EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. - There were other options -several actually - out there for West Liberty senior Jeff Yunetz, but he chose not to take them.
You see, Yunetz (prounounced Yoon-its) was a star in high school at Greater Latrobe. He holds the school record for career points, averaged 21.8 points as a senior and scored in double-figures in 50 consecutive games. In addition, Yunetz was named to the Post-Gazette's 'Fab Five' squad, as well as the Tribune-Review's 'Terrific Ten,' finishing his career with a game-high 24 points as the WPIAL Class AAAA All-Stars beat the Class AAA team, 124-123.
Things quickly changed when he became a Hilltopper. The roster has been dotted with names like Cedric Harris, Shawn Dyer, Bubby Goodwin and Devin Hoehn, which basically squeezed Yunetz out of the rotation.
West Liberty’s Jeff Yunetz doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but there is little denying his important role at West Liberty University.
"A lot of times when all of a sudden they are not the star they do have issues and instant gratification problems,'' Hilltoppers coach Jim Crutchfield said Monday during practice for the team's Atlantic Regional final against East Stroudsburg. "Then they think 'I've got to do something else because this is not for me.'
"(That he didn't shows) that is how competitive he is. And I will tell you this, if he would have gotten his chance he would have played extremely well for us.''
But back to those opportunities.
Other programs know what a talent Yunetz is and have hovered like vultures, often promising playing time at their school if he would make the move and transfer. Each time those schools were rebuffed.
"I don't care if I play two seconds, the whole game or nothing at all, I just want to win," said Yunetz, who in his five years in the program has been a part of 156 victories. "I know we will go farther (in the tournament) at West Liberty than any other school.
"I definitely want to stay here and finish my school here."
People wondering how West Liberty has been able to sustain its success should look no farther than guys like Jeff Yunetz. In the me-first society we must now endure, he is screaming 'we' at the top of his lungs. That rubs off on the younger guys, and in turn gives them a sense of repsonsibility.
"He understands what being a good teammate is. His dad coaches basketball and it's a good family that has a good sense of right and wrong,'' Crutchfield said. "He's just always been, from Day 1, a guy that it seems like he looks forward to being here at practice every day. I always see him excited and have never seen him drop his head and be disappointed in anything.
"It's hard for guys to not get the playing time sometimes. But he's been a great practice player and has enjoyed the fact that we have had great success here. He's helped make other guys better.''
Like Harris, one of the stars of the club and the Atlantic Region Player of the Year. Yunetz says the whole team hangs out on a regular basis off the court and that he and Harris often discuss what is happening on it.
"Me and Ced talk before every game and he always asks about seeing things that I don't see, and I tell him what I see and try to help him out any way I can," Yunetz said. "We're captains. That is our job.
"I just like to keep the team together. I want us to have fun, but there's times we need to get after it.''
Yunetz has never started a game at West Liberty, is the owner of 150 career points - in 429 minutes - and has 37 assists to his credit. But his contribution goes much deeper.
His teammates, coaching staff and especially Hilltoppers fans appreciate the mark he will be leaving when this magical run ends at somepoint this season.
"He's obviously very popular with everyone on the team and throughout the school. He's just the kind of guy you want to have on your team,'' Crutchfield said. "I think I do (root for him more than anyone on the team). I think that is human nature.
"The kind of guys like him who do everything they can and everything you ask of them, you hope things go well for them.
"If there is a team favorite and a crowd favorite, it would be Jeff."
Shawn Rine can be reached via
email at email@example.com