Favorite athlete: Kyrie Irving
Favorite teams: Boston Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins, and New England Patriots
Favorite memory competing in sports: Winning the Suburban One National Conference
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Watching a coach (not Pennsbury’s) headbutt a Referee
Music on mobile device: Rap and Rock
Future plans: Go to college and major in Chemical Engineering
Word to live by: "It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."
One goal before turning 30: Have a financially stable job
One thing people don’t know about me: I've broken my wrist three times, twice while playing basketball in back to back years.
By Ed Morrone
It’s always good to be lucky, but luck rarely does a person any good unless he or she has positioned themselves to take advantage of said good fortune.
Just ask Luke Della Grotte.
Della Grotte isn’t the best basketball player for Pennsbury; in fact, the senior is probably not the second - or third-best, either. But Della Grotte holds an extremely valuable role for the Falcons, currently in the midst of their best hoops campaign in a decade. At 11-1 in the SOL National Conference, the team has already wrapped up a league title since 2009 with its sights set on much more.
Until recently, Della Grotte was a bench piece for Pennsbury, a 6-foot-3 forward/center who would spell his teammates when they got tired or in foul trouble, or, more recently, step into the starting lineup when incumbent center Charlie Nushcke went down with an ankle injury. An all-in “program guy,” according to head coach Bill Coleman, Della Grotte has a reputation for working his tail off in practice and setting a positive leadership example for his younger teammates as one of only two seniors on the roster.
His efforts have been recognized behind the scenes and, at least for now, Della Grotte will continue getting minutes as a defensive stalwart on Pennsbury’s back line zone defense in addition to his ability to stroke it from long range off the pick-and-roll.
“Luke is one of our hardest workers, a guy who is fully committed two feet into the program,” Coleman said. “Having a successful program is all about sacrificing time and everything else to be a part of it. You need those types of guys. When you compete hard in practice and make other guys around you better, it elongates success.
“He puts in the time, so for Luke to get rewarded is great to see. To be able to capture a SOL National title, that’s a good sendoff for him. He’s a pick-and-roll pop guy who can knock down some three’s, as he’s done the last couple of games, and he’s a good communicator who quarterbacks our defense. He doesn’t get a lot of chances because we have two ball-dominant guards on the floor with him, but any time he gets an opportunity, he’s been able to enjoy success.”
For Della Grotte, it’s taken an Everest-like ascent to get to this point. Born in Orlando, he spent the first year-and-a-half of his life in Florida before his father’s job took the family to North Carolina until Luke was seven before settling in the Philadelphia suburbs. His father, a former college basketball player, put a ball in Luke’s hands from as early as he can remember, playing for various youth teams and recreational programs as a youngster.
Della Grotte also played a little lacrosse, but around seventh grade, he really started to take basketball seriously. When he was cut from his seventh grade team despite feeling like he possessed more talent than some of the other players, Della Grotte didn’t pout, sulk or threaten to quit the game he loved. Instead, he used it as a motivational tactic, something that would become a theme as his career progressed.
“After getting cut, I just felt like I needed to push myself to get better,” Della Grotte said. “I started working hard doing whatever I could, whether it was getting outside and getting more shots up or getting more involved on the AAU scene. Compared to lacrosse, basketball just felt right to me.”
Once he got to high school, Della Grotte failed to get the call to the invitation-only jayvee tryouts. Again, he was surprised at the slight, and again he pushed forward. Della Grotte showed up to freshman tryouts and “balled out,” in his words, catching the attention of jayvee coaches, who quickly saw what they had in the high-effort kid and brought him into the fold.
Della Grotte played jayvee full-time his freshman and sophomore seasons and was a swing player as a junior who preferred getting extended minutes with that team instead of just sitting on the bench with the varsity group. It was during this time he really stepped it up as a leader, something Pennsbury has clearly benefitted from this season.
“I learned a lot of mentoring skills as a junior toward the younger kids,” he said. “It brought me joy to help improve others, in addition to myself. It was a huge confidence builder in helping me push forward. I knew that if I wanted to keep doing this, I had to keep putting in the effort.”
This season, Pennsbury won a conference title for the first time in 10 years, and the team came into the season with an unfinished business mentality after a crushing, buzzer-beating loss to rival Bensalem in last year’s district tournament. The entire team took its summer preparation to a new level this past offseason; that included Della Grotte, who was voted a team captain. He placed an emphasis on shooting, offensive and defensive positioning, and honed his already strong communicator skills. He quietly because one of the team’s most valuable pieces.
“My role is to come in and play hard defense when someone gets hurt or tired,” he said. “Whenever we need a hustle play, I’m looking to take a charge or dive on the floor. I might not have gotten as many minutes as I liked, but that only pushed me to work harder in practice so I’d always be ready to step in when needed. When Charlie, who is one of my best friends on the team, went down, I had to step up big and be the starting center on our team. It’s been a lot coming forward to get to this moment, and I feel like all the effort has been worth it.
“I haven’t shot it much, but every single three I’ve taken, I’ve made. On our team I’m not a primary scorer, so I focus on getting other players open. I see my strengths in communicating to others and leading them to make sure myself and my teammates are in the best spot to make sure we all succeed.”
At this point, Della Grotte and the Falcons are playing with house money. He said the main goal was always to win a SOL National title, a feat Della Grotte admitted was made a little easier with Abington and stud forward Eric Dixon moving into the American Conference prior to the season. Della Grotte has been a huge part of this run, especially more recently, and is playing with a confidence that has become infectious to the rest of the Falcons.
“As a senior, it’s been really exciting to step up,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting Charlie to get injured, but I knew as it happened I’d have to step up and play tougher and bigger, just do whatever the coaches asked of me. Coming into a starting role has been a great feeling, because I worked hard to reach this moment. The great season we’ve had - it’s amazing to say I started some games, and we did something as a team we hadn’t done in 10 years. I’ve played a big role in that.
“The main goal was always to win the conference. From there, it becomes one game at a time. We always preach to go 1-0 on the day, and we all focus on playing that day like it’ll be our last game together.”
Della Grotte is also a standout in the classroom, following in the footsteps of his father, a mechanical engineer for Siemens who graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He fell in love with chemistry after taking the course last year, and has plans to study chemical engineering in college; thus far, Della Grotte’s been admitted to both the University of Delaware and University of Maryland and is still weighing his options.
“I’ve always pushed myself toward the highest goals, and I just fell in love with chemistry,” he said. “To me, chemical engineering just seems like the right path. Just like with basketball, it’s taken a lot of effort. I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person, just becoming more determined and realizing you have to put all this effort in to reach your goals.”
Della Grotte used to play the trombone in the school band as a freshman and sophomore, but basketball is presently his only major extracurricular activity. When he isn’t helping guide Pennsbury to its first conference title in a decade or acing his classes, Della Grotte said he just enjoys spending as much time with family and friends as he can.
“I don’t really do anything out of the ordinary,” he said with a laugh.
However, that statement doesn’t really ring true when considering the work he’s put in has been fairly extraordinary. His determination on the court has been a good life lesson for Della Grotte, who has gotten to the mountaintop through sheer force of will.
“I definitely learned a lot about myself through basketball and just how much effort you will have to put in to succeed in life,” he said. “It helped me grow in learning how to lead other people and be more confident in myself and my own game. I take those facets from hoops, that determination, and just keep pushing forward.
“I’m a competitive person. Whether it’s basketball or anything else, I always want to beat the person on the other side. The time I’ve spent here just moving myself forward has been amazing and well worth all of that effort I put in. It’s been a great time.”