The actual distance between Bobby Planutis and Mount St. Mary’s University grew since a year ago when the two nearly connected for the first time.
During his time at Bridgton Academy in Maine, however, the Hazleton Area graduate and JB Hoops alum grew closer to the Emmitsburg, Md.-based school and its basketball program.
Planutis made an official recruiting visit during the weekend and made his commitment to accept a full athletic scholarship from the 2017 NCAA Division I tournament qualifier Sunday night, just hours after his return from Maryland.
“They just stuck with me the whole time,” Planutis said in a telephone interview from Maine. “I felt the closest connection to that coaching staff. I just went ahead and pulled the trigger.”
Planutis got off the plane in Maine Sunday afternoon and called Mount St. Mary’s Sunday night to let coach Jamion Christian and his staff know that he was accepting their offer.
At Hazleton Area, Planutis was Wyoming Valley Conference Division I Player of the Year, according to division coaches, in the 2015-16 season, his second as a first-team division all-star. Still, he finished his high school career with just five Division II college offers.
The combination of the 2016 spring AAU tournament season with JB Hoops and a year developing his game at Bridgton left Planutis with nine Division I offers. He wound up returning to the first one that had displayed interest, nearly a year ago at this time.
Planutis credited Brian Coyle, his JB Hoops coach for two seasons, with offering advice throughout the recruiting process.
Coyle said Mount St. Mary’s built a relationship with Planutis during the past year, making it easier than what once felt like a potentially rushed decision.
“Bobby got to meet the guys several times down there, which I think, helped tremendously,” Coyle said. “Also, he got to see them play more times this year. Their style really fits with how Bobby plays.”
While Planutis watched from afar, Mount St. Mary’s put together a successful season, winning 20 games, capturing the Northeast Conference Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament and getting through a First Four game to get into the 64-team bracket. Even the elimination was impressive with the Mountaineers remaining within a point of defending national champion Villanova through halftime before falling, 76-56.
“The way they play, I just think I fit really well into it,” said the 6-foot-8 Planutis, who was recruited as a small forward, who can also play the power forward position.
Planutis averaged 20.0 pints, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocked shots per game as a senior when he was an NPF Sports all-District 2 Big School selection. He shot 59 percent from the floor an 79 percent from the line.
At Bridgton, Planutis added to his long-distance accuracy and became more effective at getting off his shot.
Planutis raised his 3-point shooting percentage from 32 at Hazleton Area to 41 at Bridgton where he made 70 this year, dozens more than in his entire career with the Cougars.
“His jump shot and his ability to get more separation off the dribble, which was our biggest area of concern for him playing at the Division I level, really improved,” Coyle said.
Planutis grew more than an inch, put on 15 pounds and maintained it through the season while improving his skills.
“I got better with the dribble, making moves and shooting off the dribble,” Planutis said. “I’ve tried to get better in every facet of the game.”
Planutis finishes in Maine in early May and will head to Mount St. Mary’s late in the month.
The Mountaineers are also actively recruiting Planutis’ younger brother Jeff, who recently completed his junior season at Hazleton Area where he followed Bobby as Player of the Year while leading the Cougars to another WVC Division I title.