went on I set goals for myself, and a lot of them I achieved.”
As time progresses at the next level — ideally, winning the OAC championship and qualifying for the NCAA D-III Tournament — Votino envisions continued improvement.
“The (Purple Raiders’) offense is fast-paced, but the coaches stress defense,” Votino explained, noting, “but they also have a place for shooters, a lot of three-point opportunities.
“The first year, maybe just a couple minutes (per game), working myself in(to the rotation). But after that,” Votino forecasted, “hopefully becoming a bigger part of the building process.
“I had other options, but ... this was the best fit basketball-wise and education-wise,” emphasized Votino, who is trying to decide between sports business management of exercise science for a career path. He was an honors student at Hickory.
Votino recalled his introduction to the sport, when he watched his cousins Ryan and Danny McElhinny helping Kennedy Catholic claim numerous commonwealth crowns.
“I remember all the Kennedy games, the playoffs, the trips to Hershey. That really made me like the game, and watching (his cousins) succeed just made me want to do more,” he related.
Votino expressed gratitude to Cannone, his right-hand man Rick Ladjevich and the remainder of Hickory’s coaching staff, Cervillino, and particularly his first mentor.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without my dad (Bob),” Votino emphasized, “it’s been my whole family (mother Kim and sister Courtney), but particularly my dad. He’s been there through everything — basketball and everything else. I’m so grateful to have him.”